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For most people dealing with acne, the number one goal is to get rid of blemishes—and fast. However, oftentimes breakouts leave behind acne scars. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, an acne scar occurs when the breakout deeply penetrates the skin, damaging the skin and tissue beneath the surface. As the body tries to repair the damaged blemish, it can produce too much or too little collagen, leaving behind a scar.
There are different types of acne scars—depressed acne scars (atrophic scars) and raised acne scars (hypertrophic scars)—and the treatment plan is specific to each one. Below, we’re explaining the differences between each type of acne scar and what causes them to form.
What Causes Acne Scars?
We’re told never to pick or squeeze our pimples because it can increase the risk of acne scar formation, and that’s good advice to follow. According to AAD, picking at the skin increases inflammation and in turn, heightens the risk of scarring. But that’s not the only cause of acne scars. Acne scar formation has a lot to do with collagen production, the fiber that gives the skin its support, bounce, and youthfulness. If the body produces too little collagen as the skin heals from a severe breakout, a depressed acne scar can form, including icepick, boxcar, and rolling scars. If the body produces too much collagen while healing, raised acne scars, like keloids, can form.
Ice Pick Scars
An icepick scar is a depressed acne scar, also known as an atrophic scar. Icepick scars look like narrow and deep pits as if an ice pick were repeatedly poked into the skin.
A boxcar scar is also a depressed acne scar. According to a study published to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), boxcar scars are round or oval depressions in the skin with vertical edges. They have a wider surface than icepick scars and can be shallow or deep.
Rolling scars, also categorized as depressed acne scars, get their name from their appearance as tiny depressions that slope across the skin. According to the NCBI, rolling scars are usually wider than 4 to 5 mm.
A keloid scar is a raised acne scar or hypertrophic scar, which looks like a dark red or purple bump on the skin, often larger than the original size of the blemish. Because of their raised appearance and size, keloid scars are usually quite noticeable and harder to conceal with makeup. According to the NCBI, keloid scars are more common in dark-skinned individuals.
Sometimes when acne disappears, it leaves behind a dark spot or area of discoloration typically ranging in colors from pink to red or brown to black known as hyperpigmentation. It is caused by a post-inflammatory skin response. Hyperpigmentation is not exactly an acne scar (as it is not raised or pitted) but rather a reaction that causes the body to produce too much melanin which leaves behind a dark mark. In some cases, hyperpigmentation will clear on its own, but alpha hydroxy acids and other skin-brightening ingredients can help fade its appearance.
How to Prevent Acne Scars
There are several treatments available to help get rid of acne scars, including soft-tissue fillers and laser resurfacing, according to the Mayo Clinic. How well you take care of your active breakouts is often a good indicator of whether or not you can prevent acne scars. Here are some helpful steps to follow to prevent acne scars.
1. Be Gentle with Your Skin Care Routine
Excessive rubbing and scrubbing is never a good idea for your skin, especially while you’re dealing with an active breakout. To help reduce the risk of acne scar formation, the AAD recommends gentle skin care practices. Instead of scrubbing your skin with a face scrub or other harsh exfoliator (which can worsen acne), cleanse your skin gently with a Clarisonic facial cleansing brush, like Mia Smart, paired with our Acne Cleansing Brush Head. Ideal for sensitive, acne-prone skin, the brush head gently removes pore-clogging debris from the skin, so it’s left feeling soft, smooth, and clean.
2. Avoid Squeezing Pimples
There’s no benefit to squeezing pimples. It causes the skin around the blemish to swell and turn red, drawing more attention to pimples. What’s more, you can push dirt and debris deeper into your skin and any dirt or bacteria on your fingertips can enter the blemish and cause your acne to worsen. To give your acne the best chance of healing the right way, keep your hands off your face.
3. Treat Pimples Before They Scar
Spot treat your pimples with spot treatment creams and pimple patches. Spot treatments can help speed along the pimple healing process with ingredients like salicylic acid. Furthermore, spot treatments like pimple patches can help mask your blemishes without clogging your pores.