Does Anybody Know Whether Retinoids Work on Acne Scars? Specialists Elucidate 2023

Skincare is effective, but not miraculous. A caffeine-infused eye salve will enhance, but it will not eliminate dark circles. A lip plumper will make your lips appear fuller, but it does not replace filler. And with regard to acne scarring? Retinoids can assist, but they likely won’t eliminate them entirely. Dr. Dustin Portela, a board-certified dermatologist, cautions, “There are many benefits to using retinoids, but it’s essential to realize they can’t do everything.” If you have extensive scars or significant pigmentation, it is likely that you will require additional treatments to enhance your appearance.

Despite this, there are still numerous advantages to incorporating retinoids into your routine. They can increase the rate of cell turnover, which can reduce the likelihood of developing a scar in the first place. Continue reading to find out what retinoids can and cannot do for your scarring.

However, what is an acne scar?

One of the most widespread misconceptions is that post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), the temporary trace left behind by acne, is identical to a scar. PIH will diminish over time (likely within six weeks), whereas scars are typically permanent. Dr. Portela explains, “Acne scars are alterations in the skin’s texture following acne lesions.” “They develop when the acne lesion is sufficiently deep or the inflammatory response is strong enough to disrupt collagen in the dermis.”

When this type of trauma occurs, the epidermis may form a raised or depressed scar. “Acne lesions can be categorized as atrophic (depressed) or hypertrophic (raised),” he continues. Depending on their depth and breadth, atrophy scars can be further categorized as ice-pick, rolling, or boxcar scars.

How Much Can a Retinoid Actually Help?

The primary function of retinoids is to accelerate cell turnover, which can reduce the likelihood of acne, and to increase collagen production in the epidermis. The combination of the two procedures has the potential to diminish the appearance of certain types of wounds. Dr. Portela explains that topical retinoid medications may reduce the appearance of acne scars through the production of new collagen. “They are more prone to aid rolling, shallow wounds. Even with sustained use of retinoids, it is unlikely that deeper ice-pick scars or broad boxcar scars will heal significantly. In layman’s terms, this means that general changes in texture can be improved over time (roughly one year), whereas small, narrow wounds and deep, rounded cavities in the skin will remain unchanged.

What can retinoids do? Accelerate the rate at which post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation diminishes, and serve as an essential component in the treatment of active acne. Dr. Portela explains, “Retinoid medications help the epidermis turn over more rapidly, which can help remove unwanted pigment from the upper layers of skin.”

Which Retinoid Should I Search For?

I will not go into detail, but not all retinoids are created equal.

Dr. Portela explains that prescription-strength retinoid medications are likely to produce superior results in the treatment of scars. “You are applying a higher concentration of activated retinol to the epidermis so that it can begin functioning immediately.” Before retinol from the drugstore, Sephora, or Ulta begins to function, it must be converted into its active form in the epidermis. Therefore, while it may be milder on the epidermis, you are receiving a lower concentration of the active ingredient.

How Do I Include Retinol in My Daily Routine?

If you’re new to retinol or retinoids, start slowly to prevent irritation. Dr. Portela advises his patients to use their retinoid every other or third night initially. “Using more increases the likelihood of irritation.” Evening retinol should be the first product applied to spotless skin, followed by a fragrance-free moisturizer. As the epidermis becomes more tolerant of the application, you can increase the frequency of retinoid use to daily.

What Else Can I Do to Get Rid of Acne Scars?

Utilizing retinoids will only be a portion of the acne scar treatment equation. Your dermatologist will determine the optimal treatment for you, but it is likely that profound lesions or intense pigmentation will require additional therapies. One factor to keep in mind? Utilizing resurfacing lasers to cure acne blemishes. Dr. Portela explains, “Lasers like CO2 or Erbium can help remodel deeper layers of scar tissue to break up lesions and create healthy collagen.” “Other lasers will be considerably more effective at eliminating unwanted pigmentation.” Pigmentation may also be addressed with stronger topical agents, such as hydroquinone or kojic acid.

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