The Acne-Scar Treatment We Never Saw Coming

Illustrated by Shawna Huang.
Dermatology and plastic surgery are two horns on the same goat. The line that separates them can sometimes seem razor-thin. But, procedures like dermal fillers and Botox have always sat pretty comfortably on the plastic-surgery side of the discussion. That is, until now. Today, the FDA has announced its approval of the filler Bellafill for the treatment of acne scars. That's right. Worlds are colliding.
As many acne sufferers know, once you finally banish the blemishes, the fight ain't over. The scars can remain — especially if you had a cystic condition or were a perpetual popper (guilty). According to the American Academy of Dermatology, by their mid-teens, more than 40% of adolescents will have acne scarring. And, this can actually be more emotionally debilitating than the zits themselves. "Acne scars can be a lifelong dilemma for many people and only worsen with age," says Ava Shamban, MD, dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at UCLA.
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Like any other filler on the market, Bellafill works to add volume to the skin. Even though people tend to think they're interchangeable, a filler of this type is quite different from Botox, which works by paralyzing facial muscles. During clinical trials, 64% of people whose scars were treated with Bellafill saw an improvement in six months, according to the brand. And, 98% of subjects who went in for a touchup at the one-month mark saw improvement after a year. Those aren't numbers to thumb your nose at.
Bellafill is a poly-methylmethacrylate (or PMMA) collagen filler, which is a suspension of synthetic microspheres in a gel. That gel is injected, which gives skin an immediate boost. Over time, the microspheres work to support collagen production, so the results last. Only certain providers offer Bellafill at the moment, but the site has a handy locator so you can find a doc close to you.
We're happy that Bellafill has the FDA's stamp of approval. While plenty of other medicines, like spironolactone, have been used to cure dermatological issues, these treatments haven't been approved for those particular uses. Bellafill, on the other hand, has been proven safe and effective. After all, there's a need out there for acne-scar remedies, so the results could be life-changing. "Until now, multiple laser treatments or other injectables have been used but are limited both in terms of efficacy and longevity, and are hampered by potential side effects," says Dr. Shamban.
To be clear, this isn't a one-and-done treatment. The recommended procedure includes a touchup a month after the first visit, but there haven't been enough clinical studies to determine how long it actually lasts. Collagen does break down, whether it's natural or synthetic.
A teeny-tiny part of us is excited about how this could continue to dampen the stigma around plastic surgery. Fillers that are used for treatments beyond anti-aging could open the door for more hybrid remedies in the future. Why not let worlds collide?
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