Before we dive into lasers, let’s start by clearing up a common misconception that often comes up when discussing acne scars: discolored spots left over from a recent breakout are not technically acne scars. They’re classified as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
“Often, after breakouts heal, they leave behind a reddish or brownish spot. This is not a true scar, as the marks are surface level and are temporary,” explains Dr. Azadeh Shirazi, a board-certified dermatologist at La Jolla Laser Dermatology in California. Though certainly annoying, they tend to fade with time (in 3 to 6 months, to be more specific).
However, you could speed up that process a little by using skincare ingredients like retinol, which “renew the skin cells and stimulate new collagen,” says Shirazi. “Other ingredients that can help lighten the pigment left behind include kojic acid, hydroquinone, niacinamide, arbutin and vitamin C.”
All of this to say that Shirazi recommends tackling hyperpigmentation with skincare (ideally, topical prescriptions or a series of in-office chemical peels) as your first line of treatment, as “high energy lasers can sometimes cause inflammation, which can actually worsen hyperpigmentation."