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. Acne scar removal becomes the new skincare concerns for those of us who are suffering from 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.
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: using a skincare product, going for a clinic treatment such as acne scar removal lasers, and a home remedy, to see which one seems to have the most potential in acne scar removal efficacy.
Acne scar removal method 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.
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.
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 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.
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!
Other acne scar removal products to try
Clinique Even Better Clinical Radical Dark Spot Corrector
This is said to be a clinical-strength serum and helps to visibly eliminate the appearance of dark spots, age spots, and acne scars.
These benefits are possible thanks to the proprietary brightening molecule in its formula, as well as a blend of anti-irritants and soothing botanical ingredients that can reduce the chance of these blemishes darkening due to environmental aggressors.
Clinique Even Better Clinical Radical Dark Spot Corrector retails for S$150 and is available at Sephora.
By Wishtrend Mandelic Acid 5% Skin Prep Water
A gentle exfoliator that contains 5% madelic acid, which is less irritating than other AHA ingredients, this product gives a peeling effect that doesn’t hurt sensitive skin.
Simply soak it with a cotton pad and wipe it onto your skin right after cleansing. Over time, you’ll find that your complexion look brighter and your skin tone more even than before.
By Wishtrend Mandelic Acid 5% Skin Prep Water retails for US$22 and is available at Wishtrend.
Indeed Labs Retinol Reface Retinol Skin Resurfacer
We’ve always known that retinol is great at reducing the occurrence of acne and acne scarring. This powerful tri-retinol formula is fast-absorbing and ultra-lightweight to help with precisely these benefits.
Take note that because the formula is rather strong, you should start off slow – use it every other evening at first, and then slowly amp it up to daily evening use.
Indeed Labs Retinol Reface Retinol Skin Resurfacer retails for S$29.50 and is available at Lookfantastic.
Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Serum Complexion Correcting
This brightening serum helps to promote a more even complexion and reduces the appearance of blemishes like acne marks and scars over time.
The oil-free serum may be highly concentrated but it’s safe for pregnant women and those with sensitive skin, thanks to its non-toxic and non-photo sensitising formula. It is also free of all synthetic chemicals, fillers, and GMOs.
Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Serum Complexion Correcting retails for SGD90 for 30ml and is available at Sephora.
REN Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask
This is a potent, bio-active peel mask that delivers multiple skincare benefits, including reducing the appearance of acne scars, hyperpigmentation, and areas of sun damage.
The luxurious face mask allows you to see results in just ten minutes, thanks to its hardworking cocktail of four AHAs: glycolic, citric, lactic, and tartaric acid.
This can be used weekly as a great skincare booster, but note that it is not recommended for sensitive skin.
REN Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask retails for S$63 and is available at Lookfantastic.
Alpha-H Liquid Gold Luxe Resurfacing Body Cloths
Infused with AHAs and other botanical ingredients, each of these luxurious cloths offers waterless exfoliation, which is great for reducing the appearance of uneven skin tone, blemishes, and even bumps and flakes.
You can use the textured side to buff away dead skin cells and impurities and then turn to the smooth side to deliver hydration and luminosity to skin.
Alpha-H Liquid Gold Luxe Resurfacing Body Cloths retails for S$36 and is available at Sephora.
Acne scar removal method 2: Clinic-grade treatments
Clinic-grade treatments including acne scar removal lasers are probably one of the most sough-after solutions for those looking to get rid of acne scars. To find out whether it works, we sent a few people who suffer from deep acne scars for clinic-grade treatments and see how they perform of these stubborn scars.
Subsicion + Fillers, INFINI, Fractional CO2 Laser for deep acne scars
Choon Wee has been suffering from acne scars for a long time and did not know what he could do to improve the problem. He had tried home remedies in the past, such as applying aloe vera gel, but saw no improvement at all.
Acne scar removal treatment is one of Dr. Boey’s key interests and he is a Key Opinion Leader for Enerjet 2.0 for acne scar removal. Sozo also prides itself as the clinic that offers one of the most comprehensive range of acne scar treatments in the region.
He recommended that Choon Wee go through at least three sessions of these treatments in order to see more obvious results.
Subcision is first used to break the bands of scar tissue beneath the skin. This is especially important for scars which are held down with fibrous tissue such as box-car acne scars and rolling scars. Then, Rejuran S fillers are injected at the base of the scar to act as a spacer so that they cannot reattach to skin and stimulate scar remodelling.
The Fractional CO2 laser treatment and INFINI RF treatment then come in to help stimulate collagen stimulation and encourage skin’s natural healing process to kick in so that it can resurface and even out its appearance.
