Scars can be a massive pain to deal with and they can come in many forms; from injury scars and pitted acne scars to dark/red post-pimple scars and the ones left from particularly angry ingrown hairs – these little marks can accumulate and leave your skin looking generally dull and worse for wear.
The first thing you’re going to want to do, before anything else, is invest in a good sunblock. Every time your scars are exposed to the sun, the pigmentation darkens. Use sunscreen daily to prevent the scars from darkening further and to enhance the results from your other products.
Firstly, the fastest way to get rid of a scar is through laser treatment. This is particularly effective with the pitted ‘ice pick’ acne scars that some people get but there are also some very effective ways to treat them topically – it just takes a bit more patience!
The whole process of getting rid of any scar is usually two or three pronged. With pitted or raised scars it’s a case of exfolating the skin as well as keeping it healthy so that when the new skin is revealed it looks smooth and plump. For dark marks or red marks left on the skin following break outs, bad shaving cuts and ingrown hairs – we have to exfoliate the skin and then protect the area from the sun so that it wont become darker and reverse all of the work. We can also use pigmentation faders to supplement this.
The best product that you can use in order to fade any kind of scar is something that contains AHA. AHA is a chemical exfoliant that will steadily slough off the dead, pigmented layers of skin in order to reveal new scar-free skin beneath. It will take at least a month to see any effect but if you stick in there, the results can be quite astounding. I’ve mentioned a few AHA products on this blog but for the specific treatment of scars I would suggest either the Acne.org 10% AHA Cream, Neostrata Skin Smoothing Lotion with 10% AHA or a moisturiser from the MD Forte Range that comes in 10, 20 and 30% concentrations (stick to 10% at first, you can trade up after 4-5 months if the 10% does not work for you).
I recommend using one of these AHA creams at night as your night time moisturiser paired with broad spectrum sun protection during the day – this will be the fastest way to smooth, even skin. Any AHA lotion will do as long as it has a concentration between 8 and 12%, any higher is for those who have already used a lower concentration for at least a few months. A lot of these creams state that you can use them during the day but I advise against this as AHAs will increase photosensitivity. It’s unwise to irritate your skin with an AHA and then step out into the sun. Use at night, on alternating days with your regular moisturiser until you can handle using it every day with minimal irritation. Expect some stinging if you’re using this on freshly shaved skin.
The main pigment lightening ingredients that one can use successfully are Alpha Arbutin, Kojic Acid and Niacinamide. These products will gradually fade uneven pigmentation to make the skin tone look even without the side effect of rebound pigmentation that products like hydroquinone can create. When using these products make sure to use them at night and during the day time use a good sunscreen so you don’t reverse the ground you’ve made at night. These products are best utilised in a serum that you can apply all over the face including under eyes at night. These are also great for those with any other pigmentation issues such as dark circles. The combination of a pigmentation fading product and alpha hydroxy acid will speed up the rate at which acne scars fade. These will have no effect on embedded scars, only on those that are darker than the skin or red. My favourites are the Neostrata Pigment Lightening Gel(which also contains AHAs so you have that covered all in one product, don’t use this under eyes), Skinceuticals Phyto+, Olay Regenerist Serum and most Vitamin C serums are great at evening out tone but not fading specific scars as well as the others. A point to note with the Neostrata product is that the rest of their line also contains ‘Lightening’ products that contain Hydroquinone. Make sure you check that you’re buying the Neostrata Pigment Lightening Gel which contains NO hydroquinone.
These are excellent because they increase cell turnover and so fresh skin is exposed quickly and acne scars fade. If you’re 25 or over you can use a retinoid as your daily night moisturiser to not only fade acne scars and improve skin tone but to also stave off your first fine lines and wrinkles. If you’re 20 years old or older you can use a retinoid 3 or 4 days a week or more to enhance the results of your other scar-fading treatments. I recommend the retinol products from Avene (my favourite) or the Neutrogena Healthy Skin product I reviewed earlier today. Both are excellent. Pair with sunscreen during the day! You can use a retinoid and AHA simultaneously but it all depends on what your skin can take as these are two potentially irritating ingredients. Best thing is to just try one first for a few months and then work the other in – if you need it – once every 4 days to start with. Increase frequency if you need to and if your skin is okay with it. Your skin should never be really red and irritated after applying products.
The best way to prevent scars? Stop the thing that’s causing them in the first place! If you have acne, occasional zits or ingrown hairs that are causing scars – make sure you invest in a good BHA product to keep your pores clear like my oft-mentioned Paula’s Choice 2% BHA liquid.
EDIT: If you have stubborn scars or very shallow ones, you may want to read this post about copper peptides. A new way to treat acne scars.