As if dealing with inflamed and often painful blemishes isn’t scarring enough, sometimes after the redness and swelling of a zit subsides, you’re left with an actual physical scar. Sometimes it’s a spot of hyperpigmentation, but other times, pimples leave behind indentations in the skin commonly known as pockmarks.
"Pockmarks are a type of scar seen on the face that results from inflammatory, cystic acne," notes board-certified dermatologist Dr. Estee Williams.
"Pockmarks are typically shallow indentations in the skin resembling craters, but other types of pockmarks, known as ice-pick scars, are actually quite deep and narrow and look like a toothpick was poked into the skin."
These are usually developed when a disease affects the dermis of the skin. And believe it or not, they’re not always caused by popping and picking, though that does increase your likelihood of scarring, in addition to habits like smoking or factors like skin color and your DNA. According to Dr. Williams, a pimple that is extremely inflammatory or deep might heal with scarring, whether you pick it or let it heal on its own.
So how do you get rid of them? The bad news first. There aren’t topical products that can totally erase the scars, but being proactive helps reduce the chance of scars developing.
There are also products that can help minimize the appearance of scars. Dr. Williams says they can do this by exfoliating the skin and boosting collagen production and refers to the prescription Tazorac or the ingredient Retin-A.
However, these aren’t always as powerful as in-office treatments your derm can provide.
"I am very proactive when treating acne patients because untreated acne can leave permanent scars and red marks," she explains.
"Most acne patients benefit from medication, but the best and quickest results come from combining our trusted medical therapies with in-office procedures. My go-to treatments are chemical peels and intense pulse light (IPL), which is a light-based treatment where a handpiece containing a cooled crystal tip is placed on the face and delivers gentle flashes of light, one pulse at a time. In my office, we actually have three IPLs but my favorite for acne, by far, is the Lumenis M22 because it is the only one with a special acne application. I often prefer IPL over a chemical peel because it not only calms the acne but also reduces any redness in old acne scars."
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At the end of the day, if you're dealing with acne or the remnants of a healed breakout, the best option is to talk to your dermatologist about what products and treatments will be most effective for you.