A Simple Guide To Acne Scars and How To Tackle Them At Home (w/ Before-and-After Photos)

I don't know which was more annoying - an actual red angry spot on my cheek or the mark that was left behind for weeks to come. I've talked about my acne journey on this blog, but little how to clear marks, scars, pigmentation whathaveyou that are left behind. Today I'm writing a simple beginner-friendly guide what are possible pigmentation issues and what are the options in treating them.

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Different types of "acne scars"

Most common types of "acne scars" can be divided to three types:

  • Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH)
  • Post Inflammatory Erythema (PIE)
  • Atrophic scars

Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH)

Hyperpigmentation occurs when the skin overproduces melanin and there are several forms like freckles, age spots, birthmarks, melasma and PIH. PIH is temporary hyperpigmentation caused by inflammation; when a wound or irritation becomes inflamed the skin naturally heals itself by producing melanin, a protein that gives skin its color. These causes of inflammation can be acne, rash, injuries, chemical peels etc.

All skin types can get PIH but it's more prevalent in dark tones of skin because of overactivity of cells that produce melanin. PIH usually looks like red, pink, brown or dark discoloration depending on the skin tone and depth of discoloration. Although the sun doesn't cause PIH it can darken the marks and prolong the fading time.

Post Inflammatory Erythema (PIE)

PIE are pinkish red spots that can also be result by acne, injuries, sun exposure, etc traumas. The color is different as this is not a melanin-induced problem, but caused by broken capillaries (small vessels) under our skin. This triggers the increase of blood flow to heal the wound.

There's a DIY (non-accurate) test to determine if your marks are PIE: apply pressure on the wound to see if the pink spots temporarily disappear. PIH or rosacea is not affected by this, but often people may have the combination of both PIE and PIH.

Atrophic Scars

Sometimes called icepick, boxcar or rolling scars, atrophic scars are indentations left behind by acne, chicken pox or inflammation. Atrophic scars are loss of tissue that may look like dents, uneven skin tone, enlarged large pores or holes. These scars are often permanent or difficult to treat without professional help.

 A Simple Guide to Acne Scars | Laura Loukola Beauty Blog

I don't have many pictures of my acne, but I found old iPad selfies from ~4 years ago. 

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And here's me today (with cat fluff on my face haha) with zero makeup. Read more about my acne journey.

How to treat acne scars At Home?

First of all, you should see a dermatologist if the pigmentation changes it's shape, size, color or itches/bleeds. If you're prone to moles, getting them checked once a year doesn't do any harm! Treating pigmentation and scaring at home with over-the-counter products isn't an instant process and might take several months to fade, For more abrasive (prescription) ingredients, vascular lazers and chemical peels, again, check your dermatologist or even local GP. Here's what I've learned to be effective at home:

1) Sunscreen. If sunscreen isn't already a part of your daily routine please consider adding it! Sun protection can protect and even prevent from many health and pigmentation issues. Also, if you choose to exfoliate your skin the 'fresh' skin underneath is more prone to sun sensitivity and burning. I've told many of my friends that it's a waste to spend big $$$ in wrinkle serums or pigmentation treatments if you neglect sunscreen.

2) Increasing the cell turnover. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA), especially glycolic acid, are excellent for treating pigmentation. Acids exfoliate the surface of the skin by loosening up the dead skin cell bonds on the epidermis, leaving skin feeling fresh, more even and smooth. Faster your cells renew the quicker you can get rid of PIH. Personally I like using a gentle daily toner with AHA, natural fruit enzymes and humectants. Sometimes I opt for a stronger mask.

3) There are prescription ingredients (Hydroquinone, Azelaic acid, Retinoids), that inhibit tyrosinase aka an enzyme that catalyses the production of melanin, but personally I prefer gentler ingredients with "skin lightening" properties that have high antioxidant content such as licorice root, Arbutin, Niacinamide and Vitamin C. Perhaps look for a serum that has a high concentration of these ingredients.

4) Don't pick, pop or abrasively scrub and monitor your skin's irritation. You don't want more inflammation, bacteria or further damage the skin!

5) Take your time, be kind to yourself. Frustrating advice, yes, but don't get depressed as most scaring is not permanent. (Meanwhile there's always concealer..).

Share your thoughts!

Have you battled with acne scaring? What has improved your skin the most? Also, is there anything acne related you'd like me to talk about next? Click here to read my previous posts if you fancy.

And finally, happy September! To be honest I'm baffled that August is gone. Just a moment ago we were whining about the heatwave in Europe and then the weeks just flew by! I love it how bright it is in Helsinki during the Summer time, I can't stand the idea the mornings are going to be dark soon. Sigh.