It’s hard enough to get rid of acne, and frustratingly, guys often find themselves wondering how to get rid of acne scars immediately after they vanquish it. Those dark spots or tiny divots in the skin where acne used to be can linger. Typically when you get a pimple, it heals healthily into clear skin—it’s like there was never a blemish in the first place. But that’s not always the case, and people experience scarring to varying degrees, from one-off marks to the more drastic scars left behind by cystic acne.
If you’re nodding along, stay optimistic: Not all scarring is eternal. But it’s best tackled with a thorough and targeted skincare regimen. In many cases you’ll want to talk to a dermatologist, as the most serious routines will involve both OTC products and targeted prescriptions. But to give you a preview of that process might look like, we spoke with dermatologist David Lortscher, CEO and founder of Curology skincare for his expertise on how to get rid of acne scars.
How to Prevent Acne Scars in the First Place
First, some tips on prevention, which Lortscher says is imperative for anyone with acne-prone skin. Let’s first assume that you’re actively breaking out (and haven’t had success preventing acne yet). Lortscher says one way to get ahead of the scarring is to treat the skin immediately after a pimple or breakout, thus preventing a scar from forming in the first place.
First of all, you need to differentiate between scarring and temporary discoloration, Lortscher says. The latter can happen after a particularly deep pimple pops—but those dark spots aren’t technically scars: “Scars change the skin’s texture, not just the color of the skin,” he says. “Scars can be permanent, while dark spots from acne tend to fade within 6 to 12 months.”
Secondly, he urges against any unnecessary pimple popping, which can lead to scarring. You have to resist the urge, which can prove difficult. Many people wrongly assume that by popping a pimple, you also empty it fully and thus clean out all the gunk. You may also think that this expedites healing. But it just isn’t so: “When you pop a zit, the gunk inside can make its way to the skin’s surface and irritate your skin,” Lortscher says. “This leads to even more pimples nearby. Plus, you run the risk of driving debris and bacteria even deeper into your skin, which can lead to scarring and worsen breakouts.”
Lortscher’s third suggestion is to wear sunscreen (or moisturizer with SPF). “It doesn’t matter if it’s sunny or cloudy,” Lortscher says. “If you plan to spend time outdoors, protect your skin from the sun. Ultraviolet rays cause damage to your skin and can increase the appearance of acne and acne scars.”
How to Get Rid of Acne Scars
Here is the regimen Lortscher tells his patients to use to improve the appearance of “permanent” acne scar—but please remember that it is a good idea to see your own dermatologist, who can help develop the best plan for your specific skin needs.
1. Use a spot treatment after the potential scar appears.
Once that pimple clears and leaves behind a potential scar, apply a targeted healer to the area. Pick something with salicylic acid, which can prevent further breakouts and promote rapid cellular turnover. But use it sparingly, and discontinue if you experience any additional inflammation, and try to avoid using it directly on active acne.
If your skin is especially receptive to them, you may even be able to do a full-face “peel” with a salicylic acid mask.
2. For hyperpigmentation, try azelaic acid or niacinamide.