Get Rid of Acne Scars at Home Without Chemicals
If you're suffering from acne, you're not alone. Acne is a common skin condition that occurs when oil and dead skin cells clog your skin’s pores. It normally occurs on the face, chest, back, shoulders, and neck. Without proper treatment, you may notice darkened skin spots or patches, called hyperpigmentation. This can lead to permanent scarring as the acne clears. This is why it's important to keep your skin clean, maintain a healthy diet, and avoid substances that can make your acne worse.
See Get-Rid-of-Acne-Scars-at-Home-Without-Chemicals to learn more about when to consider the use of nonchemical home remedies for acne scar treatment.
Applying Natural Remedies
- Apply a salicylic acid peel. This is one of the best peeling agents for treating acne scars. The peeling process encourages cell turnover, which can help heal scars. You can buy a commercial peel kit to use at home, but the most effective treatment is 30% salicylic three to five times times, every three to four weeks weeks.
Unlike benzoyl or hydrogen peroxide, it does not lighten the skin making it susceptible to ultraviolet radiation. Salicylic acid has minimal side effects, but is not recommended for people allergic to aspirin.
- You can ask your dermatologist for recommendations before buying a commercial salicylic acid peel kit. Or, your dermatologist can apply a peel at their office.
- Use alpha and beta hydroxy acid gel. Apply the gel to the affected area up to two times a day. Make sure not to use any product with more than 20% concentration of AHA or glycolic acid since it can strip your skin of oils and moisture. You can find topical scar gels containing alpha and beta hydroxy acids at most pharmacies and cosmetic stores. Your dermatologist can also apply a glycolic acid peel at their office.
- Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) such as lactic acid, malic acid, citric acid, tartaric acid and beta-hydroxy glycolic acids are naturally found in foods like citrus, sugar cane, sour milk, apples, and fruits, among others. They can help reduce the appearance of scars, blemishes and wrinkles by gently exfoliating the top layer of skin.
- Apply onion extract gel. You can buy onion extract gel from most pharmacies. Apply it once or twice a day until the scarring improves. Studies show that onion extract helps heal scars and burns. It contains a natural antioxidant that reduces inflammation, stimulates cell growth, and repairs damaged tissue. The antibacterial sulfur compounds (or substances) found in onions can also help reduce acne breakouts, reduce blemishes, and improve hyperpigmentation.
- Make an onion extract paste at home. Use a mechanical grater to puree a small onion. Refrigerate the puree for 20 minutes to reduce the pungent smell that can cause irritation. Remove the puree from the fridge, then apply it to affected areas. Leave the mixture on for 10 – 15 minutes, then rinse with cool water.
- This method can be used once daily until the scars heal, about four to 10 weeks. Stop using it if you notice severe irritation.
- Apply aloe vera gel. You can find natural aloe vera gel at most pharmacies and drug stores. Apply it regularly to reduce the appearance of scars. Aloe vera contains active compounds that reduce inflammation while stimulating cell growth and repair. It's a popular treatment for wounds, scars and burns. Aloe vera also works as a moisturizer because of its high water content.
- Try to find an aloe that has as few additives as possible. You can also use the aloe vera directly from an Grow-and-Use-Aloe-Vera-for-Medicinal-Purposes. Simply cut a leaf from the plant and squeeze the gel onto the affected area.
- Apply calendula ointment. You can apply an ointment of 2 – 5% calendula, three to four times a day as needed. This will reduce the appearance of post-acne scars and blemishes since calendula, or marigold, stimulates cell growth and repair. It also improves skin hydration and firmness.
- You can make a daily calendula facial rinse by placing 2 to 3 grams of florets in a jar and pouring 1 cup of boiling water over the florets. Cover the jar and allow it to steep for 15 minutes or overnight. Use this to rinse your face once cooled.
- Be aware that people who are allergic to plants in the daisy or aster family, including chrysanthemums and ragweed, may have an allergic reaction to calendula.
- Apply a sea-silt mask. You can purchase a commercial face mask containing sea silt at a pharmacy or cosmetic store. Apply masks twice a week or as often as your dermatologist recommends for your skin type. Note that sulphur and sea salt contained in the mask may cause irritation for people with dry, sensitive skin, combination skin or inflamed scars.
