After an acne breakout, you may notice red and brown marks. These aren’t actually acne scars, but acne marks – what’s called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. True acne scars are deeper, indented, and may have a rough texture. They occur when the skin’s inner support structure has been damaged.
What causes acne marks and scars?
When the skin surface opens (like when you pop a pimple) and then heals, the affected area may have different pigmentation, texture or tone from the rest of your face. Broken blood vessels can also lead to a red or purple mark. These are surface discolorations and fairly easy to treat with anti-pigmentation creams.
Acne scars develop when the actual skin tissue is destroyed, and the body responds by making too little tissue (leading to an atrophic scar, which is indented) or too much tissue (leading to a hypertrophic scar, or keloid).
What can worsen acne marks and scars?
Picking or squeezing pimples will worsen inflammation and cause more damage. Sun exposure darkens marks and scars, and since it damages skin cells, it can also slow down your skin’s natural healing processes.
Sometimes even what we think fades scars only make them worse, like rubbing pure lemon juice on it (a popular DIY treatment that can irritate the skin) or using a very harsh, abrasive face scrub that tears the skin.
What kind of product should I look for?
There are some ingredients that are effective for acne scars. Hydroquinine, which helps control melanin, can help fade brown scars that have darkened because of sun damage. Arbutin, kojic acid and licorice are also powerful skin lighteners.
AHAS (alpha hydroxyl acids like glycolic or lactic acid) also fade discolorations and exfoliate. BHAs (beta hydroxy acids like salicylic acid) do that and dissolve any oil plugs in your pores that can lead to future breakouts. Vitamin C is known for its brightening abilities and boosts collagen production to promote healing. Retinol increases cell generation; skin cells divide more rapidly so you “shed” the cells with the discolored pigment. Note that some of these ingredients can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so it’s really important to wear sunscreen.
For indented acne scars, you may need clinic treatments such as peels, dermal fillers, fractional laser, or radiofrequency treatments.
The best approach to acne marks: prevention
Most acne marks will fade on their own over time, but these ingredients can help fade them faster. The best approach is prevention: don’t pick at your pimples, and if you have a history of acne, take a proactive approach with an anti-acne skincare regimen.
People get a lot of conflicting advice about toners from dermatologists or beauty magazines. Some will say toners are an optional step, others say to avoid it altogether, while some say it’s essential to a “complete” skincare regimen. The confusion lies in what they mean when they say “toner.” There are a lot of different kinds on the market, and they key is to find the right toner for your skin and avoid the ones that are proven to be drying or irritating.
What are toners?
Toners were originally designed to be used after cleansing to restore skin balance after cleansing and remove any dirt or grime that old-school beauty soaps couldn’t break down.
However, cleansers have changed in the last decades, and so have the role of toners. They don’t just do a “final sweep” of dirt but can remove chlorines and minerals in tap water, and prep your skin for the next steps of your skincare regimen. Damp skin is up to ten times more permeable than dry skin, so moisturizing toners can actually help your serums and moisturizers penetrate better.
Don’t use astringent toners for the purpose of “tightening or closing pores.” Any pore-minimizing effect is temporary. There are other products that are more effective at managing any pore issues you may have (see our article on pores for more tips).
Different kinds of toners
Alcohol-based toners (or the skin-stinging “astringents” that we remember from 20 years ago) can dry out and irritate the skin. Don’t use these.
Water-based toners are gentler on the skin. Some contain fragrant extracts like rose water and are sold as “skin refreshers”. Many women find the added scent relaxing, though if you have sensitive skin you may want to avoid toners that are too perfumed to avoid possible irritation.
Some water-based toners contain antioxidants and other ingredients that help repair the skin or boost cell regeneration.
The bottom line: understand your skin type
As with all skincare products, the best toners will address the specific needs of your skin. If you have oily skin, you need a gentle alcohol-free toner with ingredients that help control oil and unclog pores. The toner shouldn’t dry out or irritate your skin. Some people misuse toners (“if it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t working”) but the fact is that if any product makes your skin sting, or look red or inflamed, stop using it.
If you have dry or sensitive skin, look for a moisturizing toner that will soothe the skin after cleansing. Since dry skin is more prone to developing fine lines and wrinkles, you may want to look for anti-aging ingredients as well.
These new toners can amp up your skincare and help treat specific skin issues. Do you really need to use it? In the end, it’s all up to you. There are women who want a no-fuss beauty routine and are happy with a cleanser, cream and sunblock. There are others who are willing to make an extra step, if it can control acne or fight ageing. What is clear is that the right toners are not harmful, and like everything else in your skincare regimen, the effectiveness lies in choosing one that’s made for your skin concerns.
Skincare products often come with vague, confusing labels. Why is a “hypoallergenic” product safer for skin? What’s the difference between “natural” and “organic”? Are these terms pure marketing or are they actual standards that can help you decide if a product is better for your skin?
