3 methods of acne scar removal tried and tested: which one seems most effective?

As if our hormones hadn’t tortured us enough with uncontrollable acne during our teenage years, we have to deal with the aftermath of it in our young adult phase of life: acne scars. How do we remove these scarring reminders of our acne-ridden youth?

Acne scars come in two large categories: the type that looks like a spot of pigmentation on the skin that wouldn’t go away, but is otherwise flat and smooth to the touch, or the type that has formed a concave pit on the skin, which are typically harder to treat.

acne scar removal 1

There are also so many different ways that people have claimed works for acne scar removal, so where do we even start? We tested out three of the most popular methods to see which one seems to have the most potential in acne scar removal efficacy.

Disclaimers:

  • Due to time constraints, we were only able to test each acne scar removal method out for one week each. Of course, any acne scar removal technique (even chemical peels) require many, many successive treatments in order to see visible, long-lasting effects. These comparisons are meant to give a gauge of how much potential each method will have in actually helping for acne scar removal.
  • I have some really deep, pitted acne scars on my cheeks, as you can see on the photos below. I didn’t expect to see a huge difference with these short bursts of treatments, as pitted acne scars are much more difficult to get rid of than blemishes.

Week 1: Commercial product

Alpha hydroxy acids, or more commonly known as AHA, are a group of natural acids that are commonly used as skincare to remove the top layer of dead skin cells, so as to help acne, and improve the appearances of acne scars.

AHAs are water-soluble, which means it can help with dry, damaged skin, but its close counterpart, BHA (beta hydroxy acids) are oil-soluble, which means it can better penetrate oily skin and pores.

I managed to get hold of The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution, which has been touted as a 10-minute exfoliating facial. While AHA and BHA are commonly used as chemical exfoliants, they’re usually present in concentrations ranging from 1 – 5%, so this product is really strong.

acne scar removal the ordinary aha 30 bha 2

Their website says:

Alpha hydroxyl acids (AHA) exfoliate the skin’s topmost surface for a brighter and more even appearance. Beta hydroxyl acids (BHA) also exfoliate the skin with an extended function to help clear pore congestion.

This combined 32% AHA/BHA solution offers deeper exfoliation to help fight visible blemishes and for improved skin radiance. The formula also improves the appearance of skin texture and reduces the look of fine lines with continued use.

I followed the instructions and used it only at night, leaving it on for 10 minutes before rinsing it off, and I only did it twice in the week, with two days of rest in between.

The process

When I got my bottle of AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution, I first tested it on the back of my hand as I was rather apprehensive about how strong the acid content was. I certainly didn’t want to risk irritating my whole face. It is usually recommended that you start experimenting with acid peels from a lower concentration than this.

Luckily, aside from some very, very minor tingling, I did not experience any other sensation with the acid on the back of my hand, so I decided to jump straight into it and try it out on my face after my shower.

The solution is a very watery, reddish-purple liquid, and which made me look like I had a really bad sunburn after I had applied it. At first, it didn’t feel like much, but there was some minor tingling after about three minutes.

The tingling disappears after another minute or so, and left the skin feeling mildly warm for the rest of the 10 minutes, though it’s nothing close to uncomfortable. I also liked that it was a breeze washing it off, since it’s mostly water-soluble.

The results?

The main difference on my skin after only two applications was really the way it felt, rather than the way it looked. I’ve circled some positive differences in the before/after photos below, but there is a possibility that they are simply skin lesions healing by itself over time.

acne scar removal aha 2

My left cheek

acne scar removal aha 3

My left jawline

My jawline typically feels bumpy with clogged pores, but after my AHA mask each time, it always feels so much softer and smoother, as if I had just gotten an extraction done at a facial salon.

I have to say that my skin did start to flake a little in the drier areas after using this, and I had to start using more intensive moisturisers at night. Remember to properly hydrate and use good sun care if you’re using acid exfoliants!

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution is available on Deciem, ASOS, and Beautylish.

Week 2: Home remedy

My next task was to find a home-made solution for acne scars. After some Googling, the one remedy that kept popping up was making your own papaya face mask. The two enzymes in papaya, papain and chymopapain, is said to be able to dissolve dead, dry skin cells.

The recipe I followed had me also using honey with the papaya. Raw honey is supposedly a natural antiseptic, and which also moisturises and smooths the skin while the papaya sloughs away the dead skin cells.

The process

Following this recipe, I mixed half a cup of mashed papaya with two tablespoons of honey. I found it difficult to really get a homogenous mixture as papaya is not exactly easy to mash. Anyway, the above photo shows the final mask that I eventually applied to my face.

acne scar removal papaya mask 2

Application was really not easy. The substance was so fluid that it kept dripping everywhere before I could get it on my face, whether I tried using my fingers, or a spoon. The liquid also felt really lightweight on my face, so it didn’t feel like I was getting much papaya. I had to physically put papaya flakes on my face!

I left the mask on for 20 minutes as the instructions prescribed before washing it off with cool water.

The results?

I didn’t like this mask at all. I’m not a huge fan of papaya, and having the papaya smell on my fingers and under my nose for 20 minutes was really an ordeal! The papaya and honey I used in the mixture were also freshly bought from the supermarket, but somehow the resulting mixture had a smell that was close to intolerable for me.

