5 Types of Acne Scars And How To Treat Them
So if popping pimples doesn't cause scarring, what does? Long-lasting scars typically turn up after a recurring bout with cystic acne. Cystic acne is a breakout that burrows deep into the skin. These red, painful nodules occur when clogged pores are filled with pus and bacteria, which causes inflammation. Cystic breakouts are often tied to an internal fluctuation of hormones like testosterone (that's why they're common during puberty, monthly menstruation, and perimenopause). "If there is a cyst in the skin, it's going to cause a scar the longer it sits there because pus or bacteria deeper inside the pores cause surrounding inflammation," says Dr. Karolak. And as a result, the inflammation affects the collagen production as well as the fat stores under the skin, creating a visible scar on the surface.
Acne scars take many different forms. You might see tiny pockmarks, a swollen keloid, or a discolored area on the skin. And just like the types of scars vary, there isn't a one-size-fits-all fix. Your dermatologist can use a combination of treatments including lasers, chemical peels, or fillers to minimize the spots. "Once there is scarring you can't get the skin back to the way it was before," says Dr. Karolak. "But we can get it to look significantly better, so that [clients] feel more comfortable in social environments."Here are the five primary types of acne scars and the popular treatments available to treat each one.
An ice pick scar is a small depression in the skin (almost as if tiny needles punctured the area).
The inflammation caused by your breakout can cause more than just the pimple you see on the surface, it can also cause damage below the skin. "The inflammatory response produces a loss in collagen and the overlying skin will collapse and leave a depression," Howard Sobel, M.D., a NYC dermatologist and founder of DDF Skincare, tells SELF. To get rid of these tiny pockmarks, Dr. Karolak relies on a TCA Cross chemical peel. TCA stands for trichloroacetic acid. "We use a little applicator and go into the hole with chemicals to cause a burn. That causes the wall of that ice pick to heal itself and close in on itself," explains Dr. Karolak.
A boxcar scar is also a depression in the skin, but the indentation has very sharp edges.
Rolling acne scars have smooth edges and look like tiny hills and valleys in the skin.Rolling scars can look like little saucers, giving the skin a wavy texture. Lasers that resurface the skin are Dr. Karolak's top treatment pick for this type of scar, and Dr. Sobel agrees. "Many scars can be improved with lasers such as the matrix CO2, which remove the outer layers of skin, burning away the scar tissue and stimulate new collagen production," he says. "Non-ablative lasers such as the Fraxel can help activate the production of collagen without damaging the surface of the skin." Keep in mind, that these laser treatments can take a bit of recovery time and require multiple treatments to see results. For a quicker solution, your dermatologist can plump the bowl-like scar with fillers like Juvederm, Restylane, or Bellafill.
A keloid acne scar is a raised bump over the skin.Keloid bumps are generally discolored and raised. These scars form when the body tries to recover from the inflammation caused by cystic acne. According to Dr. Sobel, you can get a keloid if too many fibroblasts or dermal cells are produced during the healing process. The first step in treatment is to flatten the bump with a shot of cortisone. Then, you can follow up with other treatments like laser or retinol to even out the skin tone.
"Hyperpigmentation is an increase of melanin, which is the substance that colors the skin," says Dr. Sobel. Hyperpigmentation often clears up on its own. However if you want to speed up the process, you can use topical treatments with ingredients like retinol, vitamin C, and kojic acid, which can help brighten skin overall. We like Sunday Riley Sleeping Night Oil ($105, sephora.com) and InstaNatural Vitamin C Serum ($17, amazon.com). The most important thing is to stay out of the sun to keep the dark spots from getting even deeper in color.
All illustrations by Jocelyn Reunice
This article first appeared in Self.