As if acne itself wasn’t bad enough, sometimes they leave behind unsightly scars that can be difficult to cover up even with your strongest arsenal of concealers and foundation.
There are several acne scar creams available on the market, but the range of options can work against us. How do we know what really works and what doesn’t?
Furthermore, acne scar creams typically need to be used continuously for at least two to three months before any visible change can be seen, and we don’t want to waste all that time and money on an ineffective product.
To help us be more well-informed consumers (and to help us save our time and effort), we approached dermatologist Dr. Phay Ken-lin from Specialist Skin Clinic to tell us more about acne scar creams.
1. Know the kind of scars you’re dealing with
Not all acne scars are created equal. There are generally three types of scars that acne can lead to:
Raised scars, or keloids, can sometimes be eliminated with over-the-counter products, especially those containing silicone and its derivatives. Otherwise, there are also procedures at the doctor’s that may be helpful in flattening this type of scarring.
Unfortunately, for those of us with depressed scars, laser or even surgical procedures are generally required to smooth out the skin surface. Creams, no matter how concentrated or strong they are, may have limited to no effect on this type of scar, as it has already affected the structure of the skin beneath.
Smooth but discoloured scars (or blemishes)
Smooth but discoloured scars may be more visually obvious than the others, but here’s the good news: they are also the easiest to get rid of. They can either appear as a dark or red spot, according to Dr. Phay, but “they generally heal over time”, unlike raised or depressed scars.
2. Look out for these ingredients
For those who want to lighten blemishes, Dr. Phay recommends looking out for good Vitamin C serums and alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid. These are available in over the counter products found in drugstores, but they’d have lower concentrations. “Stronger formulations are usually available only at the doctor’s office,” explains Dr. Phay.
If your blemish has been hanging around for ages and never seems to be fading, you may need something even stronger than that from the doctor’s. “For the more stubborn marks, one would need prescription strength creams such as tretinoin, hydroquinone or azaleic acid,” suggests Dr. Phay.
Over-the-counter products for blemishes
Peter Thomas Roth AHA/BHA Acne Clearing Gel contains 10% AHA and 2% BHA (Salicylic Acid). It retails for SGD96 at Sephora.
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting AHA 8% Gel contains 8% AHA (Glycolic Acid). It retails for SGD43 on Paula’s Choice.
Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser contains AHA (Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid) and BHA (Salicyclic Acid). It retails for SGD78 at Robinsons.
Kiehl’s Blue Herbal Spot Treatment contains AHA (Glycolic Acid). It retails for SGD40 at Kiehl’s.
277 Series Vit C Intense contains 17% Vitamin C. It retails for SGD 280 (50 ml) at Skin Concierge.
Clinique Fresh Pressed Daily Booster with Pure Vitamin C 10% contains 10% ascorbic acid. It retails for SGD99 (4 pcs x 8.5ml) at Sephora and Clinique counters.
Mario Badescu Vitamin C Serum contains 7.5% ascorbic acid. It retails for USD45 (1 oz) on Amazon.
3. Don’t forget you need to be doing this all the time
It should come as no surprise that Dr. Phay recommends all her patients to wear sunscreen, even if they don’t have acne scars. But for those with blemishes, sun protection is even more vital.
“Ensure that it has an SPF of at least 30, is adequately applied, and is reapplied every few hours if one is outdoors for extended periods,” says Dr. Phay.
4. Need to get some peel?
If your blemishes are too much for you to handle, and the various creams available to you just aren’t helping, it’s time to consider getting a peel.
“Procedures like microdermabrasion, chemical peels, or Silkpeel can facilitate lightening of marks by enhancing the skin cell turnover,” explains Dr. Phay. This means that the skin cells will regenerate faster, which will make your blemishes fade faster.
“Persistent or slow-to-clear red marks can also be treated with Intense Pulse Light (IPL).”
These procedures can be done by dermatologists or aesthetic doctors who possess the appropriate equipment in their clinic.
5. Watch out for these side effects
As most acne scar creams can be drying, the most common side effect is skin irritation which may present as “redness, peeling, itching, or stinging,” according to Dr. Phay. “Patients with sensitive skins such as those with a background of eczema are more susceptible.”
Dr. Phay also recommends aligning your scar treatment with the other skin care products you are using to make sure that they are compatible with each other, and avoid adverse reactions. Chemicals are always reacting with each other, so you’d want to make sure that there aren’t going to be any negative reactions happening on your skin when you apply medicated creams along with your other products.
As always, don’t be afraid to work with your dermatologist or doctor when it comes to adjusting your acne scar treatment to a level that you are most comfortable with. The most important thing to note is to get proper medical assessment of your acne scars so that you’ll only be using the most appropriate treatment on your face.