What’s the difference between an acne scar vs hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation and acne scarring are both different, even though they’re often confused for one another.
Hyperpigmentation is an undesirable darkening of the skin caused by excess melanin, and acne scarring is the mark from where pimples were on your skin before they were healed.
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Table of Contents
What are acne scars?
Acne scarring is the result of deep skin trauma related to acne. External factors like picking can traumatize even a small acne lesion and leave a scar.
Acne scars can appear as pitted or raised areas on the skin and occur on areas such as your face, neck, chest, back, and shoulders.
Acne forms when your pores get clogged with excess oil, dead skin cells, or other impurities.
When they’re close to the surface, they often heal without damaging your skin.
However, acne that forms in the deeper layers of the skin often results in scarring.
Acne scars form because of an imperfect healing process. When repairing itself, the body creates new cells.
However, it will sometimes produce too few or too many new cells and when that happens what’s left is an indentation or a raised scar.
Some types of acne are more prone to scarring than others.
Whiteheads, blackheads, and other types of non-inflammatory acne rarely leave a physical mark.
On the other hand, inflammatory acne— such as cysts and nodules— often create long-term scars because they affect deeper layers of the skin.
Types of acne scars
If you’re susceptible to acne scarring, you most likely have a few different types of scars because there’s rarely just one type that people get. Some common acne scars are:
Atrophic scars: A type of acne scar that results from the healing process producing too little skin tissue, atrophic acne scars typically form depressions in the skin. This type of scar can be characterized by certain types, such as:
- Boxcar scars have deep indentations with clearly defined edges that are usually found on the lower cheeks and jawline.
- Rolling scars are usually created when the skin is thicker in certain places like the cheeks and then has sloped edges that make it look wavy or unevenly textured.
- Icepick scars appear as triangular-shaped depressions in the skin. These are common scars and are often found in areas like the forehead or upper cheeks where the skin is thinner.
Keloid or hypertrophic scars: Hypertrophic or keloid scars are a type of overactive wound healing process that results in excessive collagen production and skin tissue formation.
These types of scars usually result from acne and are often painful or itchy. They can be found on the back, chest, and shoulders.
What is hyperpigmentation?
Not to be confused with post-acne erythema (redness), hyperpigmentation or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation refers to a variety of brown marks or dark spots, such as age spots and liver spots.
Unlike acne scars, which are raised, hyperpigmentation is darker in colour and lacks any underlying structure or scar.
These spots typically start off as purple or red before fading into a darker tone of the surrounding skin.
These dark spots are the result of hyperpigmentation, which occurs when too much melanin is made in the skin’s outer layers.
These dark spots are usually a response to trauma such as acne, but this is not always the case.
Some other causes of hyperpigmentation can include chemical peels, sunburns from excessive sun exposure, laser resurfacing and dermabrasions.
The good news is that hyperpigmentation can fade over time, however, the process depends on two things: the cause and your skin type.
There are lots of products on the market with lightening and brightening benefits that can help to get rid of dark spots.
They may not completely eliminate them, but they could make them a lot lighter.
If you don’t want to wait out the natural fading process, therapy can help speed things up.
Acne scar vs hyperpigmentation
Acne scars are the result of deep skin trauma from acne, usually distinguishable from hyperpigmentation because they cause changes to the surface of the skin that are usually unrelated to a person’s natural skin colour.
External factors like picking can traumatize even small acne lesions and leave a scar or even acne marks.
Hyperpigmentation can also be caused by acne, but is distinguishable due to its appearance and refers to the dark spots that are left behind when broken blood vessels don’t heal completely.
Hyperpigmentation can occur when pimples get popped, leaving behind wounds that change the skin’s texture and colour.
Dark brown or red spots may appear even if you don’t pop your acne, although in these cases, the hyperpigmentation is less severe and fades more easily.
Acne Scar vs Hyperpigmentation: Treatment options
The best way to prevent future scarring is to treat any active acne lesions.
If you are already left with scarring, though, there are many effective acne treatments that can improve your skin texture and reduce acne scarring.
There are countless products like spot treatments, serums, masks, and more available that use potent ingredients like kojic acid, retinol, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid to help reduce the appearance of scars and reveal a more even complexion.
Retinol otherwise known as vitamin a is considered a go-to ingredient for both acne scars and acne.
Retinols promote cell turnover and encourage the development of collagen. However, the retinoids found in drugstore skincare products are not as strong as prescription-strength retinol.
You should use them with caution, as they can cause skin sensitivities and be wary of how much sun exposure you’re getting.
If you want less risk of sun damage, use sunscreen with a moderate SPF.
To get rid of acne scars, you can use retinols one to two times a day.
This process may also cause purging and irritation in the short run; however, this is normal and will eventually subside.
Microneedling, also known as collagen induction therapy, is a skin care technique that uses very fine needles or pen-shaped instruments to prick the skin.
The purpose of microneedling is to break down scar tissue and promote new collagen generation – one of the foundations of a healthy complexion.
