Updated 8/12/20 For those who get breakouts, you’ve certainly experienced the brown, purple, or red scars and marks that are leftover long after the blemish has healed. I truly believe these are far worse than the blemish itself simply because a blemish only lasts five to seven days, but the acne scars can last up to eight months (and be much harder to get rid of).
In this post, I’ll share my expert tips to fade acne scars much faster than ever before so your skin can be clear and even-toned—and you don’t have to feel like you have to hide under makeup.
What Causes Red or Dark Marks After a Blemish Has Healed?
Red or dark acne marks are the result of inflammation within the dermis. This inflammation triggers the skin to produce pigment cells, a natural response to trauma. In addition, capillaries get dilated (or can even break) during the blemish cycle, which brings out additional redness. A blemish must be cared for properly in the first place to expedite the healing process to prevent long-term damage to the skin.
What Determines the Severity of a Dark or Red Mark From a Blemish?
Have you ever noticed that some blemishes seem to leave more severe marks than others? These are the factors that will determine how bad the mark left behind is.
Your Skin Color
Deeper skin tones will hyper pigment more easily than fair skin tones due to the increased amount of natural melanin content in the skin.
The Type of Blemish You Have
If the infection came to a head and broke through the surface of the skin the way papules, whiteheads and pustules will do, then you’ll get even more of a mark. If it’s a cyst (deep, underground blemish) and your body reabsorbed the infection and it never broke the skin’s surface, you’ll have less of a mark.
How Long Your Blemish Lasted
Some people’s healing process may be slower than others. Additionally, every type of breakout seems to have a life of its own, and some will last longer than others based on size and the location on the face.
If It Was Picked At, Over-Dried, and Messed With
Every move you make once a blemish appears will greatly affect the outcome of the scar. This is why you have to be so careful in how you treat it. FACT: less picking = less scarring. More picking = more scarring. Trust me on this one! I specifically designed this Zit Care Kit to help you properly treat a blemish at every state. It includes all the instructions and necessary tools to make a blemish go away fast with the least amount of scarring.
Why did I still get a dark scar even when I barely touched it?
Even if you didn’t touch it, a blemish can still leave a red or dark mark. This is because if the infection broke through the skin’s surface, it automatically triggers a melanin response. If it was a cyst and never broke through, the bump (inflammation) underneath stretched and damaged the surrounding tissue, which also resulted in increased melanin activity. Unfortunately, even when you are so careful about not picking a blemish, you can still get a dark mark. The good news is that messing with it less should ensure a much quicker recovery.
What Can I Do at Home to Fade My Acne Marks Faster?
Once a blemish is all healed and you’re left with a red, brown, or purple mark, it’s time to focus on doing THREE things.
1. Exfoliate to Dissolve and Lift Away Discoloration from Damaged Cells
When cells are damaged and discoloration has formed, using a gentle acid exfoliant will work very well to loosen these cells from the skin’s surface. Also, a gentle facial scrub (that uses non-plastic, round beads) massaged very lightly over the area twice a week is very effective to ensure these loosened cells are getting lifted off the skin. This will reveal the healthy, even-toned skin underneath. The combination of a chemical and physical exfoliant (not used on the same days) will be very beneficial to fade acne scars.
2. Brighten/Fade to Calm and Suppress Melanin Activity
When you’re exfoliating the skin and removing dry, damaged surface cells, a skin brightening product can absorb deeper within the mark and help to settle down active melanin so the mark can go away faster. Many forms of vitamin C (particularly magnesium ascorbyl phosphate) work very well to gently calm redness and fade acne scars. This can also help for PIE (post-inflammatory erythema), which I’ll discuss further in this post.
3. Protect to Prevent UV Light From Keeping Pigment Cells Active
This is really important and something that is not often thought about. While the sun and daylight is never your friend when it comes to keeping the skin free of wrinkles, it’s also not good for blemish scars and marks. Any UV light (even on cloudy days) that sees your skin will naturally want to activate melanin cells. Since the red, dark mark is an indication of over-active melanin cells, UV light will aggravate this and make the marks stay visible for longer.
