Faded Scar—sounds like a good band name, right? In all seriousness, getting rid of lingering blemish scars is no joke. Often, it takes weeks or months to even notice a difference. To get some advice on how to heal after a case of breaking bad, we tapped two trusted sources, eco skin care creator and expert Indie Lee, and Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, founder of the 5th Avenue Dermatology Surgery and Laser Center in New York City. While their perspectives (naturalist versus medical, respectively) differ, there’s definitely some overlap.
First, Dr. Frank advises, try to keep your skin clean and clear. Although genetics can play a role in some severe cases, the best way to prevent acne scars is to prevent the formation of acne lesions in the first place. “Once acne has occurred, careful care of the wound is an important step to prevent the onset of scar tissue,” he says, adding that picking at acne once it’s formed is ill-advised, because it will only worsen scarring.
Lee agrees that you want to avoid unnecessary roughness: “Your face is going through a lot, so be gentle with it.” She advises storing away any microderm buffers (like your Clarisonic) during a breakout, but she does think you should exfoliate—gently. “It’s really important because your skin sheds and develops a fresh layer every 28 days, so by helping to whisk away the dead cells, you’re giving it a fresh start,” she says.
When acne does leave marks and scars, Lee thinks there are effective at-home remedies you can try first, before considering more extensive medical treatments. “I used to be one of those people with terrible breakouts, but thanks to some of these natural solutions, I now go without foundation,” she says. The recommended routine: start out with one of the three, and try it every other day for a 1–2 weeks to see if it helps. If not, move on to the next concoction—and again, give it a little time. “Skin takes awhile to heal, especially as you get older,” Lee says, “so don’t expect results overnight.”
1: Lemon juice: Mix the juice of one lemon with one cup of water, and apply to skin using a washcloth. Gently massage in. Let it set for five minutes, then rinse. (For more on DIY lemon beauty tricks, read this.)
2: Baking soda: Mix 1 Tbsp baking soda with a splash of water to make a paste. Apply the mask to problem areas and leave on for 15 minutes before rinsing off. “Baking soda is known to be great for treating burns, and it does the trick on acne scars, too,” says Lee.
3: Natural oil blend: Mix together equal parts vitamin E oil, rosehip seed oil, squalane oil (derived from olives), and honey. Apply to face, let set for 15 minutes, and then rinse off. “Squalane is really important because it can greatly help reduce spots and acne scars, since it’s essentially a composite of your own skin,” says Lee. Our bodies naturally produce squalane into our twenties, explains Lee, but once that production slows, fine lines start appearing.
If you want to try a more clinical method to combat acne scars, you have options. Dr. Frank takes a variety of approaches with different clients, depending on the nature and severity of their outbreaks. “I often find the best results from combining several small professional treatments,” he says. “Often we can improve scars by 40–85% through in-office treatments like lasers and fillers.” Here are some of the methods he’s found success with.
Consult your doctor about any of these treatments first, though. “Because there’s a large variety in the severity of scars, it’s important to discuss options with a medical professional.”
1: Prescription-grade topical treatments: Dr. Frank advises against spending your money on the over-the-counter scar products like Mederma. “They don’t work,” he says.
2: Accutane: This drug combats cystic acne and other scarring types of acne, and also helps diminish scars after they appear, too. Dr Frank says he prescribes it as a last resort, and only if the acne is severe.
3: Microdroplet silicone injections: For indented scars, they’re permanent and very effective according to Frank, because they help you body build its own tissue to fill scars.
4: Fraxel laser resurfacing: It works on most types of acne scars, says Dr. Frank, and “helps build collagen, smoothing out scars and skin more generally, and with only a few days of recovery.”
Note that Dr. Frank does think some general healthy lifestyle habits won’t hurt. “Generally, I tell patients to eat well, exercise, and get sleep to help avoid breakouts in the first place. It won’t cure acne, but it will help. As long as acne sticks around, the worse the marks and scars will be.”