by Eden Univer
A breakout (or five) is bad enough, but the marks and bumps left behind long after they're gone are often worse. Luckily there are treatments to fade and remove them, but first you need to know what you're dealing with. New York City-based dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D., says there are big differences between post-zit dark marks and true acne scars, and she's sharing how to tell which you have and how to handle them, from prevention to treatment!
Courtesy of Kyle EricksenSee more: The 100 Best Backpacks for Back-to-School
Know your skin and your scars.
"Patients often mistake dark spots for acne scars but they're actually very different," says Dr. Bowe. "The red or brown hyper-pigmentation that appears following an acne lesion is caused by temporary inflammation. These marks may take a number of months to go away but they will disappear over time. True acne scars are permanent unless treated and can come in many shapes and forms. Some are thick, raised hypertrophic (sticking out) or keloid (over-produced skin tissue) scars, while other scars can appear as little depressions in the skin, called atrophic scars. One type of atrophic scarring commonly seen as a result of acne is often referred to as an 'ice pick' scar. These are deeper than they are wide." Okay, now that you have the rundown, what caused this beauty blunder in the first place?
See more: Celebrities Are Going Bananas for Braids!
Acne is truly tough on skin, but sometimes you can be tougher.
"The dark spots that remain on skin-called post-inflammatory pigmentary alteration-are caused by inflammation during the skin's healing process. When skin is opened up, like when you pop a pimple, and then closes back together, you can get abnormal pigmentation, texture, and tone that looks different from the rest of your skin. Sometimes broken blood vessels that remain after an acne lesion fades can result in a mark that appears more red or purple than brown. These are commonly seen in people who are more fair/light skinned." The dark spot takeaway? Hands off! Seriously, don't pick, poke, or touch a pimple. You'll regret it. And this is why.
But sometimes a particular blemish just has it out for your face and there's no stopping its path to a scar. "Acne scars occur when normal tissue in the skin is destroyed and replaced with fibrous tissue. You can think of an acne lesion as a wound. When the damage caused by acne is severe, the body can respond by creating too much tissue or too little tissue. The production of too much tissue forms a keloid or a hypertrophic scar, and too little tissue leads to that depression in the skin, or atrophic scar. The deeper and more inflamed the acne lesion, or the more that it is picked or squeezed, the more likely it is to scar."
There are lots of factors that lead to post-breakout fallout.
Some of them are completely within your control while others are pre-determined. "People with deeper skin tones may develop darker marks or hyper-pigmentation, while people with lighter skin tones may notice redness, explains Dr. Bowe. Aside from genetics, there are several lifestyle habits that can make dark marks and scars worse. Sun exposure can supercharge melanocytes, or pigment-producing cells, causing marks and scars to darken. And, of course, picking or squeezing pimples creates further inflammation and can ultimately lead to more damage."
There is help! Here, the top dark mark treatment recommendations.
Topical Creams: "While dark marks will usually go away on their own, it can take a number of months. To speed things up, try products containing glycolic acid, an ingredient known to promote gentle surface skin turnover and help even out skin tone. I like Clean & Clear Advantage Mark Treatment, a great, cost-friendly, at-home treatment."
Chemical Peels: "For a faster and even more dramatic improvement, teens and parents can ask their dermatologists about chemical peels. A chemical peel is a treatment which uses the application of mild solutions for skin refinement and regeneration. Peels can be used to treat the dark marks or very mild scars left over from acne. Glycolic acid is one of the peels most commonly used to help treat acne marks, but your dermatologist will select the type and strength of peel based on your skin type and treatment goals. Multiple treatments are usually recommended for best results."
Skin Lighteners: "For marks that are more brownish in color, skin lightening ingredients like retinol, vitamin C, hydroquinone, kojic acid, or licorice could help. Try L'Oréal Paris Youth Code Dark Spot Correcting & Illuminating Serum Corrector, which helps to reverse hyperpigmentation and prevent further discoloration. Skin lightening ingredients don't work as well for pink or red acne marks that are not related to the skin's pigment or melanin. These should be treated with sun protection and can be lightened significantly using a laser called a pulsed-dye laser that targets hemoglobin (red pigment). It usually takes three treatments to make them go away completely but they can lighten up significantly even after just one treatment."
When it comes to scars, treatments seem a little more intense, but they're totally routine for derms these days.
Steroid injections: "Thick scars (keloids) can be injected with cortisone to make them softer and flatter."
Dermal fillers: "Certain scars can be filled with a substance that elevates the depressed areas, such as hyaluronic acid. This can make the surface of the skin more even, and get rid of shadows. It's important to note that the most commonly used fillers aren't permanent, but they can last about a year."
Lasers: "These can be helpful in reducing the redness associated with acne marks and scars. I use a pulse-dye laser called the V-Beam for red scars. When treating older scars that are no longer red, I like to use the Fraxel laser. When lasers are used to treat acne scars, the results can differ dramatically based on two things: how many treatments you have done, and how much social downtime you're willing to accept as part of the recovery process."
Punch excisions: "This is especially helpful for those deep scars that are sometimes referred to as "ice pick" scars. Your dermatologist will numb up the area and use a tiny cookie-cutter like device to cut out the scar, and then sew it closed with a tiny stitch. The stitch is removed in less than a week."
Mix and Match: "Since acne scars vary, so do treatments. Depending on the individual, I often use a multimodal approach to treating acne scars. First, I might use Fraxel treatments to smooth out the skin texture. Then, I often use a combination of the fillers Restylane and Belotero to lift the depressed scars. Finally, I perform a few punch excisions to surgically remove any deep scars that may remain."
There you have it! The bad news is that you're probably going to have to deal with dark marks or acne scars at some point in your life, but the good news is that technology has come a long way in making them temporary and treatable. Now head to the drugstore or your derm depending on the severity of your spots to turn your skin around.
More from Teen Vogue:
Tour Sea of Shoes Blogger Jane Aldridge's Sweet Dallas Digs
The Best Dressed College Students Across the Country
Your Comprehensive Beauty Routine Cheat Sheet
7 Things No One Tells You About Your First Job
by Eden Univer