One of the biggest downsides of acne breakouts — well, besides the fact that you have the stupid breakouts in the first place? The stubborn scars and marks that blemishes can leave behind. For mild scars, at-home treatments can be used, but for extremely discolored, thickened, or recessed scars, in-office treatments are sometimes your only respite. To determine the best in-office treatments for acne scars, we spoke to Dr. Jennifer MacGregor, dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology, who schooled us on the myriad treatments available.
The most important part of acne scar treatment is prevention, first and foremost. "Acne must be controlled as the first step, and acne scars should be treated as soon as they develop," says Dr. MacGregor. Meaning you should hightail it to your derm at the first signs of marks. "We typically see patients when they are bothered by the appearance of their scars — but this can happen later, when the scar ages and has gotten worse."
Your dermatologist will determine the best course of treatment according to the appearance of your scars, says Dr. MacGregor. "In general, the two types of scarring are hypertrophic, which are thickened scars; and atrophic, which are thinned or pitted areas of skin. Both types of scarring can involve discoloration." Discoloration can show up in two different shade groups: brown (which are caused by buildup of melanin), and red (which are the result of broken blood vessels). Different types of scars can occur depending on one's genetics, skin type, and type of acne, says Dr. MacGregor.
One of the best types of treatments for scarring, according to Dr. MacGregor, are laser treatments (such as infrared lasers), as they can improve both the coloring and texture of scars. Another option is topical treatments, that can either increase cell turnover, or thin out the skin, both of which can result in the appearance of smoother skin.
In addition to topical medications, injectables — as in injectable fillers — can be used to spot-treat scars as necessary. The final option for the stubbornest of scars? Surgery, in which the scarred skin can actually be removed, and the skin on either side of the scar stitched together. This procedure would leave a new scar, but, according to Dr. MacGregor, the scar left over from surgery could potentially be much less noticeable than the acne scar.
No matter what type of treatment you receive to lessen acne scarring, it's important to be vigilant with SPF. "Sun protection is essential, regardless of the scar type," says Dr. MacGregor. "Any inflammation or trauma in the skin is susceptible to sun damage and can cause permanent pigment damage." Bottom line: If you're unsure what the best type of treatment is for your skin type, consult your derm — and in the meantime, make SPF your BFF to prevent any further skin damage.
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