You absolutely MUST use sunscreen every single day and avoid getting daylight on your skin. If you’re blemish-prone, it’s important to use one that is lightweight and non-pore clogging. The last thing we want is your sunscreen to actually cause you breakouts since no breakouts = no marks or scars to have to deal with.
Of the Three Types of Products Mentioned, Which is Most Effective for Fading Acne Scars?
Hands down, sunscreen. From the moment the sun rises to when it sets, all of the daylight that gets on your skin (even on a cloudy day during winter) is keeping the dark pigment cells awake. Sunscreen gives them an opportunity to go to sleep to fade your acne scars. Of course, adding in an exfoliating product and a skin brightening product will dramatically fade acne scars faster, if I had to choose just one, I’d say sunscreen.
If I’m Currently Using and Exfoliating Acid Serum, How Would I Use Your Post-Breakout Fading Gel Since It Also Contains Acids?
You never want to double up on your acids so if you’re using an acid serum (or a liquid acid toner) you have to be careful. It can definitely beneficial to use a strong spot treatment containing acids if you’re trying to fade individual scars. Here’s how to apply it.
I recommend that you apply your regular acid serum to your skin in the evening as usual, and follow with moisturizer. Then, immediately wipe the scarred area with a damp cotton swab to remove previously applied products. You’ll then apply a very thin layer of a fading spot treatment like Post-Breakout Fading Gel. (Note: Our exfoliating acid serums DO help fade post-breakout marks, but this gel will work better since it’s a higher concentration of acids.) It’s recommended to use this gel no more than four nights a week. A post-breakout scar is very delicate and you don’t want to cause irritation. If redness or irritation occurs, cut back on usage or discontinue completely.
What If a Blemish left an Indent in My Skin?
Generally, the deep cystic blemish will cause the most injury to the skin and affect the actual skin tissue. This can lead to keloid, hypertrophic or atrophic scars. Atrophic scars are the ones most commonly associated with acne. This is where the damage occurred very deep in the skin causing it to indent. Sometimes they can be temporary and bounce back, but some can last a lifetime. Read how to smooth indented acne scars on your skin.
Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH) and Post-Inflammatory Erythema (PIE). What’s the Difference?
Most people will have a mix of both but there is a distinct difference.
Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH)
These are the red, brown, or purple marks that I’ve been discussing in this post. It’s directly related to melanin activity that creates unwanted pigment on the skin. This occurs for anyone who gets blemishes, but they will last longer for medium to deeper skin tones. All of my tips in this post will help this condition.
Post-Inflammatory Erythema (PIE)
This is redness and swelling of a blemish related to vascular activity. A blemish will initiate a healing response (small proteins called cytokines will trigger the inflammation) and white blood cells that come to fight the infection can’t fit into smaller capillaries so they dilate and potentially break. This leads to vascular damage that causes redness. You’ll find this occurs most often with fair skin tones since the skin is thinner and capillaries are generally weaker. To help fade redness faster, applying a topical vitamin C serum can help aid in visible capillary repair. In addition, vascular pulsed dye lasers performed at a cosmetic dermatologists office are known to help with stubborn ones that linger for months and months.
To help keep capillaries strong so they may not be as fragile and get as damaged when a blemish forms (and if you’re easily prone to bruising), I recommend getting plenty of bioflavonoids in your diet. You can find these in citrus fruits and can also take it in a pill form. Read more about preventing broken capillaries.
How Can I Prevent Acne Marks From Appearing?
The ideal scenario would be to never break out again, but I realize this isn’t always realistic. To prevent breakouts, look at these nine skin types or take this Skin Type Quiz to make sure you fully understand your skin and what products are best for you. You can also schedule a virtual consultation with an esthetician. I also suggest you read the following posts to prevent breakout:
- These 17 tips just might banish your breakouts—for good
- How to treat whiteheads, blackheads, pustules, milia, closed comedones and cysts
- Acne-prone skin? Stop making these five mistakes
As for when a blemish appears, read how to get rid of a blemish fast. You don’t always have control over a blemish appearing but you DO have control over what happens when one shows up. The Zit Care Kit has everything you’ll need.
Lastly, there is an upside to having acne and I share what it is here.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”