Acne scars are the dark spots sometimes left behind on the skin after the acne heals, so even when you’ve gotten rid of acne, you still aren’t always done dealing with it.
The over-production of pigment in acne prone skin works differently for different people, though. For instance, if you have mostly blackheads and whiteheads, you probably don’t have many acne scars. However, if you have pimples or cysts, or if you have a dark complexion, you probably notice a greater tendency to develop acne scars.
Why do pimples cause more scarring? Also, why does acne scarring show up more on darker skin? We’ll answer all these questions and more in this article. We’ll also give you several tips and tricks on the treatment of acne scars and how to prevent them from appearing in the first place 👍.
The Transformation from Acne Blemishes to Acne Scars
For the sake of clarity, we’re going to differentiate two terms: “acne blemishes” refers to acne itself, such as blackheads or pimples. “Acne scars” are the hyperpigmented spots that often appear after acne blemishes have healed. But how do acne blemishes become acne scars?
The Ins and Outs of Acne Blemishes
Acne blemishes start because of three key factors:
- inflammation 🔥
- bacteria 🦠
- oil production.
These factors combine in different ways to create different types of acne blemishes, from blackheads to cysts, but researchers have discovered that acne is primarily an inflammatory condition.
Blackheads and Whiteheads
Blackheads and whiteheads actually form in much the same way, from a combination of inflammation and an excess of oil and dead skin cells. When the skin becomes inflamed through irritation, stress, or any number of other causes, the pores constrict slightly. This action traps excess oil and dead cells in the pores.
Whiteheads form when this inflammation 🔥 actually closes the pore completely, and blackheads form when the pore remains slightly open. The color difference is caused by the air that gets into the open pore. The air oxidizes the oil, turning it a darker shade, hence the name “blackhead.”
Pimples and Cysts
Pimples start the same way, with minor inflammation that causes the pores to constrict, but there’s a key difference. Bacteria, specifically P. acnes bacteria 🦠, also get trapped in the pore. Once they’re there, the microbes multiply and their numbers grow rapidly, creating a minor infection.
The body then tries to fight off the infection by causing more inflammation. This is meant to prevent the bacteria from spreading, and to bring more oxygen and immune system cells to the site of the infection. However, this is also what makes pimples larger and more painful than blackheads or whiteheads.
When the immune system cells fight P. acnes, both cell types usually end up dying, and the dead cell matter becomes pus. This is typically what gives pimples their white or yellow heads. Cysts form the same way, but instead of coming to a head, the infection spreads deeper, which makes them a lot harder to get rid of. Cysts also tend to cause even more inflammation 🔥.
How Scars Form
Acne scars form after the blemish has healed, or toward the end of the healing process. Blackheads and whiteheads don’t really “heal.” Instead, the oil and dead cells are removed, and the pore quickly returns to its normal state. Pimples and cysts, on the other hand, can require quite a bit of healing 🩹.
The Healing Process
Treating acne scars always starts with increasing the blood flow 🩸 to the site of the wound. The blemishes technically fit the definition of a very minor wound, so when they form, blood flow increases. This allows various cells and chemicals, like the immune system cells that fight off P. acnes, to travel through the bloodstream, and start healing the wound. However, it also causes inflammation.
While inflammation plays an important role in pimple formation and scarring, the exact mechanics aren’t well understood at this time. Here’s what we do know:
- Certain chemicals that encourage inflammation 🔥, such as histamines and nitric oxide, are released at the wound site.
- These chemicals stimulate the cells that produce our skin’s pigmentation. Pigment is produced by melanin, and, in turn, melanin is produced by a particular type of cell called a melanocyte.
- The longer it takes for the wound to heal, the longer the melanocytes are stimulated and the more melanin is released. This is how acne blemishes sometimes change into acne scars.
How Skin Tone Affects Acne Scarring
During the healing process, dark skin and light skin differ in the ways they produce and release melanin.
Dark Skin and Melanin
Contrary to popular belief, dark skin doesn’t produce more melanin than fair skin—it just releases a different form of melanin. Also, melanocytes in dark skin allow the melanin to mature longer before releasing it to the skin cells for pigmentation. This gives the scars a darker hue in darker skin.
Fair Skin and Melanin
Fair skin produces a slightly different kind of melanin compared to dark skin, and the melanocytes release the melanin sooner.
Since this is the main difference between skin pigmentation in fair and dark skin, dermatologists 👩⚕️ believe that the type of melanin present in dark skin is probably the reason for the increased frequency and duration of hyperpigmentation in dark skin. It may respond more vigorously to inflammation🔥, or it might take longer to deteriorate in the skin cells—the exact cause is still unclear.
However, it’s perfectly clear that hyperpigmentation can cause real problems for people with dark skin.
Is the Struggle Harder for Darker-Skinned People?
Because of the way our society scrutinizes and shames any skin irregularities like acne and the scars they leave, many people with long-lasting or severe hyperpigmentation can develop low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.
The struggle is doubly hard for people with a darker complexion, unfortunately. The beauty industry is slowly getting better at representing the beauty of dark skin, and products made specifically for darker skin tones have been on the rise for quite some time now. Yet, colorism and racism still play a large role in the struggle with scars in darker skin tones 🧑🏾.
While the societal standard of beauty is still predominantly white in too many circles, dark-skinned people are encouraged more actively in the media to love the way their skin looks—with or without hyperpigmentation scars. It’s about time ⏰. We’re grateful for the increasing number of dissenting voices rising on every platform to set a new standard of inclusive beauty.