- Sea silt is a type of mud that contains sea salt and has beneficial substances like unsaturated fatty acids, sulphur and algae. It has anti-inflammatory and soothing properties. It can also help smooth the texture of the skin by washing away dead skin cells and bacteria, improving the overall appearance of scars.
- Make an avocado mask. Remove the pulp from one avocado, mash it, and apply it to the affected area for 10–15 minutes. Rinse it off with cool water and pat your skin dry with a soft washcloth. This remedy can be applied daily for people with dry, sensitive skin and twice a week for people with oily skin.
- Avocado is a fruit rich in many vitamins, nutrients and fatty acids that stimulate collagen production and tissue repair. Vitamins such as vitamin A and C have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant properties that help protect the skin from harmful free radicals. Vitamin E helps moisturize the skin and reduce the appearance of scars.
- Apply honey. Simply spread a thin layer of honey onto the affected area or try combining 2 tbsp. of raw honey with 1 tbsp. of baking soda to make an exfoliating wash. Honey has been shown to speed up healing, but more research is needed to determine if it has any effect on scarring.
- Honey has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. These may may help improve the appearance of scars and reduce inflammation.
Following a Skin Care Routine
- Choose a mild non-soap cleanser. Your skin absorbs almost 60% of all substances you put on it. Non-soap cleansers are free from chemicals such as sodium laureth sulfate which is a detergent and foaming agent that can cause irritation and scarring in acne-prone skin. Look for an organic, chemical-free cleanser to avoid further irritation and scarring. Many natural cleansers are easily available at most pharmacies.
- Before using treatments for scarring, it is important to make sure you no longer have active inflamed or cystic acne. If you have sensitive skin, avoid astringent cleansers, since they can dry and irritate your skin.
- Make your own natural cleanser and toner. If you don't want to buy a cleanser, head to the kitchen and make your own. Infuse one teaspoon of green tea, which contains natural antioxidants, in a cup of warm water for 3–5 minutes. Strain the tea into a clean bowl and let it cool for 15–20 minutes. Dip a cotton ball, facial wipe, or microdermabrasion cloth into the infusion and apply it to your skin.
- Never apply makeup immediately after washing your skin. It can also clog your pores, causing more acne breakouts. Also be sure to use oil-free cosmetics for your skin and hair.
- Wash your skin with the cleanser. Wash your hands before applying the cleanser, so that dirt and bacteria don’t clog your pores and gently rinse your face using lukewarm or cold water. Use your fingertips to gently massage the cleanser into your skin for 3–5 minutes, then rinse using cold water and pat your face dry with a soft towel or washcloth.
- Dermatologists recommend limiting washing to twice a day and after sweating. Wash your face once in the morning and once at night, as well as after sweating heavily. Wash your skin as soon as possible after sweating, since it can irritate your skin.
- Use a gentle and natural exfoliant. Exfoliation can improve your skin's appearance and remove dead skin cells, preventing acne.
For a natural exfoliant, boil 1 tablespoon of organic oatmeal in ¼ cup water. Once it cools, gently massage the mixture onto your face. Oatmeal is a natural plant-based cleanser with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and photoprotective properties. Its high concentration of starches helps the skin stay moisturized too, so it is safe to use for people with sensitive skin.
- Before using any exfoliating products, ask your dermatologist what treatment may be right for your skin type. People with dry, sensitive skin should limit exfoliating to once or twice per week, while people with oily, thicker skin can exfoliate once every day.
- Use a moisturizer. Dry skin can irritate and worsen the appearance of scars and blemishes. A non-comedogenic moisturizer can help prevent dryness while keeping your skin fresh. Look for a natural, organic cream or lotion with anti-inflammatory plant extracts such as chamomile, green tea, aloe, calendula, or oats.
Make sure to apply a moisturizer regularly after cleansing or exfoliating. Consider choosing from the following moisturizers:
- A moisturizer with alpha-hydroxy acids (such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, citric acid and tartaric acid): can help reduce the appearance of scars, blemishes and wrinkles.
