How to treat acne scarring and red marks from blemishes

If you’ve suffered from breakouts during isolation, you’re not alone. We asked skin experts Jocelyn Petroni, Dr Annika Smith and and Maria Enna-Cocciolone to share how to best heal, treat and help fade those pesky scars and red marks left behind by #isoskin. 

Can someone give Laura Henshaw a medal? Not only is she a business owner, fitness star and all-round ray of sunshine – but the 27-year old isn’t afraid to show us the reality of her #isoskin journey – blemishes, scars and all.

If you, like Laura, found that social isolation made you skin do some weird and not always pretty things (hello, mouth, forehead and cheek zits, along with dry flaky patches), you’re far from alone. After posting a snap of her “coming out of iso mini breakout” to Instagram, Laura’s 285000-strong followers were quick to Like her admission (to the tune of over 12K), and happily shared their own iso skin issues – suggesting that problem skin has affected more than a few of us during the pandemic.

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During this time, we have hopefully tried shiny new skincare products, virtual skin consults and more face masks than you can stick a 12-pack of Quilton four-ply at. But whatever we’ve done, the last few months of staying indoors seems to have left the majority of Australian women with with sensitised, stressed and now – joyfully – scarred skin.

So, we called in the experts to learn what can help heal the scars of acne and soothe temperamental iso skin as freedom beckons…

What NOT to do… ?

Facialist to some of Sydney’s most famous faces Jocelyn Petroni was happy to answer our cry for help. On what not to do, she say “The worst thing you could do is to squeeze the pimple itself when it is still forming as that will aggravate the pore and create more sebum and bacteria. If you must squeeze, do it when the pimple has reached its peak to stimulate healing rather than exasperate the forming of the pimple which can in turn scar.”

Maria Enna-Cocciolone founder of INSKIN Cosmedics agrees, saying “As tempting as it is picking and squeezing will spread the infection, cause PIH (post inflammatory hyperpigmentation) and may cause irreversible scarring.”

What is the best course of action for calming inflamed skin?

Enna-Cocciolone is firm on this point, saying “When skin is red and inflamed the last thing it needs is any form of aggressive treatment. Stay away from abrasive treatments like microdermabrasion, chemical peels and exfoliants and ensure home care is more around calming, soothing, healing and strengthening treatments. A disciplined a.m. and p.m. routine should rely on a thorough cleanse, one or two corrective serums, and a rebalancing hydrator. Treating from within will boost skin results and a good EFA (fish oil) is a great place to start. Drink water and get your minimum eight hours sleep in.”

Petroni advocates similarly nourishing and aggravating plan-of-attack, suggesting you should “Incorporate a sleep mask into your routine, rich moisturisers that naturally comfort your skin and offer anti-inflammatory properties. Avoid harsh ingredients like fruit acids and retinoids. Drink plenty of water and get lots of rest.”

Dr Annika Smith agrees with both in regards to looking at your diet and lifestyle, as much as your product lineup, stating that “Acne is regarded as an inflammatory skin disorder and we know that instituting simple measures such as eating a healthy balanced diet, specifically low-glycaemic index (as evidence suggests). Along with avoiding excessive cleaning, scrubbing and exfoliating which can heighten skin irritation and erythema and using oil free, non-comedogenic products for acne prone skin can help.

Dr Smith also goes one step further, suggesting sometimes it’s time to call in a medical professional, “It is difficult to prescribe a one-size -fits-all approach… I would recommend seeking professional input, whether that be from a GP or dermatologist, according to severity, if you are concerned about persistent skin issues.”

What ingredients should people look for to help heal scarring or red marks from acne?

Petroni suggests “Vitamin E cream which is healing, hydrating and improves skin texture. I would also recommend having an in-salon Omnilux treatment, which is super-healing of the skin; penetrating the deeper layers of the skin that topical products don’t penetrate.”

Enna-Coociolone’s shopping list is similarly targeted, citing “Hyaluronic acid to support hydration, beta glucan to aid skin healing, and retinol (AKA vitamin A) for help cell renewal and rebalancing.”

How long does acne scarring typically take to ‘fade’ or go away?

Enna-Coociolone makes note that scarring is different to red marks, and may need different treatment “PIH is not scarring rather skin discolouration and if it’s only new will fade within a couple of months. Scarring on the other hand where there is a textural change to the skin surface can take longer, and can in some instances be permanent – another reason to never squeeze or pick pimples! Scarring requires a daily retinol application and can benefit from in-clinic treatments such as Dermapen Micro-Needling, LED Photo Therapy and some chemical peels.”

Dr Smith adds your sunscreen also plays a huge role in returning your skin to some semblance of ‘normal’, saying “Sun protection is critical in trying to minimise post inflammatory erythema (red marks) and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (brown marks), so products containing an appropriate broad spectrum protection and SPF of at least 30+ are a key adjunct to any skincare regime. Antioxidants such as vitamin C and nicotinamide, along with hydoxy acids can also assist with pigmentary disturbance.”

But prevention is always better than cure, as Dr Smith surmises that “Severe scarring acne requires prompt dermatologic input and institution of appropriate medical treatment. To reduce the risk of scarring, seeking treatment for acne early is key.”

Dr Annika Smith is a Fellow of the Australasian College of Dermatologists and Consultant Dermatologist at St Vincent’s and Westmead Hospitals and several private clinics in Sydney, including the Melanoma Institute and the Skin Hospital Darlinghurst. She has a special interest in complex medical dermatology along with skin cancer diagnostics, management and prevention.