Written by: Desiree Stordahl
Medically Reviewed by: Corey L. Hartman MD Board-Certified Dermatologist
When a swollen acne blemish finally goes away, it’s all too often replaced by a frustrating visual reminder: a red or brown mark. Actually, frustrating is an understatement!
We want to assure you that this lingering reminder of a blemish can absolutely be alleviated quickly (or even averted before it happens) with some simple, but vitally important, skin care DOs and DON’Ts.
Why scrubs and at-home remedies don’t remove post-acne marks
As many of us know from experience, most post acne marks products claiming to help don’t work as promised. But, if you know which ingredients to look for, and what not to do, you can minimize their appearance surprisingly quickly.
At-home post-acne mark remedies, such as rubbing lemon juice or other citrus fruits on your face, absolutely do not work. They cannot exfoliate skin properly and their acidic juices are potent skin sensitizers that can cause post-acne marks to last longer “and intensify in appearance” according to Board-Certified Dermatologist Dr. Corey L. Hartman. Not what you’re after, right?
Abrasive scrubs are also a waste of time because post-acne marks and breakouts can’t be scrubbed away. If anything, using scrubs over acne can further inflame skin, possibly causing micro-tears which will make leftover marks harder to get rid of and delay bringing your skin back to normal. Dr. Hartman notes, “your goal should be reducing the irritation and not adding to it”.
How to minimize post-acne marks
So, what really works? As always, we turn to published scientific studies to find out. Following are the steps research has shown can improve the appearance of post-acne marks for any skin tone, age, or ethnicity.
Research shows that the trio of a non-irritating cleanser, salicylic acid (BHA) exfoliant, and anti-acne product can dramatically improve and transform a blemish-prone complexion and minimize post-acne marks. Dr. Hartman notes that, “the best way to treat an acne mark is to prevent it from developing or minimizing it by controlling the irritation that leads to the mark”.
At Paula’s Choice Skincare we’re proud of our 3-step CLEAR Regular Strength Kit for mild to moderate breakouts, or our Extra Strength Kit for more stubborn acne. These are the starting point for you to get the complexion you want.
The superhero of these kits is the Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution with 2% Salicylic Acid, which exfoliates skin’s surface to make marks fade more quickly and has a natural soothing effect that minimizes the appearance of redness—double the benefit for post-acne marks!
Wear sunscreen every day, without exception. Unprotected exposure to UV light steadily damages skin, which means the red areas from acne will stick around longer. Protecting your skin from UV exposure every day is critical to diminishing the look of post-acne marks. Wearing sunscreen also keeps your skin healthy-looking and when used as directed with other sun protection measures, it decreases the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging caused by sun—a win-win! Dr. Hartman says, “If you’re treating discoloration and marks, but not wearing sunscreen every day, you are getting in your own way and stunting your progress”.
Use additional skin care products loaded with antioxidants, especially vitamin C for post acne marks and skin-restoring ingredients like retinol for post acne marks. These types of beneficial ingredients help safeguard your skin from environmental assault while also revitalizing skin’s surface and minimizing red marks. Those with medium to dark skin tones may find using a product with 3% tranexamic acid provides further help since post-acne marks for darker skin tones tend to involve hyperpigmentation.
A product containing a combination of a retinoid + skin-brightening hexylresorcinol and niacinamide can go a long way towards improving the look of uneven tone or marks left behind after a bout with acne.
Many will find that a potent dose of 25% vitamin C (ascorbic acid) works with their anti-acne products to brighten an uneven skin tone and help skin feel smoother. This easy-to-use formula can be dabbed on areas of concern at the end of your nightly skin care routine.
Don’t pick at blemishes. We know it’s difficult to keep your hands off but picking at pimples can worsen post-acne marks! Still, sometimes you just have to pop a zit, or it will stay around longer and look terrible. If that’s the case, follow our play-by-play instructions for how to pop a pimple safely and gently.
Tips for dealing with post-acne marks
Featuring Paula's Choice Skincare's Director of Skincare Educational Programs, Deborah Kilgore
References for this information:
- Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, January-February 2021, pages 77–86
- Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, May 2019, pages 454–459
- Dermatology and Therapy, September 2017, pages 417–424
- Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology, August 2015, pages 455–461
- American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, December 2012, pages 357–364
- Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, January 2012, pages 51–56
- AAPS PharmSciTech, September 2011, pages 917–923
- Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology, November 2010, pages 135–142
- Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy, October 2009, pages 2555–2562