I had planned to do this mask twice a day for two weeks so I could capture the results better, but after the first time, I decided that I wouldn’t be able to continue on this regime anymore. As such, there aren’t any before/after pictures for this part of my experiment, unfortunately!

acne scar removal papaya mask

Many beauty junkies who have tried this home made face mask have reported some slight tingling on their face when they applied this mask, which points to the enzymatic sloughing of dead skin cells from the papaya. However, I experienced no sensation at all even though I really packed the papaya juice on to my face.

If you’re experimental and looking for an affordable, natural face mask to help with acne scars and to even out the skin tone, this papaya and honey face mask could be a good option for you to try out. That is, if you’re not as averse to the smell of papaya as I am.

Week 3: Clinic laser treatment

We received an invitation to try out the new PICO Toning by Discovery PICO and I was at first apprehensive about going through the treatment. I’ve never done any laser treatment for my face before, and have heard many horror stories about it.

However, the description of the treatment seemed promising:

It addresses skin problems such as melasma, sun spots, age spots, freckles, even birthmarks and unwanted tattoos … various pigmented lesions, acne scars, making the skin look brighter and smoother.

I made an appointment with Dr Steven Ang, from Dr Steven Ang Aesthetics and Laser Clinic, so I could learn more about the procedure and try it out for myself.

acne scar removal discovery pico 1

Although this procedure is mainly for pigmented lesions, I asked Dr Steven Ang how effective it would be for acne scars, which is my main concern at the moment.

“It is for general toning, and for general improvement of the skin texture,” said Dr Ang. “It will help scars, but that’s a more gradual prospect. If you’re hoping for quicker results, we will need to use a different machine.”

The recommended treatment procedure is for 3 to 6 sessions, so while Dr Ang assured me that there will be instant whitening after this one session, he said more sessions were needed if I wanted to see more visible, permanent and lasting results, especially with my deep, pitted scars.

For more stubborn pigmentation, like melasma and sunspots, more sessions will be needed as compared to shallower and newer pigmentation.

“The brighter skin tone will help to reduce the appearance of your pitted scars,” said Dr Ang. “But if you’d like to treat the scars in itself, you need more sessions. You also need more sessions to reduce your skin redness as well.”

The process

acne scar removal discovery pico 2

There were four segments to the entire treatment, which lasted about an hour or so.

1. Ruby 694nm: This part was to help me with the instant whitening, and was done over the entire face. There was a slightly prickly sensation, something that felt like a much less painful version of ant bites or rubber bands being snapped on the skin.

2. 1064 low fluence: This part was meant for general toning, and was done over the entire face. Even though it was low fluence, which means lesser power, I found this part the most uncomfortable of the entire treatment, though definitely still tolerable.

3. 1064 higher fluence: This part was specially adjusted by Dr Ang to help with my acne scarring. This part felt more comfortable than the last, perhaps because it was only activated in spots, and not for the entire face.

4. 1064 PT mode: This was the laser on photothermal mode, which is meant to help with active pimples, and to reduce the redness of the skin. It was only done in spots, but was the least painful segment of the entire treatment.

The results?

I was wearing makeup before the session, but the clinic assistant helped me to to remove most of it (except my eye area) before we took the before/after photos.

acne scar removal discovery pico before after 1

acne scar removal discovery pico before after 2

acne scar removal discovery pico before after 3

From the photos above, it’s pretty obvious that there is truth to the claims that PICO Toning does help with brightening and whitening. My skin also felt much smoother to the touch after that, as if I had just gotten extraction done (but PICO Toning was much less painful than extraction).

As mentioned above, this treatment is meant to be done over three to six sessions, with about two to four weeks in between each session. While my pitted scars remained mostly the same as before, I was pleased to see how my skin tone had improved, and how much more radiant my face looked.

I experienced no down time with this one session, but I did have a small scab on my left cheek which went down in about a week.

acne scar removal discovery pico 3

Dr Ang had said that changes in my skin might still happen over the next couple of weeks after the laser treatment was done. True enough, after two weeks, my skin still felt a lot smoother than it used to be.

I was hesitant and a little afraid before I had gone for the laser treatment, but if given the chance, I would certainly return to rid myself of acne scars for good.

The procedure costs SGD 800 onwards per treatment.

Dr Steven Ang Aesthetics and Laser Clinic
Address: 304 Orchard Road Orchard Medical Specialist Centre Suite, #05-29, S(248362)
Tel: +65-6476-7333 / +65-6737-8182

Address: Blk 75D, Redhill Road, #01-86. S(154075)
Tel: +65-6476-7333

Final verdict?

If you have the cash to spare, I would definitely recommend going for the laser treatment. It’s not as painful as I expected, and it seemed to have a pretty good effect on my skin so far.

However, since the laser treatment is not exactly affordable for most people, the next best option would be to go for commercial exfoliating products, such as acid peeling solutions.

These do have a significant smoothing effect on the skin, though it might take a longer time and more effort to see results than laser treatments.

Do take care if you’re using these solutions, and ensure that your skin is suitable before spreading it all over your face! Also make sure you moisturise generously after use these solutions, as they can really dry out your skin.

As for the home-made papaya mask, you can certainly give this a go if you feel experimental and have the time to try it out. Since so many separate groups of people on the Internet have recommended it, it may perhaps work better for you than it did for me.

 

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