- Hyaluronic acid (widely available as a lotion, toner, or mist): naturally helps the skin retain moisture and may prevent aging of the skin.
- Aloe vera (widely available in moisturizers and topical gels): reduces inflammation, stimulates cell growth and repair, and can reduce the appearance of scars with regular application.
- Virgin coconut oil (available in variety food stores): contains a blend of anti-inflammatory fatty acids that fight off bacteria that can cause other skin infections. Applying 1-2 drops of coconut oil on your skin twice a day to significantly reduce dryness, repair skin cells, and reduce the occurrence of scars. It should not be used by people with nut allergies.
- Avoid excess sun exposure. While some sun exposure is good for your immune system, acne scars that are exposed to excessive ultraviolet radiation from the sun often become permanent. To protect your skin from sun damage, apply a non-comedogenic sunscreen with a minimum SPF (sun protection factor) of 30. Some chemicals in sunscreens may cause allergies, so ask your dermatologist what sunscreen is right for you.
- Excess exposure to sunlight may also cause sunspots, known as solar lentigines, that start forming beneath the layers of the skin and cause small dark spots on the surface of your skin as you age.
- Avoid parabens. Parabens are preservatives used in many cosmetic products. Many studies have found that parabens can disrupt hormonal balance and put you at a higher risk of breast and uterine cancers. They can also cause skin irritation and inflammation for people who suffer from acne, and may be a potential allergen.
- Butyl and propyl paraben are considered more toxic than methylparaben and ethylparaben, but the latter is more easily absorbed by the human body.
Preventing Acne Outbreaks and Scarring
- Drink lots of water. To keep hydrated, drink at least eight ounces of water every two hours. Try to get at least 2–4 liters of water per day. Staying hydrated can improve your skin’s elasticity. This can reduce the appearance of wrinkles and lessen the extent of depressed acne scars, such as ice pick scars.
- Dehydration causes dry skin, but it can also weaken your immune system. If you're dehydrated, your body is not flushing out toxins through sweat and excretion, making it harder for your body to heal surface wounds such as acne scars.
- Take zinc. Studies show that oral zinc therapy can help heal acne.
Zinc is an essential trace mineral with antioxidant properties. This helps protect cells in the body from damage caused by bacteria and viruses. It’s common to have slightly low levels of zinc, but taking a multivitamin and eating a healthy diet should give you all the zinc you need. While you can take supplements, the best dietary sources of zinc are:
- Oysters, shrimp, crab, and shellfish
- Red meats
- Sunflower seeds
- Cooked greens
- Easily absorbed zinc: zinc picolinate, zinc citrate, zinc acetate, zinc glycerate, and zinc monomethionine. If zinc sulfate causes stomach irritation, you can try another form, such as zinc citrate.
- Take more Vitamin A. According to studies, you might have low levels of vitamin A if you have severe acne. Vitamin A is an anti-inflammatory that balances your hormones and might help reduce oil production. You can increase your vitamin A intake by eating a healthy diet and avoiding unhealthy fats like margarine, hydrogenated oils, and processed food.
- Vitamin A is found mostly in salmon, egg yolks, tuna, carrots, green leafy vegetables, and yellow or orange fruits. If you take a supplement, the recommended daily dose is 10,000 to 25,000 IU (international units). High doses of Vitamin A can have toxic side-effects, including birth defects and depression, so watch how much you're getting.
- Get more Vitamin C. Vitamin C is a significant anti-oxidant that can reduce inflammation. You can take two to three doses of Vitamin C for a total of 500 mg a day. You can also add vitamin-C-rich foods to your daily diet. Good natural sources of vitamin C are:
- Sweet red or green peppers
- Citrus fruit such as oranges, pomelo, grapefruit, limes or non-concentrated citrus juices.
- Spinach, broccoli and brussel sprouts
- Strawberries and raspberries
- Drink green tea. Green tea is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols that stimulate collagen production, repair skin cells, fight harmful free radicals, protect against ultraviolet radiation, reduce wrinkles and help reduce stress. To make green tea, steep 2-3 g of green tea leaves in one cup of warm water (80-85°C) for 3–5 minutes. Green tea can be taken two to three times daily.
