We’ve all popped a pimple even though every resource on the internet tells us not to.
You might be noticing a few acne scars haunting your face from popped pimples of the past. Usually, you might’ve dabbed a bit of concealer to cover up that blemish or scar, but now that real makeup is canceled for the foreseeable future you might want to know how to get rid of old acne scars once and for all.
We’ve learned in previous interviews with Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper) that acne scars fall into two categories: acne scars, which are an indentation in the skin usually caused by picking at a pimple, and acne marks, the result of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
While there are a lot of ways to prevent acne scars, what can you do when the damage has already been done? We put that question to dermatologists to find some of the best acne scar removal products out there so you can find your way to flawless skin.
Here’s what they had to say.
How can you prevent acne scars in the first place?
Besides not popping your pimples under any circumstances, what else can you do to prevent acne scars and marks?
It may seem like a no brainer, but the best way to prevent acne scars is by preventing the acne in the first place. Severe cases of acne might require oral antibiotics or Accutane (consult your doctor). You might be able to treat mild cases with alternatives, said Dr. Suzanne Friedler, a dermatologist at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
“If acne is mild then it may be controlled with topical therapies, including topical antimicrobials and retinoids,” Friedler told HuffPost Finds.
Reducing inflammation of existing pimples is key because it’s those deeper, more cystic spots that tend to leave behind permanent scars, according to Dr. Jeremy Fenton of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City.
If you’re sensitive to hyperpigmentation, time is of the essence when you have a pimple. Fenton recommended using a targeted dark spot lightening cream when the pimple is at its peak — before the discoloration starts.
What ingredients and products are best for fading acne scars?
Look for products with the ingredient hydroquinone, a skin-lightening agent in many OTC dark spot and acne scar treatment products. Products with kojic acid and azelaic acid are also effective ingredients to use in the early stages of acne as a preventative measure, Fenton said. He recommended PCA Skin Pigment Gel because it contains several of these ingredients, as well as alpha hydroxy acids that exfoliate the skin.
“The active ingredients work much better at preventing the pigment from forming, rather than clearing the pigment after it has been deposited,” Fenton said.
While true acne scars are best treated with lasers, microdermabrasion or deep peels, there are topical products you can use for minor discoloration. That starts with reducing sun exposure and using non-comedogenic sunscreen to prevent further discoloration of scars and dark spots, Friedler said. She recommended using an oil-free mineral sunscreen with an SPF of 50 or higher.
Exfoliators such as glycolic acids, retinols and retinoids can help even out skin tone and fade dark spots, too. Fenton recommended antioxidant serums, especially those with vitamin C.
But not all acids are compatible with every skin type. Some experts cautioned that ingredients such as glycolic acid could cause unwanted discoloration on darker skin. If in doubt about how a product will react with your skin tone, just don’t overdo it, said Dija Ayodele, owner of West Room Aesthetics and founder of the Black Skin Directory, which connects people of color to skin care experts and products specifically designed for the unique demands of darker skin.
“There aren’t really ingredients you should avoid because you have Black skin. Naturally, you should use ingredients that are complementary to your skin type and address your skin condition,” Ayodele said.
AHAs such as glycolic or lactic acid exfoliate the upper layer of skin to slough of pigmented skin cells. Ayodele recommended products from brands such as Cosmedix, NeoStrata and Skin Better Science because they have clinical evidence of success on Black skin.
“Vitamin A is also a gold standard ingredient as it can exfoliate, fade and optimize skin quality to improve the appearance of scarring,” she said.
Whether or not you have sensitive skin — but especially if you do — most dermatologists recommended easing into exfoliating products by starting with low-strength products such as retinols before graduating to stronger retinoids when your skin has adjusted.
Fenton recommended starting with a gentle, low-concentration glycolic acid pad or cream such Glytone skin care products for those with sensitive skin. Scrubs, buff puffs and strong astringents should also be avoided because they can irritate the skin and lead to further discoloration.
What’s a good skin care routine for fading acne scars?
While you should defer to your dermatologist for a customized routine, Friedler recommended using a medicated antimicrobial cleanser in the morning, followed by oil-free sunscreen. In the evening, she recommended using a gentle cleanser followed by a topical retinoid.
Acne scar treatment products should generally be applied once per day. If they contain retinoids, they should only be applied at night because the sunlight can interfere with them, Fenton said. How frequently you use exfoliating agents such as retinols and glycolic acids depends on their strength and concentration. Some are designed to be used only weekly, so follow the product’s recommended use guide.
It’s also important to remember that fading scars on the face is easier than fading them on the body, and it can take years for some people to fade discoloration from body acne, Fenton cautioned.