As if acne itself isn’t bad enough, many acne sufferers have to deal with another pest that lingers long after the zits have cleared up: acne marks – or as they are known in the medical community, acne hyperpigmentation.
Acne marks and scars can appear on anyone, although some skin types are more delicate, and hence they are easier to mar. However, hyperpigmentation is not a type of scarring, so it shouldn’t be confused as such. These marks can look a lot like scars, but they are easier to clear up.
Many times, marks from acne will fade on their own if left alone, although it may take three years or more for them to fade away. If your marks are stubborn, or if you’re like most people and don’t want to wait three years for results, take a look at these suggestions on how to get rid of acne marks fast.
It’s important to note that “red marks” left behind by breakouts are not actual hyperpigmentation, but these treatment methods will work on them as well.
Note: Stay out of the sun until you have cleared your marks. Always use a sunscreen. UV rays can make these marks worse, even with just a few hours of exposure!
Method 1: Prevent Additional Hyperpigmentation
This doesn’t help much when it comes to existing hyperpigmentation from acne, but if you currently have marks on your face, then you are at extremely high risk for developing more marks if your acne is not fully controlled. Look into acne treatment options that work for your skin type, including (but by no means limited to): cleansers, moisturizers, topical treatments (benzoyl peroxide /salicylic acid), exfoliants, masks, and so on.
If you have acne marks or scars, this should be your highest priority. You can deal with the existing marks later, but you need to do damage control first.
Method 2: Exfoliation Techniques for Acne Hyperpigmentation
Exfoliation is the process of gently removing the top layers of skin, forcing new skin cells to form. Every time you exfoliate, you reveal a new layer of skin. Your body responds by creating new skin below that one. After a few treatments, you’re dealing with entirely brand-new skin. This is the safest and easiest way to get rid of acne marks fast.
Exfoliation may sound like an uncomfortable or scary process based on that description. It’s not. If you’ve ever used a facial scrub, or have gently rubbed your face with a cloth (or even your fingertips), you have exfoliated. It’s a simple process that doesn’t have to be painful.
Here are the top methods of exfoliation used in fading acne marks:
This one is simple. First, thoroughly wash and dry your face. Wait 10 minutes to make sure your skin is fully dry. Tear off a piece of tape, such as the clear kind used in office environments, or packaging tape. Gently place the tape on your acne marks, and peel it off. Repeat several times. You might notice little flakes or residue on the tape. This is good, it just means it’s working.
Be aware that the area may turn slightly red for a while. I recommend waiting several days before trying it again. I’ve had success using the tape method when done a maximum of two to three times per week.
Lemon juice is a powerful, natural exfoliant, powered by citric acid. It’s easy. Simply squeeze a little lemon juice onto your finger tip or a Q-tip – you can use either bottled juice, or squeeze it from a lemon. Either one is fine. Dab the juice onto your acne marks, and set the timer for 10 minutes. Wash your face afterward to neutralize the acid.
If you’ve never used lemon juice on your skin before, it can burn a little if you’re not used to it. I recommend diluting it until you’re used to it. Splash a little water on the Q-tip (or your finger), then add a little juice. You can reduce the water used as your skin adjusts to the lemon juice.
Chemical Exfoliation Methods
These include AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid), such as Lactic Acid and Glycolic Acid. You can find products such as these in the anti-aging section of your drugstore. Follow the instructions included with the product. If these aren’t strong enough, you can get a professional peel from a dermatologist that contains higher levels of these acids.
Another chemical you can use is salicylic acid. It’s found in many over the counter products (look for a 2% solution marketed as a gel or an astringent). These aren’t as powerful as AHA’s, but they are gentler on your skin. Use salicylic acid on light acne marks or hyperpigmentation that just needs a little “push” to fade.
Method 3: Bleaching Pigment
This is a little more aggressive, and should be used if the other methods have failed you. You can use Hydroquinone (an agent used to lighten dark acne marks), Kojic Acid (Vitamin K), Azelaic Acid (a naturally occurring organic compound marketed as an alternative to hydroquinone), or topical Retinol (via prescription Retin A, or the less-powerful Retinol products marketed in the anti-aging sections).
Method 4: Hyperpigmentation Laser Treatment
This is a last, last, last resort. Laser treatment must be done by a qualified dermatologist, the sessions can be a little pricey, and the lasers are harsh on your skin. Try every other method first, and if that fails, speak to your dermatologist about laser treatment options. If you’re an ideal candidate for it, lasers can very quickly remove these marks and restore your skin back to normal.
Nobody can say for sure how long it will take for your acne marks to fade. Some people experience results quickly, and others will require multiple treatment sessions over a longer period of time. The only thing that’s true across the board is that the longer you take to get started, the longer your marks will be around. I recommend starting with method 1 and giving it a good period of time (at least a month of regular treatment) before judging your results.
WebMD: Hyperpigmentation and Hypopigmentation
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: Hyperpigmentation