- Topical treatments that contain green tea may also effectively reduce the appearance of scars.
- Exercise regularly. You should get at least 30–40 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking or recreational swimming, or 10–15 minutes of intensive exercise, such as basketball, soccer, and hiking, on a regular basis. Exercise helps reduce stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates endorphins, chemicals in the brain that help elevate your mood. Exercise also helps boost self-esteem and strengthen the immune system.
- Make sure to wear loose, clean clothes and avoid tight-fitting synthetic clothes. When helmets, masks, headbands and other tight-fitting sports equipment rub against your skin, they can cause acne to flare up. Keep your equipment clean and shower after exercising.
- Avoid stress. Acne and acne scarring can cause low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. If you suffer from acne scarring, remember that a variety of treatment options are available. Studies show that emotional stress can make acne worse, especially in women, and often lead to thoughts of suicide. Some other ways to manage stress are:
- Listening to music: Research finds that listening to soothing music can decrease blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety.
- Making time for recreation: Replace unnecessary time-consuming chores with pleasurable or interesting activities.
- Meditation: Try sitting with your legs crossed in a quiet environment while taking slow deep breaths. Regular meditation can reduce blood pressure, chronic pain, anxiety and lower cholesterol levels.
- Other meditation techniques: These include exercises such as tai chi or yoga, biofeedback, and massage therapy.
- Change your pillowcase frequently. Pillowcases and sheets can trap bacteria, dirt and dead skin cells. These can get into your pores when you sleep and cause more acne breakouts leading to further scarring. Change your pillowcases often and consider putting a fresh towel on your pillow each night if you apply an overnight treatment.
Avoiding Causes of Acne
- Understand what causes scarring. The fewer acne breakouts you have, the less likely you are to develop acne scars. Treating acne is important to prevent scarring, especially with any of the following:
- Severe, painful cysts and nodules. Nodules are hard, large and inflamed pimples and cysts are pus-filled, painful pimples, both of which occur deep in the skin and can often cause scarring.
- Picking, popping or squeezing a pimple. This can cause further breakouts and permanent acne scars.
- Acne that began at a young age. People who develop acne in their preteens often develop severe acne within few years. Treating the acne before it becomes severe has benefits, including less risk of developing acne scars.
- Excessive exposure to sunlight. This causes photoaging and hyperpigmentation due to ultraviolet radiation.
- Harsh scrubbing. This can aggravate existing acne, increasing the risk of permanent scarring.
- Blood relatives who have acne scars. The tendency to develop acne scars often runs in the family.
- Inflammation. Scarring can also be caused by inflammation in reaction to allergens or deep cuts and injuries.
- Determine what type of scar you have. Scarring is often a permanent condition but can be reduced with topical or surgical treatment. Hyperpigmentation occurs when red or dark marks are left behind after a pimple heals. These marks are not actually scars and can last for months or years before they fade, but treatment for hyperpigmentation and acne scars is usually quite similar. Common types of acne scars are:
- Ice pick scars: deep pits caused by cystic acne, usually less than 2mm across. They extend into the skin, giving the skin an appearance of having been punctured by an ice pick.
- Isolated large cysts: pits, called craters, can be up to a quarter-inch in diameter. Minor cosmetic surgery is usually needed.
- Boxcar scars: angular scars with sharp vertical edges, resembling the scars left by chicken pox. They may be shallow or deep, and are most often found on the cheeks and temples.
- Rolling scars: caused by damage under the surface of the skin. They give the skin a wave-like appearance and tend to be wide and shallow.
- Hypertrophic scars: less common, raised and lumpy in appearance. They tend to appear on the back and chest, but can also appear on the neck and face. They generally stay within the boundary of the original wound, and may decrease in size over time.
- Avoid touching your face. Dirt and bacteria on your hands can clog your pores and infect acne if you excessively touch your face. If you feel irritation from acne, use a gentle, oil-free daily facial wipe to remove excess dirt and reduce irritation. Do not squeeze or pop your blemishes, or you run the risk of developing scars. In some cases, squeezing a pimple may spread the bacteria even further.
