Q&A: Pimples Turn to Scars

Woman picking at acne in mirrorQ: It seems like every time I get a pimple, it turns into a scar. How do I prevent that? 

A: You are right to focus on prevention. The first rule is, as tempting as it might be, don’t pick at your face! Picking at pimples irritates the skin and increases the risk of developing an inflammatory response that leads to scarring. Pay attention to how often you touch your face, consciously and unconsciously. Frequently touching your face can spread more bacteria, increasing the chance of acne scarring. Keep track of that habit and break it!

To avoid scarring, spot-treat a pimple at the very first signs. Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most frequently used medications, and it is available in brand name and generic products like cleansers, gels, and lotions. Used for decades, this ingredient is generally inexpensive and remains one of the more effective treatments for acne.

Benzoyl peroxide works by reducing the bacterial population, introducing oxygen into the pores, and ridding follicles of excess dead skin cells. This three-pronged approach helps prevent breakouts. The most common side effects are dryness and flaking, so use an oil-free moisturizer twice daily in addition to the benzoyl peroxide.

Another effective ingredient is salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid found in many over-the-counter lotions, creams, acne medications, cosmetics, and cleansers. Salicylic acid intervenes in acne-causing processes and works as an exfoliant, sloughing away dead skin cells and penetrating the follicle, keeping pores clear of debris. Side effects of salicylic acid may include stinging, burning, and skin irritation, such as dryness, peeling, and flaking. Use an oil-free moisturizer twice daily to help control these side effects. If you are pregnant or nursing, talk to their doctor before using salicylic acid.

For prevention, both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid products must be applied to the entire face or affected area, not just as spot treatments, so the medications can prevent pore blockages and help clear tiny unseen blemishes. And to keep that complexion clear, you must continue to use these products as part of your skin-care regimen, even after acne clears. These ingredients are the basis for a proactive skin-care regimen to keep your skin healthy and unblemished. Do note results, however. If you've been on a consistent regimen for 2–3 months and you’re still having persistent problems, don’t keep investing in an approach that doesn’t work. Get professional advice from a dermatologist.


Additional acne help:
About.com: Acne

Salicylic Acid

Published on 04/09/2009 | Last updated on 10/18/2018