There are so many new ways to treat acne and scarring – but do they work?
Acne treatments have come a long way since the harsh face scrubs of our youth.
With at-home light therapy to tackle active acne, and microneedling for the scars left over, there’s a whole host of new gadgets and products available.
While it can be tempting to reach for expensive bits of kit or fancy products to get rid of your spots, Miriam Adebibe, cosmetic and wellness doctor at Victor and Garth (victorandgarth.co.uk), urges sufferers to look at the root causes. The first thing she would consider is what you eat: “There are so many triggering factors within diets, such as dairy products, sugar, any animal products,” she says, recommending you cut down on processed foods and focus on fruit and veg. “I would also look at reducing your stress levels in whatever way you can. Sleep is so important – no one ever talks about that.”
If you’re still suffering from spots and scars, it might be time to try the alternatives. In an increasingly crowded market, which new gadgets and innovations are actually worth your time?
“I love light therapy,” Adebibe admits. “I think it’s a really great way of helping your skin to do its job with very few side effects… And that is very unusual for any kind of treatment.”
So, how does it work? You can have light therapy treatments done by a doctor – likely to be higher strength and more targeted – but you can just as easily get in on the trend at home, with handheld devices or masks covering your face.
Many of these devices have settings for both blue and red light. “Blue light penetrates less deep within the skin surface and is very good at killing some of the bacteria involved in the acne lesion process,” Adebibe explains. “Red light is really good at improving the blood flow to the skin, it helps calm inflammation and it has also been shown to reduce the sebum production within the skin.
“So, the two used together – whether side by side or as a combination treatment – can have a quite good effect of reducing outbreaks, but also to calm outbreaks that are currently in progress.”
Immediate side effects include “reducing the amount of lesions that are coming,” Adebibe suggests, and long-term outcomes include “reducing sebum production and helping to calm the inflammation you’ve got going on within your skin”.
Adebibe recommends having the device as close to your skin as possible for the best results, while admitting the smaller, handheld products do take quite a long time to cover your whole face.
Swearbyskin LookLit LED Mask, £75
Foreo Espada in Cobalt Blue, £90.30 (was £129)
SENSSE Professional LED Light Therapy Face Mask, £130, Boots
While not high-tech, pimple patches are a relatively new phenomenon. Beloved by Gen Z these little stickers contain acne-fighting ingredients such as salicylic acid and, when placed on spots, can reduce redness and swelling.
Adebibe says salicylic is great for spots – it’s “like a chemical peel for the skin” and can get “down into the pore and help unclog it” – but she adds: “I probably wouldn’t use a pimple patch.” This is because she suggests salicylic acid – a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) – could be used in a more effective way, though agrees the stickers are great for hiding pimples.
“Beta hydroxy acid is really helpful to be putting all over your face, or particularly in the areas where you suffer from acne, because you’re wanting to have that chemical peel happening on a regular basis and a regular unclogging of the pores,” Adebibe says.
If you suffer from acne, the dermatologist recommends regularly using a BHA face wash – or you could even create your own at-home pimple patch using calming ingredients such as tea tree oil. “At that point [when you’ve already got a spot], a pimple patch with something that is going to reduce the actual bacteria that you’ve got, plus help to calm skin inflammation – is something I could get behind,” she says.
Science Of Skin Cleanse No. One, £15.99
Caudalie Vinopure Purifying Gel Cleanser, £16
Superdrug Tea Tree Essential Oil, £3.99
One of the more daunting-looking gadgets out there, microneedling involves rolling a handheld device with needles under two millimetres over your face. To be clear: this is definitely not for someone with fresh, active acne, but for those who want to reduce scarring caused by spots.
Adebibe is a fan of microneedling, saying: “As we get older, we get less good at creating collagen, we get less good at all of the processes within our body. Microneedling is a way of causing injury, but with the ultimate effect of producing better healing. Acne has very different types of scars, and microneedling is good for some of them – not all.”
You might benefit from microneedling if you have rolling or shallow boxcar scars – indentations in the skin measuring less than half a centimetre.
However, there are things to watch out for if you’re doing it at home. “You need to make sure it stays clean and within its capsule, so the needles stay sharp,” Adebibe says. “What you don’t want is blunt needles, because then you’ll just be causing more trauma to your skin than is necessary.” She recommends microneedling once every three or four weeks, “so you leave enough time in between for the healing to occur”.
While it might help, Adebibe wants to stress “a scar is a permanent thing… I think it’s really important to remember it’s about getting an improvement, rather than fully treating it and having everything perfect”.