Like salt in a wound, acne scarring is for many a painful reminder of breakouts they’d rather forget. But it’s becoming increasingly prevalent. Thanks to a recent surge in ‘maskne’ aka acne linked to the face masks that we wear to protect ourselves and others against the spread of coronavirus, there’s been a steep uptick in those looking for a soothing solution that doesn’t require leaving the house. According to Google’s just-published Year in Search (the official title of its annual roundup of our most googled terms), the queries ‘mask acne tips’ and ‘what gets rid of acne scars’ were up 300% and 150% over the course of 2020 in the United States.
“Blemishes and acne happen, and they can happen at any age and with any skin type,” explains Youth To The People Education Executive Lauren Cummings, adding that it’s never too late to start treatment if you’ve been experiencing scarring or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), a commonly associated skin condition, for some time.
“There are always tips, tricks and products you can use, but the best way to prevent scarring is to leave blemishes alone and let skin heal in it’s own time,” she says.
Double-board certified MD Melissa Doft adds that identifying whether you have acne scarring, PIH, or both, will make figuring out the appropriate method of treatment all the more rewarding—and straightforward.
“PIH is a temporary condition that occurs in reaction to inflammation in which the skin color darkens from an increase in melanin, while acne scarring is a permanent change to the surface of the skin. Although PIH can occur from acne, it can also occur from lasers, sun burns, chemical peels, or scrapes,” says Dr. Doft.
In general, acne is linked to stress, hormonal, or lifestyle imbalances, but scarring is “more common in patients with cystic acne, poorly controlled acne, and in patients who actively pick at their acne,” Doft explains, adding that “PIH can occur in anyone, but tends to occur more in darker skinned patients who have a higher percentage of melanin in their epidermis.”
Noticeable signs of PIH include a darkening of the skin that will appear tan, deep brown, or even purple in color, and is intensified by time in the sun.
“PIH typically occurs in sun-prone areas, but is most associated with acne—so always wear sunscreen when outdoors and don’t pick your pimples,” continues Doft. Cummings would agree: “Daily use of sunscreen, SPF 30 or higher, is essential if you want to prevent scars and dark spots from getting deeper in pigmentation.”
If the damage is already done, though, don’t give up hope. Proactive comfort can be found by adopting a consistent cleanse and exfoliate routine with haste. “You can avoid continued blemishes and acne altogether by thoroughly cleansing with a pH-balanced cleanser and chemical, physical, or enzymatic exfoliation,” says Cummings. Using spot treatments designed for blemishes and clay-based masks can also help. In tandem with stimulating the natural healing process, both can also lessen the likelihood of a scar forming from the get.
Another vital step in treatment and prevention is vitamin C. A potent antioxidant, it works by brightening pre-existing dark spots and inhibiting additional melanin production. But it won’t work overnight.
“Every person’s skin is different as to when you will see a scar or dark spot completely gone, but you should notice an improvement after a month of everyday use,” continues Cummings. Her go-to formula is the new 15% Vitamin C + Clean Caffeine Energy Serum because, in addition to being very stable and non-irritating, it’s great for sensitive skin.
“It’s both water and oil soluble, which means it absorbs deeply into the skin for maximum benefits,” says Cummings.
Doft recommends a similar regimen, with the caveat to seek professional treatment if you have particularly deep scarring or PIH that won’t budge. “PIH can be mitigated with lasers and chemical peels, while acne scars can be improved with microneedling and lasers,” she says. But, as with anything, that too will require patience. Dependent on the severity, you’re looking at several treatments to secure lasting results.
Written by Elsa de Berker for Youth To The People