INFINI RF treatment targets deep acne scars, up to even 3.5mm deep in his skin. Fractional CO2 laser targets shallower scars within the depth of 1.5mm.
After Choon Wee’s scars were mapped out, he was brought to a room where numbing gel was applied on his face. This was left on for 20 minutes before the treatment began.
“Subcision + Filler felt like the poking of small needles. I also experienced some ‘scraping’ sensation,” described Choon Wee. Thanks to the numbing cream, he found it a very bearable process.
Next, INFINI RF treatment and Fractional CO2 Laser was administered to his skin. He could feel a burning sensation on the area that was being worked on, but once the device moved away to another section, the sensation alleviated immediately.
Finally, a cream that consisted of antibiotics and steroids was applied to help with quicker healing of skin after the treatments.
Choon Wee was told to stay away from direct sun and to apply sunscreen religiously after the treatment. He was also given a healing cream to apply two times a day.
“I’m glad that the after-care requirements were quite easy to follow and I’m able to care for my skin properly and easily after the treatments,” he shared.
Choon Wee expected his face to look very red after the treatments but was surprised that it wasn’t very obvious. However, there were some marks from the treatments that can be seen on his face.
The marks disappeared after four days.
“Once the marks were gone, I noticed that my acne scars became less deep. Two weeks after the treatment, I found that the scars had become even less noticeable – especially the ones that were less deep to begin with,” he commented.
He also felt that his skin became smoother to touch.
“In fact, right from the first day of the treatment, I already felt that my skin was smoother – I could feel it when I was washing my face. “
Following his positive first impression, Choon Wee will be going through two more rounds of treatments. We will update the article once he completes the sessions so he could share more about his experience and results.
Infini RF and Secret TF for acne scar removal in Singapore
Keith suffered from acne when he was a teenager. Although he eventually grew out of the phase and didn’t experience acne as an adult, pitted scars that he got from picking at his pimples continued to stay with him.
He had been using exfoliators and peels, hoping to smoothen the appearance of his skin texture, but there hasn’t been any obvious effect.
He had a consultation with skin experts at The Clifford Aesthetics, who explained that there are many different types of acne scars and they have to be addressed with a variety of treatments.
In Keith’s case, for instance, a combination of treatments will help achieve the most optimal result. The Clifford Aesthetics recommended that he go through INFINI Laser first, and then Secret RF a month later.
INFINI is a fractional laser that works by breaking down parts of the skin that is “dented” when skin was damaged, forming the scar. It then stimulates cell regeneration and collagen production to repair skin.
INFINI is an effective form of laser treatment because it is able to penetrate up to 3.5mm below the skin, a depth that is required for treatment of deep scars.
As part of preparation, two layers of numbing cream was left on Keith’s skin for approximately one hour.
He was also given local anaesthesia to further numb his skin.
“There was still some pain experienced during the treatment. Thankfully, after the pain relief faded away, there wasn’t any further discomfort,” Keith shared.
There was also some redness on his skin after the treatment, but it only lasted for three days. Keith was able to go back to work immediately and said that he started noticing visible results within a week.
A month later, Keith went through the second treatment: Secret RF, the latest acne scar treatments in Singapore and The Clifford Aesthetics was the first to introduce it.
Secret RF evens out the texture of skin with two features: fractional radiofrequency and micro-needles. Thanks to the RF-powered microcannula, this treatment is very suitable for people with rolling type of scars and offer a lot more precision.
Apart from evening out skin texture, Secret RF also stimulates collagen production and has a tightening effect on skin, which is important because it helps stretch out scars so skin looks smoother.
Keith was happy that the pain level for Secret RF was more bearable than his first treatment.
There was some redness and scabbing after the treatment, but these signs were gone within three days.
Four weeks after his second appointment at The Clifford Aesthetics, Keith shared his observations and thoughts.
He said that there was already some improvement after the first acne treatment, but the result was even more obvious after the Secret RF treatment.
He noticed that the depth of scars at his temple area looked shallower, especially after the second treatment.
But he was most pleasantly surprised by the result seen on his left cheek.
“If you look at the before-and-after photos taken, you’d notice that the acne scars were almost all gone!”
He said that his skin was also smoother to touch and he was happy that his friends noticed the positive changes – a result that he couldn’t achieve in the past with topical products he used.
Acne scar removal method 3: Home remedy
My next task was to find a home-made solution for acne scars. After some Googling, the one acne scar removal 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
If you have the cash to spare, I would definitely recommend going for the clinic-grade treatments. They aren’t as painful as expected, and it seemed to have a pretty good effect on acne scars so far.
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 aesthetic 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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