Acne is a common problem of the oil glands of the skin present at the base of the hair follicles. Commonly seen during puberty, acne is not a dangerous disorder or permanent, but can result in scarring. Acne scars are reddish or brownish marks left behind on the skin after a pimple/acne lesion heals. It is commonly seen in teenagers, but many adults can also suffer from this problem. Acne scarring can be appreciated better, if we trace the development of acne.
Development of acne
In teens, acne is the result of hormonal changes associated with puberty. The regions commonly affected include the face, shoulder, neck, chest, and the upper back. Acne is formed when the oil glands under the skin secrete excess oil, which, along with the dead skin cells clog the pores of your skin. Bacteria are trapped inside and multiply leading to redness and swelling. This is the beginning of acne. The causes of acne can be genetic as well. So, if any one in your family has had a history of acne, you are more likely to develop acne too.
Acne and scarring
Depending on the severity, acne can be classified into different forms:
- Mild acne: commonly seen as whiteheads or blackheads
- Moderate acne: white-centred red pimples called pustules and inflamed red pimples called papules
- Severe acne: painful cysts filled with pus, commonly referred to as nodules
Acne scars usually fade away with time without requiring any form of treatment, but squeezing or picking acne can increase the risk of scarring. The scars left behind by mild and moderate acne are not permanent, and heal with time. However, the scars of severe acne can become permanent, requiring the immediate attention of your dermatologist. Scars can be of the following forms:
- Having a gradual depression (rolling scars)
- Deep and narrow (ice pick)
- Depression with a sharp border (boxcar)
- Thickened and inflamed (hypertrophic or colloidal)
- Dark pigmentation (not true scarring; slowly heals without treatment)
- Pink or red regions (not true scarring; slowly heals without treatment)
The method used to treat an acne problem plays an important role in minimizing scar formation and also managing it. There are several dermatological procedures that help minimize scars and are recommended by your doctor based on the severity of the scars.
Some of the treatment procedures that your doctor may choose include:
- Soft tissue fillers:injecting collagen/fat under the skin to stretch out or fill in the skin; thereby lightening the scars
- Dermabrasion:peeling away the top most skin layer using a rapidly rotating wire brush
- Chemical peels:peeling away the top most skin layer using a chemical
- Laser beam:destroying the outer most skin layer using a high energy light source, and encouraging growth of new skin
- Microdermabrasion (newer acne scar treatment):abrading or polishing the surface of the skin with tiny crystals and removing the loosened skin cells
- Skin surgery (punch excision):removing individual scars through a minor surgical procedure and using stitches or skin graft to repair the excised area
- Broadband Light (BBL):reducing oil glands and minimizing pores using a blue filtered light