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Acne Scars: Prevalence and Common Causes

Prevalence of Acne Scars

Having to deal with mild to severe acne can be such a huge ordeal. To add to that, it can be more frustrating to realize that you still have the scars and marks to deal with after the breakouts have gone away. Just how common is acne anyway? Well, get this: it is the single most common skin disease. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information and U.S. National Library of Medicine, approximately 650 million people around the globe are impacted by acne; and to remind acne sufferers of what they’ve gone through, acne scars and marks take the place of these bumps and pimples. In fact, 40% of those who suffer from acne eventually produce acne-related scarring and pigmentation.

Common Causes of Acne Scars

To better understand the following information, it would help to know the types of acne: cystic acne and nodules and papules and pustules.

  • Cystic acne and nodules are both forms of painful acne that result from pores that get blocked by dirt, oil, or other irritations. Cystic acne contain pus, while nodules are harder and don’t break open.
  • Papules and pustules are raised pimples that are smaller than nodules. Pustules look like blisters as they contain a yellow type of pus. Papules, on the other hand, are hard and firm to the touch.

You would always hear this: “Don’t pop your pimples! They will leave marks!” However, according to Mark Karolak, D.O., a board-certified plastic surgeon, this is not entirely true. The surgeon clarified that simply popping a blackhead or a whitehead will not leave scars on the skin. After all, the method of extraction used in facial treatments involves a sanitized and safe way to drain minor pimples from the surface of the skin in order to improve it, and not to cause scars.

However, if you pick at acne without sanitizing and pop pimples with fingernails or fingertips, you risk causing more inflammation and inviting more bacteria deeper into the skin. This, in turn, can cause more problems and can lead to scarring.

Minor blackheads and whiteheads that show up on the surface of the skin do not typically leave scars, as noted by Westlake Dermatology. The types of acne that usually create scars are deep cystic acne that is filled with pus or painful hard nodules that reside deeper in the skin. To be safe, you can follow the rule of thumb to keep fingers away from faces with acne as much as possible; but it is imperative to seek professional help for serious cystic acne or major nodules.

Other factors that can determine the formation of acne scars:

  • Cystic acne continuing to occur during back-to-back bouts breakouts
  • Cysts remaining deep within the skin for longer periods. This hinders fat stores and collagen production, causing visible scars to appear on the epidermis
  • Developing inflammatory acne with deep or large cysts or nodules

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(Source: This article is a revised version of and an excerpt from the “Ultimate Guide to Scars from Pimples and Cystic Acne,” which can be found here.)