However, you should never pierce or massage overactive pimples.
Microneedling is a proven acne scar treatment and is great for indented acne scars. This procedure can also prevent wrinkles and hyperpigmentation.
Microneedling promotes the absorption of topical products, so be careful of what products you apply to the skin after microneedling.
The great thing about microneedling is that it’s less invasive than laser treatments and the results last much longer.
A chemical peel is a procedure in which an acid-based solution is applied topically to either the entire face or just in areas of pitted scarring to remove the outer layer of skin and stimulate collagen repair.
Your dermatologist may suggest that you try a chemical peel. They work in the same way as the ones you use at home but work on a deeper level to give you better results.
Deeper peels, such as those that use trichloroacetic acid, should be done by a professional and can improve moderate to severe acne scars with the proper aftercare and supervision of a professional.
However, be careful not to try these deep peels by yourself because some skin types are not suitable for this acne scar treatment.
Some people find that it only causes more acne scars instead of getting rid of them.
Instead try skincare products made with gentler, lower-concentration acids like glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid, and salicylic acid.
Alpha hydroxy acids or glycolic acid
Glycolic acid is one of the most popular AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) and is particularly good for brightening the skin and getting rid of acne.
It also helps to fade acne scars and reduce hyperpigmentation, and discoloration.
Glycolic acid is a natural ingredient that’s been known to provide the skin with many benefits, including rejuvenating and exfoliating effects.
And is readily available in chemical peels and everyday skincare products without causing too much discomfort.
There are other types of acids too, such as mandelic acid and lactic acids.
These acids are also safe options for treating acne scarring and hyperpigmentation even on sensitive skin.
Vitamin C is a great ingredient for getting rid of acne scars because it has wound healing, collagen production, and brightening properties.
We all need Vitamin C to help maintain healthy skin. Thanks to Vitamin C, our skin looks and feels better, it is elastic and helps with collagen production.
It also prevents the over-production of melanin and helps slow down the ageing process.
Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, preventing acne scars, and L-Ascorbic acid applied topically has been shown to reduce dark marks and stimulate collagen production to heal acne scars.
To help fade acne scars and hyperpigmentation, use a vitamin C serum daily, but avoid using it at the same time as a retinoid product to maximize effectiveness.
Niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide, is a form of vitamin B-3 that is an essential nutrient in the treatment of acne scars.
It works by lightening dark marks, reducing inflammation, and improving tissue regeneration.
Niacinamide has several benefits for our skin, such as building keratin which keeps skin firm and healthy, acting as a lipid barrier and reducing inflammation that may help ease redness from eczema, acne, and other inflammatory conditions.
While Niacinamide can help with dark marks, it may not help with textured or deep acne scars.
Vitamin E is an effective skin care solution for people with hyperpigmentation.
By helping to strengthen the skin’s protective barrier and encouraging healthy skin cell development, it can speed up your healing time.
It also works to get rid of any free radicals that could damage your skin and keep you looking younger for longer.
Studies have also shown that vitamin E tends to work best when combined with vitamin C.
In office treatments
If you are looking to treat hyperpigmentation or dark spots, topical treatments will usually work well.
However, in-clinic procedures for scars would be more effective.
Cortisone shots may work well for keloid scars, but laser and chemical resurfacing treatments are better suited for icepick, rolling, and boxcar scars.
You can consult with your dermatologist to better understand what will work best.
Laser treatments work by sending light pulses to damage the top layer of skin. This makes way for new, healthy tissue to form in its place.
Laser resurfacing is a very effective procedure, but it can also be pretty costly.
A consultation with a dermatologist before undergoing the procedure is necessary to ensure that laser resurfacing is the best course of action for your skin.
A few sessions may be needed for desired results.
Different types of laser therapies are available for pre-existing skin conditions, so pricing, recovery, and results may differ depending on the type of session that best suits your case.
3 Tips to prevent acne scars and hyperpigmentation
Acne scars are usually only prevented by preventing acne. Once you have it, what you do about it can also reduce the severity of it.
Reduce excess oil
Acne is a result of your pores becoming clogged with excess oil and dead skin cells. To reduce this, try the following:
- keep your hands and face clean
- choose a cleanser for oily skin
- choose a non-comedogenic moisturizer
- exfoliate at least once a week
Treat severe acne
Severe acne has a higher risk of scarring. Therefore, treating breakouts quickly is critical to reducing inflammation and redness. These tips can help:
- cleanse daily and exfoliate weekly
- use acne-fighting ingredients benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid
- use spot treatments at the first sign of breakouts
Don’t pop your pimples
If you need to wait for a breakout to heal, just be patient.
Picking, popping, or squeezing acne can increase your risk of hyperpigmentation and scarring, and will only delay the healing process.
Bacteria and impurities get pushed deeper into the pores, which causes the surrounding skin cells to experience more trauma.
Popping pimples is tempting, but it can lead to acne scars.
These are permanent, so if that’s not something you want to live with, ask your dermatologist about prevention or treatment.