Of course, getting rid of acne scars should be a personal choice that has nothing to do with your intrinsic value as a human being.
Preventing Hyperpigmentation Acne Scars
It is possible to treat acne scars, but prevention is always preferable. Obviously, the best way to prevent acne scarring is to prevent pimples or cysts from forming in the first place, but we know that isn’t always possible.
The next course of action is to heal pimples as quickly as possible. Melanin is released as part of the healing process, so the quicker acne heals, the less melanin is released. There are a wide variety of ways to speed up this healing process, and our first recommendation will always be a consistent skin care routine with gentle, high-quality products. Also, look at these home remedies 🏠.
The Healing Power of Honey
We like to recommend honey 🍯 because it comes with fewer side effects, and it’s been proven to work. Honey-soaked dressings are actually becoming a very popular type of wound dressing in hospitals because they help wounds heal faster, and with less infection, compared to traditional dressings.
Honey is antibacterial, and can kill nearly any kind of bacterium, including P. acnes 🦠. It also has anti-inflammation properties. This makes honey one of the best ways to prevent and get rid of acne scars.
We suggest applying a small amount of honey to any pimples or cysts before bed each night, and covering them with small pieces of tissue or Band-Aids. This will treat the pimples, promote healing, and prevent acne scars.
Avoid Picking and Popping
One sure way to cause acne scarring is to pick and pop your acne until it bleeds, creating an acne scab. The scab will have to be left alone for a day or two, meaning you won’t really be able to treat the acne well, and inflammation 🔥 will likely get worse. Also, if you don’t leave the scab alone the situation can get even worse, because it will just bleed and form a scab again, drawing out the healing process unnecessarily.
It’s hard, but generally speaking, we recommend touching your face as little as possible throughout the day. Picking, popping, scratching, and even rubbing can cause irritation and inflammation at best, and bleeding 🩸 and scabbing at worst.
But If You Have To Pop a Pimple…
Sometimes, a pimple develops an unsightly white or yellow head, or it becomes painful. If you choose to pop it, we suggest you do so carefully and responsibly. There are five simple steps for popping pimples: wash, lance, squeeze, wash, treat. Read our guide on How To Pop A Pimple Responsibly for the safest ways to do this without irritating the skin or causing acne scars.
If you can’t resist, or find yourself picking at your skin unconsciously, it’s important to know how to heal acne scabs. Like acne itself, your best bet is honey 🍯. It will prevent bacteria from infecting the scab, and it should speed up the healing process.
Three Ways To Treat Hyperpigmentation Acne Marks
So you’ve done everything in your power to prevent them, but you have still developed an acne scar or two. Now what? Now it’s time for treatment. There’s no perfect solution, but we have three home remedy suggestions for different skin types 🧑🏾🧑.
For Fair Skin: Lemon Juice and Honey
Yes, honey again. It really is that good. But this time we recommend adding some freshly squeezed lemon juice as well. Lemon juice 🍋 contains a large amount of ascorbic acid, a particular nutrient in vitamin C that has been known to induce skin lightening.
For Dark Skin: Glycolic Acid
Glycolic acid is a popular ingredient in many acne skin care products, including the Clearing Tonic we make here at Exposed Skin Care. This acid works by increasing skin cell turnover, which helps get rid of the dark, hyperpigmented cells and makes room for fresh, normally pigmented cells. It shouldn’t have any adverse effects on dark skin, but you should always check with your dermatologist 👩⚕️ before trying anything new.
For Sensitive Skin: Papaya Extract
Papaya extract works a lot like glycolic and salicylic acid due to an enzyme called papain. This helps the skin by getting rid of old dead skin cells to make room for new, healthy, appropriately pigmented cells. Glycolic acid is relatively gentle, but papaya is considered very gentle and good for sensitive skin. It may even help speed up the healing process, so it could be a good tool for the prevention of acne marks as well as a good treatment 🏆.
How To Get Rid of Redness
Some people don’t have acne lesions or dark spots typically associated with hyperpigmentation, and want, instead, to get rid of pimples appearing with redness. Pink or red spots have two common potential causes.
The first explanation is a broken blood vessel due to pimple popping. The blood vessel 🩸 simply needs a bit of time to repair itself.
Very Fair Skin
The second explanation is a bit simpler: the redness could just be acne scars in a very fair skin type. Fair skin tends to produce melanin that is more red than brown in nature, so acne scarring in very fair skin could appear reddish rather than dark.
Other Techniques To Treat Acne Scarring
So far, we’ve discussed home remedies to treat pimples and acne scars. However, there are other, more drastic treatment options, especially for severe acne scarring, but these may need to be done at the dermatologist’s rooms. Different types of acne scars require different treatments, and home remedies are not always the safest option.
To get rid of acne scars completely, the techniques basically involve removing the top layer of the skin, while also encouraging collagen production. They include 📝:
- Laser resurfacing: Laser resurfacing is normally used to address serious keloid scars, and it takes a longer time to heal.
- Chemical peels: A chemical peel is a concentrated treatment for getting rid of acne scars. Many chemical peel products contain alpha hydroxy acids. Alpha hydroxy acids are a group of animal and plant-derived acids that include lactic acid, citric acid, malic acid, and so forth. Some products in chemical peels can be quite abrasive, so be careful of this treatment option if you have very sensitive skin.
- Retinoid products: Retinoids are vitamin A products that can help lighten scar tissue for a more even skin tone.