Acne Scars: How Long Do They Take to Fade?

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Acne is the bane of most teenager’s (and can be adult’s) existence. From day one, you are told not to pick at acne or pop pimples. Most can hardly resist, especially when the pimples are painful, hard to cover up and just won’t seem to go away. You picked the pimple and now you have a scar. So how do you get rid of these marks?

Marks versus Scars

While these terms are often used in conjunction with “acne” to mean the same thing, they are not. Scars are deeper, darker and require treatment. They are raised or depressed marks and often colorless. Acne marks are flat and dark, and will fade with time, usually about three to six months. Acne marks can be camouflaged with make-up or concealer.

Types of Acne Scars

  • Boxcar scars are characterized by a pitted appearance on the skin. These are typically wider scars than others.
  • Rolling scars are characterized as wavy depressions that spread across the skin. They can become quite large.
  • Hypertrophic scars are caused by too much tissue. There are abnormally high amounts of collagen that give way to a raised and often pink or red scar. Keloids are a more severe form of this type of scar.
  • Hyperpigmentation is a very common scar resulting from acne. The mark is what is leftover after the pimple has healed. An overproduction and release of melanin causes the darkening. This is the type of scar that will fade over time naturally.
  • Ice Pick Scars result from inflamed cysts or blemishes that take root below the skin. They can be deep and narrower than other scars.

As a general rule; the more severe the blemish, the more likely it will be to scar. The more you squeeze or pinch your skin, the darker or larger the mark that can be made. Generally, some scars will fade with time. How much and how quickly the scar fades depends on many factors that can include, treatment of the skin (cleansers/lotion), health of the skin (starting from within), time spent engaging in skin damaging activities (mainly sun-based) and genetics. If you’re not certain you’d like to wait it out, luckily science has created several ways to cope with scars all the way up to eliminating them completely.

Various Treatments Available

Treatments vary in method and price.

  • Topicals

    Topicals are classified as creams and ointments. They are on the lower end of the scale in relation to price and work better for some types of scars than others. Retinoids have long been a favorite for many of acne’s victims. They are prescribed to clear active acne, but they also lighten the dark marks left behind. Unfortunately, these are the only types of scars Retinoids will help. They make no marked improvement on pitting or indentions in the skin, however.

  • Laser Skin Treatments

    Laser skin treatments can be very effective on certain types of acne scars. Ablative laser treatments work the surface of the skin by removing outer layers. A common ablative includes the Carbon Dioxide and Erbium-YAG lasers. These work by burning the skin to a specified depth. Redness is a result of the treatment and can take weeks to months to fade. After healing, this gives the skin an overall softened look.

  • Non-Ablative treatments

    Non-Ablative treatments can stimulate collagen production and tighten the skin. Common treatments of this variety work best on mild acne scars and hyperpigmentation. Deep, pitted scars aren’t treated well this way. Since non-ablative laser treatments don’t damage the skin, they are commonly referred to as “lunchtime” lasers as they can be done quickly with little to no downtime.

  • Dermabrasion

    Dermabrasion is typically performed in a dermatologist’s office. This method involves a revolving wire brush that works on the top layers of the skin. While there is some downtime to heal, it helps soften the look of scars and if the skin is pitted, will curtail some of the depth. This is often used to treat boxcar scars.

  • Microdermabrasion

    This is a similar procedure that works best for hyperpigmentation. This procedure is not recommended for indentions or pitting, as it will offer no benefit. Microdermabrasion is also performed in a dermatologist’s office, but is popular at day spas as well. It involves using a machine to discharge very fine aluminum oxide crystals through a tube onto the surface of the skin. Surface skin cells are removed and the crystals are vacuumed away. Generally speaking, more than one treatment is necessary.

  • Dermal Fillers

    Dermal fillers are a great option for indented acne scars. The filler of choice (including hyaluronic acid, collagen from cows and humans, or fat from another area of your own body.) is injected into the scar, causing it to rise and to look more even with the rest of the skin. This is a temporary fix, however, and will need to be repeated after several months.

  • Punches

    This treatment involves a small punch tool that is typically used for biopsies. It is similar to a cookie cutter, as the scarred skin is removed and then skin is then sutured closed. While another scar will most likely be leftover from the punch, it will be much less noticeable and will fade with time. Resurfacing techniques for the skin can be used to fade the new scar more quickly. In some cases, after the punch, a skin graft is used to fill the void. Typically the skin is taken from behind your ear. A new scar is left from this type of treatment as well, but will fade.

  • Subcutaneous Incision

    This is a simple surgery that can be performed under local anesthesia. A small scalpel or needle is positioned to be parallel to the skin’s surface. Bands of tissue are cut that bind to structures deeper in the body. The skin will visibly lift with this treatment, helping some depressed acne scars.

  • Steroids

    Steroids injected into a raised scar will cause it to shrink and deflate. Overall appearance of the skin will improve with this as well.

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