Here’s What I Tried For My Acne Scarring—What Worked & What Didn’t

Here’s What I Tried For My Acne Scarring—What Worked & What Didn’t

Of all the things I’ve ever tried to change about my skin, texture is the ultimate final villain that has by far been the most difficult thing to address. In my time during corporate and client education in skincare, I would say that texture was a frequent concern that people had not just personally but from their clients. Although none of us are ever going to have perfect, even, poreless skin—because that only exists in the land of Photoshop and filters—it seems fair to say that a smoother complexion is a goal for many of us.

I would say that the reason texture gets brought up so much is because it can mean so many different things. Enlarged pores, clogged pores, raised breakouts, fine lines, wrinkles, and scarring can all fall under the category of “texture,” and each has their own set of challenges. While I deal with many textural situations on my skin, my primary focus is acne scarring.

Sometimes hyperpigmentation—discoloration left behind after something like a breakout—gets lumped into the term “acne scarring,” but hyperpigmentation is its own category in my mind. When I’m referring to acne scarring, I’m talking specifically about the texture left behind by the moderate cystic acne that I experienced for about three or four years in late high school, early college. It left me with “boxcar” scarring, or indented scars on both of my cheeks that were more wide and shallow than something like classic “ice pick” scarring that is typically deeper and more concentrated.

When I’m referring to acne scarring, I’m talking specifically about “boxcar” scarring, or indented scars on both of my cheeks that were more wide and shallow.

They were pretty pronounced during my late teens/early 20s, and no amount of primer, foundation or concealer could really do anything about them. So I started to explore my options for a more permanent solution to smoothing out my skin. Here’s what worked (and didn’t work) for me in my battle with acne scarring.

 

Acids

Acid exfoliants were the first stop on my journey to smoother skin. And while I definitely saw a reduction in clogged pores and more even skin tone (they’re still a part of my routine today), I can’t say that these exfoliants had a huge impact on my actual scarring. However, they did make it look less noticeable overall due to the other benefits that I was experiencing.

This is a perfect example of when products claim to “reduce the appearance of” or “improve the look of” something, and why that isn’t always a bad thing. If you take my case for example, the acid exfoliants did not make my scarring any less deep, so therefore it did not improve my scarring. However, because I was getting significantly less raised breakouts and clogged pores and my skin was also looking more glowy, therefore reflecting more light, the scarring was less noticeable than before. It was a literal smoke and mirrors act happening on my face, and I was happy with that, but I still wanted to address the actual scarring itself.

 

Tretinoin

The next stop for me in targeting my scarring was tretinoin. We’re not talking about anything you can get over the counter like a retinol. Tretinoin, in the U.S. at least, is only available from a licensed medical professional and is one of the most potent leave-on treatments you can use at home. There’s a lot to be said about tret and retinoids in general, but the extremely condensed version of my thought process was that since tret pushes your skin to create new skin cells faster, it would help lessen the depth of my scarring. It seemed like a relatively simple cause-and-effect relationship in my head at the time. I was very, very wrong.

acne scarring

I will definitely have to talk about my experience with retinoids and tret in particular at a different time because it was one of the most severe and trying times I’ve had with any skincare product or ingredient. But at the end of the day, it was a similar story to acid exfoliants for me. My skin did see some changes that I liked overall, and I still continue to use retinoids to this day, but personally, my scarring remained largely unchanged after six months of consistent use.

So I had spent almost a year trialing acids, and I was hellbent on seeing some type of results before I hit the two-year mark of actively seeking an effective treatment for my scarring, so I decided to bite the bullet and book an appointment with an aesthetician.

 

Microderm

I feel like if my skincare life were to have its own biography, the title would be “We Are Not Aestheticians or Derms.” But really, y’all, we do not have the training or experience to be determining what treatments are the best option for a particular skin concern or condition. Please do not go to an aesthetician or derm insisting on microdermabrasion because you’re assuming you’ll have the same experience I did. There are many kinds of microderm that all have varying levels of intensity and methods of practice, and you should discuss them with a professional if you’re curious about trying it.

I was lucky enough to have quite a few aesthetician friends due to my work as a skincare educator and brand representative. So after many weeks of discussion, I did a series of four microderm treatments that were tailored to my personal skin and areas of concern. Maybe it’s because I went in with low expectations, but to say I was happy with the results would be a massive understatement.

After my treatments, I saw what I’d consider a 60 to 70 percent reduction in the depth of the deepest scarring I had, and some of the more minor ones are almost completely gone. I do plan to book another few sessions when I’m able to do so to see what further progress can be made, but in all honesty, if my scarring stays the same way it is now, I’d be perfectly happy with that.

So there’s a very condensed version of my long journey with my acne scarring. It’s a complicated topic and probably one of the most difficult things to change about your skin if you’re looking to reduce the depth of your scarring. A lot of brands will try to market so many topical products as solutions for scarring, and while that may work for some people, it took a bit more for me to see the results I was after. The flip side is that even if the acids and tretinoin didn’t directly help my scarring, I learned a lot about how my skin reacts to these types of ingredients and gained a fair bit of other benefits as well, so I can’t really say that time was wasted either.

 

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