This means a skincare product claims to cause less allergic reactions. However, these claims aren’t tested by an independent board. It’s up to the company to do its due diligence by selecting ingredients or conducting clinical trials.
It’s also impossible for any product to be completely allergy-proof because of the nature of allergies themselves. People’s skin are different: what is safe for one person may cause reactions in another. Your skin may also change as you grow older.
In the end, you have to conduct your own personal “clinical trials” to find out what is safe for you. Don’t change your whole regimen in one go – introduce products one at a time so you can immediately see if it causes a reaction. If you have sensitive skin, avoid ingredients that are known irritants (LINK TO ARTICLE ON SENSITIVE SKIN).
Natural / Organic
A natural or organic product contains ingredients that have come from nature as opposed to being completely synthesized in a lab.
These products have become very popular in recent years. Skincare research has found many powerful botanical extracts and oils that can fight acne, ageing and irritation. Some people also have a personal preference for natural products. (Note that this is a preference – natural or organic products aren’t necessarily “better” or “gentler” than those that are made in the laboratory. It just describes the source of the ingredient.)
There are some organizations that will give a “Certified Natural / Organic” seal, but they have different criteria. Some products will receive this seal even if they use some synthetic ingredients. It is still important for consumers to read the label and research on the brand philosophy.
A comedo (plural: comedones) is a mild form of acne that is caused by a clogged pore. Pores can get clogged by dead skin cells and excess sebum. Whiteheads are comedones that form under the skin surface. Blackheads are comedones exposed to air, and turn black because of oxidation.
the comedo is closed at the skin’s surface, it’s called a whitehead. When it’s open at the skin’s surface, and you can see the plugged follicle darkened by melanin buildup, it’s called a blackhead
Non-comedogenic products claim to have a lower risk for clogging pores. They don’t contain oils and may help break down excess oils on your skin. However, they may not necessarily treat existing comedones. You will still need other products to help clear out pores and exfoliate.
Go beyond the marketing labels
This article shows that labels like Natural, Organic and Hypoallergenic are not automatic guarantees that a product is “better” or “safer” for your skin. Instead of relying on those terms, research on the brand (what is its mission and skincare philosophy?), read the list of ingredients, and pay attention to your skin’s reactions. If you are informed, you don’t need a marketing label to tell you what’s good for you. You’re empowered to make that decision for yourself.
Facial masks are an excellent addition to your basic skin care regimen! Aside from the pleasure and relaxation that many women get from applying a cool mask on their face at the end of the day, these blanket your skin ti help active ingredients penetrate better.
There are many different kinds of masks, and their benefits range from hydrating, drawing out impurities, or tightening and toning the skin.
These facial masks often use kaolin clay, which can absorb oil, draw out dirt, and by cleansing out the pores make them less visible (LINK TO PORE ARTICLE). Many masks can contain ingredients like salicylic acid to help fight acne. They are particularly good for those with oily skin.
Sheet masks or paper masks are soaked with skincare ingredients and are left on the skin. By forming a barrier, these masks trap the ingredients so they don’t evaporate, and your skin can “drink in” the particles. Many sheet masks provide anti-aging or whitening and brightening ingredients. When you are done with the mask, rub it on your neck and hands to make the most out of every drop.
Follow the product recommendations on how long to leave it on, as it depends on the ingredients. Some are designed to be left on overnight, while others have strong ingredients that may irritate the skin if it is not wiped off.
Some masks allow you to add water, yogurt, or other liquids to a mask so you can control the thickness. The powders often contain oats that can exfoliate or sulfur or clays that can pull out oils and deep cleanse pores. Once mixed, apply them as you would a clay mask.
Gel masks usually come in tubs. You apply on your skin as you would a cream, and then leave on for the specified time. Usually, gel masks are meant for deep hydration or calming and cooling. They are particularly effective for those with dry skin, especially if they contain ingredients like hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5.
Peel off Masks
These masks are usually a liquid that contains a plasticizing ingredient forms a thin film on the face when its dry. It is then peeled off, taking off dead skin cells and surface dirt. Many claim to remove blackheads and whiteheads, although you will not get 100% results. Read our article on blackheads and whiteheads to get a better picture on how to address this skin concern – LINK.
With the variety of facial masks, and the different benefits they offer, you have many options on how to incorporate them into your skincare regimen, or even how often. You can use hydrating or anti-aging masks daily, if you wish, or alternate them with a brightening mask or a deep-moisturizing gel mask. You can do a clay mask or peel off mask once a week as part of your exfoliating regimen. However, don’t overexfoliate (it can irritate the skin) and pay attention to your skin’s reaction. If it stings or feels hot and red, you may need a gentler mask or keep it on for less than the recommended time.
Mei Hui is the Managing Director and Pharmacist of The Skin Pharmacy. She is not a professional writer (please excuse the spelling and grammatical errors!) but she is very passionate about The Skin Pharmacy, anything related to health and wellness and life, in general. These articles are her own views which may not always be shared by others. Please feel free to comment below the articles if you wish. Happy reading!