Tips From Experts: Six Acne Scar Treatments for Dark Skin Tones

Last updated on : December 14 2020

Acne scars hiding behind curtains

Acne Scars And Dark Skin - An Introduction

Acne is a common skin condition that affects most people in their life and is one reason people seek dermatological care. 

What Causes Acne

The condition arises when pores are clogged by sebum (a substance produced by sebaceous glands) or dead skin cells, causing skin lesions like papules, blackheads, whiteheads, nodules, pimples, or cysts. 

Often you will find these breakout at the same time in one area of your body. On occasions, as a result of this accumulation, the skin can rupture, causing inflammation in the area.

Impact On Dark Skin Types

Acne is mainly developed in areas like the face or back and doesn't have any skin tone preference. However, darker skin is prone to create post-acne scarring. 

Treatments for acne scars in dark skin can go from a specific diet to minimally invasive laser treatments.

Besides scarring in dark skin types, there is another condition you need to consider before choosing the right treatment. Post-Inflammatory-Hyperpigmentation (PIH) can persist for months after the initial breakout, as can hypertrophic scarring and keloid formation.

More methods have been developed in recent years to reduce acne scarring; however, not all the procedures and products are suitable for darker skin.

Darker skin tends to be more sensitive; hence you should avoid products usually recommended for treating pigmentation like hydroquinone and Alpha-Hydroxy-Acids (AHA) in high concentrations.

1. What Causes Acne Scars?

Once clogged pores swell with acne, they have a higher risk of infection and damage to the skin around it.

As a natural process of our body, the healing process starts around the affected area producing new collagen. In some cases, an overproduction will occur, and keloids and irregular scar tissue forms.

The process is no different for darker skin, however, the scars can be more visible on this skin type.   

2. Can Acne Scarring Be Prevented?

Some people are predisposed to have acne, but this doesn't mean they cannot prevent it or the scarring that may result.

Here are some things you can do to prevent acne scarring on all skin types, including dark skin. 

  • First of all, as soon as you start to see lesions related to acne, seek help and go for a consultation with a dermatologist, don't leave it too late.
  • Choosing your skincare products and makeup is also essential. Use only natural products for your specific skin type, and make sure they are non-comedogenic. Shea butter or products containing oil can clog your pores increasing chances of breakouts.
  • Also, products like shampoo and conditioner can produce acne in areas like the forehead and temples. If you notice your acne located in that area, choose different hair products that don't contain oil. Oil in your shampoo or conditioner could be the ingredient causing your breakouts.

3. Who Can Have An Acne Scar Removal Treatment?

Any person who no longer has active lesions is an excellent candidate for a scar removal treatment. 

However, most of the treatments aren't suitable during breakouts. If you are suffering from active breakouts, the therapy will focus on dealing with the active acne lesions first and then removing the scars.

4. What Are The Best Acne Scar Treatments For Dark Skin?

Indian woman with acne marks and after treatment

It all depends on the type of damage present in the skin, like pigmentation, mild depressions, hypertrophic or atrophic scars, box scars, and ice pick scar. 

You can access a great variety of treatments to improve your skin quality, going from topical treatments like retinoids, salicylic acid, lactic acid; to micro-needling, microdermabrasion, chemical peelings, laser treatments, dermal fillers like Restylane® or Juvederm®, and others.

Here are the most effective:

A. Microneedling

During this procedure, controlled skin damage is caused in the skin using tiny needles in the affected area. The controlled damage increases collagen and elastin production and allows the skin to heal with a brand-new texture. 

With a couple of sessions, you should be able to see improvement in acne scarring. It is crucial to choose an experienced professional and follow all the aftercare instructions, especially sunlight protection. 

When you don't follow the recommendations, the risk of pigmentation is higher, especially in darker skin. 

When combined with Plasma-Rich-Platelet (PRP), you can enhance results. 

Experts recommend having at least three sessions combined with PRP with fourteen days between them.

B. Lasers For Acne Scarring And Overall Skin Improvement

You cannot use all lasers on dark skin; some of them, like CO2, can be too aggressive with skin pigment and cause hyperpigmentation or even severe skin damage. 

On the other hand, fractionated lasers will not penetrate as deep as a CO2 laser and will effectively improve skin without any damage. 

