Zits actually aren’t the worst thing that can happen to your skin; we know they’re awful, but at least they have the common decency to eventually go away. But scarring from zits and acne takes the cake on annoying skin problems. No matter how hard we try, it always seems like fate has more to do with whether a pimple leaves a scar than the type of cleanser we’re using or whether we’ve had the self-control to keep our hands from squeezing.
Acne scarring is not always avoidable, whether you pick or treat the lesion or not, says Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, a dermatologist from Beverly Hills. The good news? There are some things you can do to help reduce the chance of a semi-permanent or permanent scar. Here are 4 steps Shainhouse recommends taking if you find your pimples are leaving scars and you can’t figure out why.
Don’t pick. “It is tempting when you see a blackhead (oxidized oil and keratin) or have a painful pink bump that might be almost ready to squeeze, even if you don’t see the pus,” Shainhouse says. “Picking, scratching or squeezing the skin can traumatize the epidermis (skin) around the pimple and it can leave a scar unrelated to the actual pimple! Squeezing can also increase the inflammation in the skin and pore/follicle, leading to increased blood flow and redness, which can, in turn, lead to residual post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation–that can take up to months to fade.”
Use the right products. “If you have more pigment in your skin, then any inflammation will leave dark spots on your skin, which can last for months (think about how long it takes for your suntan to fade),” Shainhouse says. “Persistent pink, inflamed acne spots will leave dark marks behind if the inflammation isn’t reduced quickly. Treat acne spots early. Use daily acne washes and on-the-spot acne creams to prevent and treat new lesions. Consider applying a thin layer of hydrocortisone cream to new, pink, inflamed lesions to reduce the redness and pain.”
Treat superficial and deeper, inflamed zits differently. For more superficial acne spots (those that are near the surface) or comedones (blackheads, whiteheads), Shainhouse recommends applying a salicylic acid gel to the spot overnight to dry it up and help it heal. If you’re battling a new, inflamed, pink acne lesion, she suggests trying an on-the-spot cream with benzoyl peroxide to reduce inflammation and kill the bacteria that may be contributing to the acne.
Seek a dermatologist’s help for cystic/hormonal acne. Deep, painful, hormone-related cysts require a whole other level of care and Shainhouse recommends seeing your dermatologist to discuss short-term and long-term acne treatment plans that can include low dose antibiotics to reduce inflammation, birth control pills, or medications that reduce testosterone levels. And there’s another benefit to treating this type of acne at a doctor’s office. “For your deep, painful acne cysts that are nowhere near the skin surface, consider popping into your dermatologist’s office to have some dilute steroid injected directly into the fresh cyst,” Shainhouse says. “This will reduce the inflammation, pain and size of the acne cyst within 1-2 days, and reduce the temptation to pick, as well as the potential for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.”
For more skincare tips, check out 7 skincare mistakes that are aging you and do you need to change your skincare routine for fall?