- Do not cover blemishes by sweeping your hair over them. Keep your hair away from your face with ponytails, headbands or hair clips. Dermatologists also recommend that you wash your hair frequently if it is oily, because the oil can transfer to your forehead and face, leading to breakouts.
- Avoid smoking. Smoking can cause a condition called smoker’s acne, in which the body does not make an inflammatory response to heal the skin as quickly as it would with normal acne. Smokers are also four times more likely to get moderate acne after adolescence, particularly women between the ages of 25-50. Cigarette smoke may also cause skin irritation for people with sensitive skin.
- Smoking is known to cause other skin conditions like wrinkles and premature skin aging. It does this by creating free radicals, impairing collagen production, and degrading skin proteins. Increased acne can cause even more scarring, while impaired collagen production can slow down the rate of healing for scars.
- Avoid benzoyl peroxide. While some doctors may suggest using benzoyl peroxide as an alternative to antibiotic treatments, it can do more harm than good.
Benzoyl peroxide works against acne mainly as an anti-inflammatory antiseptic on the surface of the skin. It can be used occasionally in small concentrations, but regular use may cause some side effects. Some side effects benzoyl peroxide might include:
- skin irritation, such as dry skin, redness, itchiness, irritation, and peeling skin
- uneven pigmentation in people with darker skin and a blotchy complexion in lighter skin types
- increased sun sensitivity and possibly premature aging.
- damage to your skin from generating free radicals
- possibility of ties to skin cancer when used at concentrations greater than 20%.
- Benzoyl peroxide is not recommended for people with dry, sensitive skin and for pregnant women.
- Be cautious about using retinoids. Retinoids are compounds that come from Vitamin A. Vitamin A that you get from your diet makes healthy retinol that maintains your immune system and repairs your skin, but topical retinoid treatments have been linked with causing depression, anxiety, and triggering thoughts of suicide and episodes of violence. Avoid retinoids and high intake of vitamin A during pregnancy as they can be highly toxic to the child and cause birth defects.
- The most common retinoids used in treatments for acne are roaccutane and accutane, also known as isotretinoin, and retin-a, also called tretinoin. Retinoids treatments help reduce acne symptoms by controlling oil production and normalizing the shedding of dead skin cells so that they don’t clog pores.
Getting Professional Help
- Get an injection. If you have raised scars, getting an anti-inflammatory steroid injection may help reduce scarring. While a recovery period isn’t necessary, you may have some side effects like allergic reactions, bruising, tissue death, dilated blood vessels, lightened skin, and hyperpigmentation.
- Injections can cost anywhere from $50-$75 for each injection. Keep in mind that you may need repeated injections every few months until your skin improves. Speak with your healthcare provider to determine if the treatment will be effective for you.
- Consider cryosurgery. If you have raised scars, you might get cryosurgery which freezes the scar tissue with liquid nitrogen. The scar tissue will die and slowly fall off. Talk to your healthcare provider or dermatologist to determine if the treatment is right for you.
- Understand that cryotherapy can cause permanent light spots to form on the treated skin, so it's not recommended for darker skinned people. Other side effects include swelling, hyperpigmentation, and blistering that can take 3–4 weeks to heal.
- Talk with your doctor about surgical options. Surgical treatment options are available for people with severe scarring. A dermatologist can help determine what kind of treatment will be best for your individual needs. Surgical options include:
- Laser resurfacing: If you have severe scars, a laser is used to remove skin so new skin can form in its place. The procedure involves passing the laser over the treatment area 1–3 times and can take a few minutes for smaller areas or an hour for larger areas. Common side effects include prolonged redness, raised scarring, dilated blood vessels, cysts, acne, eczema, lightened skin or hyperpigmentation.
- Dermabrasion: If you have severe scars, your dermatologist will use a high-speed diamond or wire wheel brush or sandpaper to remove the skin’s surface, brushing away surface scars and reducing deeper scars. Common side effects include sun sensitivity, raised scarring, dilated blood vessels, eczema, lightened skin or hyperpigmentation.
- Silicone dressings and bandages: A dermatologist applies these to reduce discomfort and scar size. They must be constantly used until you notice an improvement. Silicone may cause allergic reactions or dry, irritated skin.
