Does Retinol Help With Acne Scars?

Acne scarring is a pretty common complication of nasty pimples that significantly impact the quality of life. Although we live at a time when a variety of beauty products can easily camouflage any skin issues, having an even skin tone is still the ultimate goal. Social media influencers share tips on how to get rid of scars without invasive interventions. One of their most popular recommendations is to use retinol. But does that help? We can no longer wait and need to find the proof. Keep on reading to learn about the recent scientific findings on the real effect of retinol on acne scars.

What is Acne Scars?

Acne scars are facial marks that often occur due to inflammation of acne blemishes. The fact is that even a mild form of acne can cause such damage if not treated on time. To understand how acne scars form, let’s recall the skin’s structure. It has three layers: epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis. In the case of scarring, we primarily need to consider the dermis, which comprises the more superficial papillary dermis and deeper reticular dermis.

Skin Layers

The papillary dermis consists of loose connective tissue and is highly vascular. It supplies the epidermis with vital nutrients and regulates the temperature of the skin. When the acne lesion reaches the papillary dermis, it doesn’t disrupt fibroblast activity responsible for scar formation. As a result, the skin repairs itself within a few days without scarring.

The issue arises when the purulent inflammation spreads its content to the reticular part. Compared to the papillary dermis, this tissue is thicker, and it consists of dense collagen bands with long fibers of elastin. The reticular dermis also supports other skin components, such as sebaceous glands, hair follicles, and sweat glands. Once this layer is damaged, it will be healed, but always with a scar.

At the stage of formation, the scar is moist and voluminous. It doesn’t fill the empty space but “sticks together” the gap’s edges, giving the skin a rough, bumpy appearance. Over time it shrinks. We get “wrinkled” skin with deep post-acne scars, manifested by the “craters” of different shapes and sizes.

Types of Acne Scars

  • Icepick scars – deep, cone-shaped scars with clearly defined edges
  • Rolling scars – superficial scars with sloped sides, giving the skin a wavy appearance
  • Boxcar scars – superficial or deep round scars with even or steep edges
  • Hypertrophic scars – pink raised bumps formed by excess scar tissue
  • Atrophic scars – depressed, thin scars that heal below the normal layer of the skin

Does Retinol Help With Acne Scars?

Before launching our scientific adventure, let me clarify a few things about retinol. This ingredient is commonly used in anti-aging treatments, and there is no evidence about the efficacy of retinol in lessening scarring. Most of the studies aim to describe the potency of other retinoids. This class of compounds, including retinol, is derived from vitamin A, but each has slightly different characteristics. For example, Adapalene is a cousin of retinol, but it’s more science-backed for fighting acne and improving the appearance of scars.

In the study of 2018, experts invited 18-to 50-year-olds with atrophic acne scars to check the efficacy of Adapalene 0,3% gel. The participants received treatment within 24 weeks. At the end of the experiment, the experts reported significant improvement in skin texture. They emphasized that treatment wasn’t irritating and brought a positive impact on the quality of life. Another study published in 2019 also suggests a valuable role of Adapalene in the improvement of well-established acne scars. The experts found that the topical Adapalene 0.3%/benzoyl peroxide 2.5% can noticeably reduce mild-moderate scarring.

Although Adapalene has been shown to be effective, there is also another treatment option – retinoic acid (one of the retinoids) in combination with glycolic acid. In 2015, the experts invited 35 people with acne scars to use RAGA (retinoic acid + glycolic acid) within 12 weeks. At the end of the experiment, the RAGA demonstrated positive results in the majority of participants, minimizing the need for invasive cosmetic procedures for scars.

Over-the-Counter Products That Work

Since Adapalene or retinoic acid is only available with a prescription, we recommend you get some over-the-counter products that can also be useful in treating acne scars. Check them out:

This spot treatment contains 2.5% benzoyl peroxide and goes after you’ve cleansed, toned, and applied your favorite moisturizer. It has a nice gel texture that spreads easily and doesn’t clump up with other skincare products. You will absolutely love this cream. It doesn’t cause excessive dryness or irritation. The treatment is fragrance-free but has a medicinal smell that goes away in a few seconds after application. It contains 120 pumps which means the product approximately lasts two to three months.

This leave-on product is pretty convenient because it doesn’t require washing off after applying. You just need to take a small amount of cream and use it all over the face as the last step of your beauty routine. It is fully absorbed into the skin without leaving a greasy film. After several applications, you won’t only notice an improvement in your active pimples but also see how your scars will visibly fade. Besides, the product acts as a powerful plumper, which brings powerful hydration to the skin.

Take-Home Points:

  1. Retinol doesn’t help with acne scars but other skin care ingredients do this job
  2. Adapalene 0,3% gel is one of the best non-invasive treatments for scarring
  3. Adapalene 0.3%/benzoyl peroxide 2.5% has shown positive results in minimizing scars
  4. Retinoic acid in combination with glycolic acid is also a good option to lessen acne scars
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