There is a lot of controversy about the lasers for dark skin nowadays, mainly because the first laser devices treated lighter skin better by attacking the skin pigment instead of the pigment in the hair follicle. 

However, today, most lasers have been modified and adapted to be used in all skin types, although the choice will depend on your practitioner. Here are some options your practitioner may choose:

  • One of the most recommended lasers for this purpose is the Frax 1550, which can create controlled damage that will improve the ice-pick, box-car scars, hypertrophic and atrophic scars, and improve collagen production. 
  • Also, the ND-YAG 1064 laser is a non-ablative and can be used to treat acne scarring; this one is "pigment friendly" and can improve acne scarring with reduced pigmentation risk. 
  • The Pico laser is the safest option to treat every skin type, improving scarring and pigmentation. This laser penetrates deeply without harming the superficial skin layer and still providing the results you need within a couple of sessions.

It is essential to make sure your practitioner has experience with lasers on dark skin to prevent any complications - do not hesitate to ask about it.

Read MoreEight Ways To Hide Scars And Blemishes On Your Skin

C. Topical Products

Not all topical products are suitable for darker skin, so be careful when choosing them. 

Always start with low concentrations and increase them over time once you see how your skin reacts to them. 

Remember that darker skin is sensitive. Hence introducing new products to your daily routine sometimes can be a challenge. 

Between the most used and useful products, we have retinoids and benzoyl peroxide.

  • Retinoid is a derivative of vitamin A. Besides reducing pigmentation and acne, it improves fine lines, increases cellular renovation, and has anti-inflammatory properties. You can use it in mild to moderate acne cases, and in darker skin, it can improve active acne and PIH. 
  • Tretinoin is the first option belonging to this family and should be started with a low concentration and increasing depending on the skin response.
  • You can use Benzoyl Peroxide in lower concentrations. Do not exceed a concentration of 2.5% at first. It will prevent further breakouts due to the antibacterial properties and will prevent clogged pores. 

To see improvement, you will need to be consistent with your treatment and wait around six weeks. 

If you experience irritation or flaking, do not use it every day, and if this is persistent, try a lower concentration or consult with your physician.

D. Chemical Peelings

Experts perform chemical peelings to address scaring and PIH.  

They use products like salicylic acid and glycolic acid in the superficial-medium peelings. 

However, please perform peelings strictly under medical supervision to prevent skin damage and to ensure the correct combinations of chemicals for your skin. 

E. Subcision Of Scars

This treatment is effective for deep acne scars and involves inserting a needle to remove the fibrotic strands to improve the underlying scar tissue. 

The treatment causes the production of new collagen, and as a result, the area will show improvement. You cannot perform this procedure during breakouts due to the higher risk of infection.

F. Diet

Our diet does matter. Critically avoid sugar, fats, and dairy, and go for a diet rich in vitamin E, Omega 3, and antioxidants to improve acne and scarring

5. Conclusion

Teen girl with problem skin, pimple, magnifying glass.

Darker skin has particular characteristics compared to light skin, including the size of the sebum glands, differences in collagen production, and pH levels. 

These differences make darker skin prone to develop post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and keloids. Hence the approach to acne scarring has to be specific to avoid complications.

Though acne scar removal can follow some well-established protocols depending on the scarring grade, it's best that an expert correctly evaluates you for the right treatment. Not every skin will have the same damage or tolerate the same products and procedures done.

Even though you can find dozens of treatments you can do at home, like tea tree oil or cocoa butter, they are not suitable for all skin types, and some of them can cause even more scarring and pigmentation. 

A full consultation with a specialist is needed to thoroughly examine the skin and determine the treatment course necessary to achieve the desired results. Prevention in sensitive skin is more manageable than treating side effects like scarring or pigmentation from using the wrong products. 

About The Author

Dr. Angelica Parra is a licensed Medical Doctor originally from Barquisimeto, Venezuela. She has earned her medical degree from Lisandro Alvarado Central Western University and is currently the lead content advisor for Labiaplasty NYC. Doctor Parra's achievements led her to become certified as an occupational physician, and she completed Facial and Body Aesthetics at the University of Carabobo in Venezuela.

Dr. Parra's interest in aesthetics has led her to complete the Advanced Training in Non-surgical Facial Rejuvenation and Aesthetic Medical Procedures in Miami, Florida. She has specialized in the application of Botox Cosmetic, Dysport, and dermal fillers.

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