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Guide to Treating Acne Scars and Skin Damage

By Ayren Jackson-Cannady
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD

If you see signs that your acne is leaving a scar on your skin, you don't have to grin and bear it. There are lots of ways to heal your scars and keep new ones from forming.

Cortisone and Fade Creams

If your scar is red or swollen, use a cortisone cream to calm your skin, says Tina Alster, MD, a Georgetown University professor of dermatology. The cortisone is absorbed by skin cells and reduces inflammation. You can buy skin creams with cortisone without a prescription.

Next, you'll want to concentrate on lightening any dark areas left from the acne scar. 

"Hydroquinone, a popular skin lightener, has recently fallen out of favor and is now being omitted from many fading creams due to irritation and carcinogenic concern," Alster says. But there are other ingredients in skin creams sold without a prescription that can help lighten your dark spots. Kojic acid (a natural skin lightener derived from mushroom extract), arbutin (also called bearberry extract), and vitamin C (ascorbic acid) are great alternative ingredients to look for in lightening creams, Alster says.

Laser and Filler Treatments

If your acne scars don't fade away on their own, it may be time to consider booking an appointment with your dermatologist. In one to three sessions, laser skin resurfacing using fractionated laser technology can even out the skin surface and increase the formation of new collagen. Collagen is a protein that's a building block of the skin. The new collagen can help fill in acne scars.

Ablative lasers vaporize your scar, allowing smoother skin to take its place. Non-ablative lasers help activate the production of collagen without damaging the surface of your skin.

Filler injections can help fill in the indentations left behind from deep acne scars, says Ron Moy, MD, a former president of the American Academy of Dermatology. But the downside to fillers is that they need to be repeated every 4 to 6 months, as the product reabsorbs into the skin over time.

Patience

The main key to seeing acne scars fade is patience. A few weeks after you break out and scar, new blood vessels move into the injured area to give nourishment to the skin, which is why most early scars look pink, Alster says.

Months later, collagen starts to form, filling in the injured section of skin. Because cystic acne destroys skin and fat, it can take up to a year for the scars to fade, Moy says.

How to Prevent Scars or Help Scars Heal

Stay out of the sun. Exposing scars to the sun can cause them to darken and slow the healing process, Alster says. How? Ultraviolet rays stimulate melanocytes (pigment-producing cells), leading to further discoloration.

Before heading outdoors, put on a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Broad-spectrum sunscreen protects against both ultraviolet A (long-wave) and ultraviolet B (shortwave) rays. Ingredients with broad-spectrum protection include benzophenones (sulisobenzone and oxybenzone), cinnamates (octylmethyl cinnamate and cinoxate), salicylates, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone (Parsol 1789), and ecamsule (Mexoryl SX). Reapply after swimming, after sweating, and after more than 2 hours in the sun.

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