Scarring from severe cystic acne can have harmful effects on a person's self esteem, happiness and mental health. Thankfully, there are many different acne scar treatment options available, ranging from chemical peels and skin fillers to dermabrasion and laser resurfacing. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, these are all safe and effective acne scar treatment methods. However, Baldwin says it's important to first clarify what you mean by "scar." "Many people point to red or brown spots leftover from old zits and call them scars," she says. "These are marks, not scars and they'll fade with time. Scars have textural changes and are not flush with the surface of the skin. There are two types of acne scars—innies and outies. Outies can be injected with corticosteroids and flattened. Innies can be either deep and narrow or broad, sloping and relatively shallow. Deep and narrow scars need to be cut out, but broader sloping scars can be made better by fillers, laser resurfacing and dermabrasion."
Any acne treatment is a weeks-long experiment that you’re conducting with your skin. Acne is slow to heal, and in some cases, it can get worse before it gets better (nearly every benzoyl peroxide product we looked at emphasized the likeliness of irritating acne further, and starting off with a lighter application). April W. Armstrong, a doctor at the University of California Davis Health System, recommends waiting at least one month before you deem a product ineffective.
C. acnes also provokes skin inflammation by altering the fatty composition of oily sebum. Oxidation of the lipid squalene by C. acnes is of particular importance. Squalene oxidation activates NF-κB (a protein complex) and consequently increases IL-1α levels. Additionally, squalene oxidation leads to increased activity of the 5-lipoxygenase enzyme responsible for conversion of arachidonic acid to leukotriene B4 (LTB4). LTB4 promotes skin inflammation by acting on the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha (PPARα) protein. PPARα increases activity of activator protein 1 (AP-1) and NF-κB, thereby leading to the recruitment of inflammatory T cells. The inflammatory properties of C. acnes can be further explained by the bacterium's ability to convert sebum triglycerides to pro-inflammatory free fatty acids via secretion of the enzyme lipase. These free fatty acids spur production of cathelicidin, HBD1, and HBD2, thus leading to further inflammation.
Dermal or subcutaneous fillers are substances injected into the skin to improve the appearance of acne scars. Fillers are used to increase natural collagen production in the skin and to increase skin volume and decrease the depth of acne scars. Examples of fillers used for this purpose include hyaluronic acid; poly(methyl methacrylate) microspheres with collagen; human and bovine collagen derivatives, and fat harvested from the person's own body (autologous fat transfer).
Fortunately, many of the same acne products for teens also work for adults. The trick is to stay on top of things with regular maintenance. This means cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturizing. These simple but necessary steps keep your pores clear, control oil and kill acne-causing bacteria. Now let’s look at the best acne treatments for teens and adults.
Light therapy is a treatment method that involves delivering certain specific wavelengths of light to an area of skin affected by acne. Both regular and laser light have been used. When regular light is used immediately following the application of a sensitizing substance to the skin such as aminolevulinic acid or methyl aminolevulinate, the treatment is referred to as photodynamic therapy (PDT). PDT has the most supporting evidence of all light therapies. Many different types of nonablative lasers (i.e., lasers that do not vaporize the top layer of the skin but rather induce a physiologic response in the skin from the light) have been used to treat acne, including those that use infrared wavelengths of light. Ablative lasers (such as CO2 and fractional types) have also been used to treat active acne and its scars. When ablative lasers are used, the treatment is often referred to as laser resurfacing because, as mentioned previously, the entire upper layers of the skin are vaporized. Ablative lasers are associated with higher rates of adverse effects compared with nonablative lasers, with examples being postinflammatory hyperpigmentation, persistent facial redness, and persistent pain. Physiologically, certain wavelengths of light, used with or without accompanying topical chemicals, are thought to kill bacteria and decrease the size and activity of the glands that produce sebum. The evidence for light therapy as a treatment for acne is weak and inconclusive. Disadvantages of light therapy can include its cost, the need for multiple visits, time required to complete the procedure(s), and pain associated with some of the treatment modalities. Various light therapies appear to provide a short-term benefit, but data for long-term outcomes, and for outcomes in those with severe acne, are sparse; it may have a role for individuals whose acne has been resistant to topical medications. A 2016 meta-analysis was unable to conclude whether light therapies were more beneficial than placebo or no treatment, nor how long potential benefits lasted. Typical side effects include skin peeling, temporary reddening of the skin, swelling, and postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Isotretinoin (previously known as Accutane) is the most effective form of acne therapy and the only one that can actually result in a cure for your acne. After finishing a course 80 percent of people never see acne again. It works so well because it unclogs pores, kills bacteria, reduces oil production and reduces inflammation. It's taken as a daily pill. Isotretinoin has numerous rare and potential side effects that has made it a controversial choice, but for patients with severe acne there is often no other option. Patients taking isotretinoin must also be on highly effective birth control as the drug can cause birth defects. Isotretinoin can only be taken under close medical supervision.
A study conducted by the Department of Dermatology at the University of Freiburg in Germany reports that using frankincense and five other plant extracts for antimicrobial effects on bacteria and yeast relating to the skin proved effective. The study concluded that their antimicrobial effects were powerful enough to be used as a topical treatment of some skin disorders, including acne and eczema. (19)
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Sometimes birth control alone isn’t enough to really make a difference in hormonal acne. That’s when your doctor might recommend adding in an androgen blocker such as Spironalactone. Spiro (as it’s called) minimizes the amount of androgen hormones in circulation by blocking the receptors that bind with testosterone. When these pills are taken at the same time as an oral contraceptive, 90 percent of women see an improvement in breakouts, according to Linkner. The drug is sometimes prescribed to women with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) to relieve androgen-related symptoms like excessive hair growth, hypertension, oily skin, and acne.
All the dermatologists we talked to agreed that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to acne. Every patient responds to treatments differently, and sometimes it can get worse before it gets better. But with the help of your dermatologist, you can find an acne treatment regimen that works for you. And, yes, we do stress how helpful it is to work with a derm to get it right.
If you’re used to seeing advertisements for acne treatments using five or six different products to clear up blemishes, you might be surprised that a simple three-step kit is our top pick. In fact, we favored Paula’s Choice for its simplicity. This twice-daily, three-step kit — which includes a cleanser, an anti-redness exfoliant, and a leave-on treatment — is concise without cutting corners.
Skin care clinics and dermatologists across the country offer laser skin treatments for acne scar removal, but is it worth it? The best way to determine which laser acne scar treatment is right for you is to get different professional opinions about which type is best for your skin, and compare pricing, expected recovery time and reviews. Here's how a few laser treatments work for acne scar removal:
Antibiotics. These work by killing excess skin bacteria and reducing redness. For the first few months of treatment, you may use both a retinoid and an antibiotic, with the antibiotic applied in the morning and the retinoid in the evening. The antibiotics are often combined with benzoyl peroxide to reduce the likelihood of developing antibiotic resistance. Examples include clindamycin with benzoyl peroxide (Benzaclin, Duac, Acanya) and erythromycin with benzoyl peroxide (Benzamycin). Topical antibiotics alone aren't recommended.