- Light chemical peels: A dermatologist administers peels with alpha-hydroxy or beta-hydroxy acids to exfoliate the skin. Skin will be sensitive after treatment and may have redness and peeling.
When Should You Try This?
- Apply scar treatments to acne scars instead of active acne. For many people, natural treatments can safely and effectively reduce the appearance of scars caused by acne. When selecting a natural remedy for acne scars, however, make sure that you use the treatment for scars instead of using it for active inflamed or cystic acne.
- Try natural remedies if you lack related allergies. Most natural remedies are safe for most people, but in some cases, you might be allergic or especially sensitive to one of the remedies suggested. If you've never been exposed to the remedy itself, a good way to determine if you might be allergic to it is to note any allergies you have to related substances.
- In particular, you should avoid salicylic acid peels if you have an allergy to aspirin, since aspirin is derived from salicylic acid. You should also avoid calendula ointment if you have an allergy to daisies, ragweed, chrysanthemums, or other plants in the aster family.
- To be on the safe side, research any unfamiliar home remedy before use if you have any known allergies to verify that it won't trigger those allergies.
- Exercise caution if you have sensitive skin. While many natural, non-chemical acne scar remedies are safe for all skin types, a few may irritate sensitive skin. If you have normal to oily skin, most remedies should be okay to use; if you have dry or sensitive skin, however, you should opt for those least likely to cause problems.
- For instance, sea salt masks can increase irritation for those with dry, sensitive, or inflamed skin. Astringent cleaners may also irritate sensitive skin.
- Follow natural remedies in appropriate amounts. When followed properly, regular skin care, acne scar prevention techniques, and natural remedies won't usually cause a problem, especially if you don't have sensitive skin or any allergies. Using these measures in excess could actually create more issues, though, so it's best to follow all guidelines in moderation.
- Note that scar gels containing more than 20% alpha-hydroxy acid may strip away essential oils and moisture from your skin, so you should consider using lower concentrations.
- You should only wash your face twice a day and after periods of heavy sweating to avoid drying it out. Similarly, only exfoliate roughly once a week if you have dry or sensitive skin, or once a day if you have notably oily or thick skin.
- Also note that high doses of vitamin A and zinc can be toxic, so it's best to follow dietary guidelines closely when adding either nutrient to your diet.
- Consider natural remedies after consulting a dermatologist. Consulting a dermatologist may not be strictly necessary for mild scarring and normal skin types, but it's not a bad idea, either. Furthermore, if you have any special concerns, consulting a dermatologist before attempting home treatment is actually advised.
- Use natural remedies if they work for you. After starting any acne scar home treatment, monitor the results. Stop use if a negative reaction occurs. If the treatment doesn't help after several weeks, you may also need to cease use and try something else.
- Even if no negative reaction occurs, you should notice at least minor to moderate improvement after three to four weeks of treatment.
- If you are unsure what sort of acne you have, or experience no improvements with over-the-counter acne treatments speak with a dermatologist to help you figure out an effective treatment plan.
- Avoid using toothpaste on acne. Toothpaste is believed to be a natural treatment for acne and scarring, but certain ingredients such as sodium laureth sulfate, triclosan and peppermint can actually irritate and further aggravate your acne.
- Use oil-free, non-comedogenic, non-abrasive facial wipes for when you don’t have time to rinse your face with a cleanser.
- Avoid cosmetics with synthetic colorings such as E102, E129, E132, E133, and E143 since they are proven neurotoxins with some carcinogenic qualities.
- A soft microdermabrasion cloth, made of microfibers that suck the dirt and oil from pores without any pressure or rubbing, is a great tool for exfoliation. After rinsing with a cleanser, dry your face with a soft washcloth or towel. Gently massage onto your face for 3–5 minutes. After each use, make sure to wash the cloth with soap and let it dry.
- If you do not notice any improvements in scar appearance within 3–4 weeks, speak with your doctor.
- If you think you have depression or experience suicidal thoughts, speak with your healthcare provider immediately.
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Sources and Citations
- Gabriel, J. (2012) The Acne Diet, ISBN: 978-0-9563558-4-3