Acne is one of those pesky skin issues that can occur on any skin type, at any time of the year. And as luck would have it, it can sometimes leaves scars. For women of color particularly, whose skin can be highly melanated, even the smallest of breakouts can leave a discernible mark. For those with lighter complexions, breakouts can result in residual red or brown acne scars. While there are a plethora of topical acne creams, serums, cleansers, and treatments (both over-the-counter and prescribed) that help with acne scars, facials are one of the best ways to rejuvenate the skin, fade blemishes, and eliminate pigmentation and texture issues — for good.
First: Don’t be discouraged if you’re still dealing with lingering marks from breakouts. The majority of acne scarring is really just post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (brown or red spots) rather than an actual change in texture of the skin. Essentially, when the body sends white blood cells and collagen to repair the acne spot, it also sends melanin — leaving behind a hyperpigmented scar. That’s when your favorite esthetician comes in to help.
“Facials focus on opening the pores by cleansing the skin thoroughly and exfoliating with the proper product to help remove the dead skin,” says Monica Dawidowicz, SHEN Beauty Esthetician. “Facials aid with acne scaring by properly cleaning the skin and removing all impurities to produce brighter, more even and smoother skin.”
Put simply, acne scars are the result of the injury the acne lesion created on the skin. “Inflammation in the skin activates pigment cells to produce melanin, a protective act, which leaves a dark spot in place of the inflammation,” says Sofie Pavitt, licensed esthetician and acne specialist. “Or, if the infected acne lesion is picked at or is a very large type of pimple (such as a cyst or nodule) it can disrupt the skin's cellular structure which causes a textural scar.”
If you’re struggling to get rid of acne scars, whether textured or pigmented, read on for the top esthetician-approved treatments to help your skin look its best.
How Do Facials Help Acne Scars?
Facials can, “benefit the skin with a deep cleanse, professional exfoliation, proper extractions, and targeted ingredients used to combat specific concerns, like acne scars” says Hailey Cochran, esthetician at Beverly Hills-based spa, Facile.
According to Kerry Benjamin, esthetician and founder of StackedSkincare, professional exfoliation (dermaplaning, microdermabrasion, and peels), steam, and extractions can work wonders on non-inflammatory acne scars and prevent more severe acne. If your acne tends to lean on the severe side (like cystic acne), the expert encourages seeing an esthetician every two weeks for extractions and professional exfoliation until the inflammation has calmed down. Once your acne is a bit more controlled, or if you have minimal acne, you can space your treatments out monthly and continue an at-home regimen.
And although acne scars and pigmentation can take time to clear, Pavitt recommends using a cocktail of treatments and sticking with the same esthetician so you can manage expectations on timeline. Regular facials followed up with at-home can yield long-term benefits in the form of clearer skin.
The Best Facials For Acne Scars
Chemical peels are great for fine lines, dryness, and safe for many types of skin, but are particularly adept at minimizing acne scars. They are exfoliating treatments that use natural acids at different strengths to remove the top-most layer of dead skin cells. Depending on your skin condition and type, your esthetician will select the correct peel (superficial, medium, or deep) for you, and will avoid using any acids that are risky (meaning too strong) for your skin tone.
Superficial peels, also known as light peels, are the most gentle type of peel available. “[Superficial peels] remove the top layer of dead skin and give your skin an instantly brighter look, with more even texture,” Benjamin tells TZR. “They can be used to minimize fine lines and wrinkles, sun damage, mild acne scarring, age spots, and dry or flaking skin.”
Medium peels — known to stimulate collagen production to tighten and firm the skin — penetrate deeper into the skin and can be used to treat acne, pigmentation, and wrinkles. Deep peels are the strongest chemical peel available, and tend to use higher potency active ingredients to achieve the most dramatic results for pigmented skin.
A peel will typically start at $200 (depending on your location and esthetician). Aftercare requires you to stay out of the sun, use plenty of sunscreen, and use gentle skin care products in the days following your treatment. Celebrity Esthetician, Renée Rouleau, suggests repeating the peel every one to six weeks for optimal results.
“In this facial, a machine will spray a hydrating, soothing serum onto the skin in micro droplets for deep penetration, and then infuse your skin with pure oxygen,” says Dawidowicz. “[Oxygen facials] are anti-inflammatory and antibacterial — great for all skin types, and are especially good for sensitive skin.” Prices typically start at $100 and go up depending on what esthetician you visit.
This type of facial involves a machine that uses suction while simultaneously spreading hydration and exfoliating serums onto your skin. “The nozzle of the machine pushes the serum into the skin and sucks away the leftover fluid at the same time, pulling dirt and dead skin away with it,” says Pavitt. Dawidowicz recommends HydraFacial for the abrasive tip on the machine that really addresses texture and uneven skin — great for all skin types and skin conditions. The price of the treatment ranges from $150 — $300, depending on your location.
Used to exfoliate the skin at a surface level, microdermabrasion facials smooth out the texture, revealing a brighter, more even complexion. Great for non-inflamed acne and textured skin, this noninvasive treatment uses pressurized jets to scour the skin with micronized crystals to remove dry, dead skin cells. Note: your skin might be slightly pink post-facial. You can receive the treatment at your dermatologist or esthetician’s office, and prices generally start at $75.
Are These Facials Safe For Everyone?
Although facials can be beneficial for all skin types, the experts advise that there are a few exceptions. “If you have darker skin tone, most facials are safe and beneficial,” says Dawidowicz. “However, more invasive treatments like lasers and deep peels should be avoided.” Likewise, patients with rosacea, severe acne, and very sensitive skin should avoid abrasive physical exfoliation like microdermabrasion and the HydraFacial.
What Post-Facial Routine Should I Follow?
“Treating the scarring without addressing the root cause of your breakouts is like washing your car when it’s raining outside,” Pavitt tells TZR. Which is why after your facial you will really want to fine tune your at-home regime to minimize further scarring — which of course includes SPF.
In addition to monthly facials, Cochran recommends a daily gentle cleanser, a chemical exfoliator two to three times a week, a vitamin C serum every morning, and retinol two to five times a week to keep acne at bay. “Although it is still important to get professional treatments like chemical peels that work deeper within the skin to affect change, using an at-home retinol treatment at least five nights a week will dramatically improve the skin’s texture, without a spa or office visit,” says Rouleau.
The most important thing to understand is that acne scarring can take time to heal. Facials will help significantly but it is more of a three-prong approach: using the right products at home, allowing time for the skin to heal, and getting regular facials. And if you experience another breakout or acne scar, resist the temptation to pick at it and instead book another appointment with your favorite skin expert.