Raised lumps, recessed pits, jagged indented lines — these marks of miseries past are the results of collagen synthesis during wound healing, forming over and “filling in” lesions and wounds. Due to the collagen in scar tissues’ linear formation, as opposed to normal skin’s random cross-weaved pattern, scars appear distinct, and can very often be distressing. Pigmented acne scars, the most common scarring on the face, aren’t technically scars (true acne scarring often appears like craters), but they can linger on the skin for years, sometimes even permanently.
The good news is, pigmented acne scars are the easiest to treat with commercial skincare products. Since these dark or red spots, called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, are developed when the inflammation inherent in acne lesions induces the skin cells to produce excess melanin, they can ostensibly be treated the same way one would treat freckles and sun spots.
To do so, the clusters of melanin forming the spots need to be broken up with acidic ingredients, such as vitamin C, present in Kiehl’s Dermatologist Solutions Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution (S$90), in a derivative form that’s supposedly more stable than easily oxidised pure ascorbic acid. According to Dr Sherry Hsiung, who specialises in hyperpigmentation and a consulting dermatologist with the brand, “swift treatment of melanin clusters and simultaneous prevention of future discolourations is the key to treating hyperpigmentation.”
Likewise, the Skinceuticals Advanced Pigment Corrector (S$198) contains a cocktail of acids, namely salicylic, ellagic and hydroxyphenoxy propionic acid. The blend stimulates cell turn-over on the epidermis, and used consistently, claims to fade even the most stubborn of dark spots.
However, for scars more severe than the above, all is not lost. The La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5 (S$21.90) is a multi-tasking repairing cream that can also reduce the appearance of scars from cuts, scrapes and scalding. Safe even on babies (it can be used for nappy rash and childhood eczema), the cream contains a blend of ingredients including panthenol, madecassoside, and manganese gluconate, which have anti-inflammatory and cell renewing properties. For best results, the cream should be used immediately on the area of injury for optimum healing and reduced scarring.
While internationally renowned for its golki therapy, which uses bone manipulation to resize and reshape faces, South Korean non-invasive aesthetic centre Yakson also offers a series of skin- care facials, including one that targets severe acne scarring (Scar Care, S$198 for a 90-minute session). “The protocol is different from our Pigmentation Care facial,” says Helen Ng, director of Yakson Singapore. “Acne scars go much deeper than just the surface pigmentation, and the Scar Care facial targets skin regeneration, so that not only does the skin look clearer, the texture is more even and less bumpy as well.” Depending on the severity of the scarring, Ng recommends 10 to 12 regular sessions spaced one to two weeks apart.
After cleansing, a vigorous shoulder massage, and an extremely thorough extraction process to ensure that there are no clogged pores or active acne left on the skin, the scarred areas are subjected to microneedling with a fine-tipped extraction needle. Rapidly tapped across the face, the needle barely breaks the skin and feels mildly ticklish. “By lightly pricking the very top surface of the skin, it causes microtrauma and thus stimulates the skin to produce more collagen and the cells to renew themselves,” explains Ho Seow Wei, skin master at Yakson Singapore. “Thus, the scars will begin to heal and fade.”
The microneedling is followed by another step unique to Yakson, which Ho calls the geum mak technique. An unctuous blend of ginseng, honey and dried citrus peel (which actually smells rather pleasant) is first spread onto the skin. Then, using her fingers and palms, Ho begins to lightly slap the skin, picking up the pace and pressure as she goes along.
The longer she slaps, the tackier the gel becomes, and soon the process starts to feel as though industrial-strength duct tape is repeatedly pasted onto the skin and peeled off in quick succession. “By manipulating the skin this way, the repeated pulling and releasing action stimulates the fascia, the connective tissue between the skin and muscle,” says Ng. “Not only does it improve circulation and tones the facial muscles, it also stimulates collagen production and creates volume and density in the skin for plumpness.”
However, Ho cautions, one shouldn’t attempt this step at home with duct tape or glue. “Therapists are trained so that they know how to apply the right speed and pressure when slapping,” she says. “If you do it carelessly, you might over-stretch your skin, causing sagging.” Or worse, tear the skin completely — then that might become another scar that needs treating.
Yet another feasible approach is the natural way, with botanically-derived, pure essential oils. “Essential oils have different healing properties, with the ability to regenerate skin cells or damaged tissue,” says Cheryl Gan, a certified holistic therapist and herbalist, as well as the founder of local aromatherapy and naturopathy label Hysses. “Some essential oils also encourage collagen production, which is important for preventing stretch marks or scar pits.”
Gan recommends different blends of oils for different types of scars. For newer scars from recent acne breakouts, she prescribes a mix of tea tree, rosemary, eucalyptus, lavender and hinoki essential oils for their anti-bacterial, anti-microbial and wound-healing properties. For older acne scars and indented “craters”, rose, sandalwood, lemon and frankincense essential oils in a base of rosehip and calendula carrier oils have the supposed ability to aid skin regeneration, exfoliation and the reduction of scar density.
Gan also has recipes for surgical scars, as well as raised scars from scalds, burns or scrapes. For the former, an anti-inflammatory and tissue-repairing blend of helichrysum and sandalwood essential oils in a base of antioxidant camellia oil; for the latter, peppermint, grapefruit, jasmine and bergamot with rice bran and bitter almond oil to exfoliate, heal and soften the skin.
“While essential oils are not miracle ingredients and will not be able to remove deep scars immediately, topical applications focus on encouraging skin regeneration and healing through time and repeated use, resulting in faded or reduced scars,” says Gan. “Almost all skincare products contain essential oils for a good reason, because they are packed with skin-boosting benefits and have shown extraordinary results in skincare focus groups and studies alongside placebo tests.”
However, Gan cautions that using essential oils alone might not yield the best results. “Instead, natural treatments can be more effective when used in combination with active ingredients that specifically target scars and deep tissue damage, or pigmentation,” she adds. “As such, ingredients like vitamins C and E are often used, so look out for natural active ingredients, while staying away from silicones to get the best results.”
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