I’ve been really lucky when it comes to breakouts. I’ve written about them, I’ve had a few pop up from time to time, and I’ve recommended products to zap them, but I’ve never suffered from the frustrating woes of teenage or adult acne. That being said, something recently changed. Perhaps it’s because I’ve recently ascended into my late-20s (I’m not complaining—I feel wise), but now, whenever I break out, no matter how small or inconsequential the actual pimple is, it leaves behind a red mark long after it clears up. It is so annoying. How are acne scars and discoloration problems only just starting to plague me now? Aren’t these years supposed to be zit-free?
That’s why I spoke with experts to get their opinions on why this is happening and advice for how to make it stop. Like, immediately.
Meet the Expert
Keep reading for their sage guidance on how to reduce redness from acne.
What Is Acne Redness?
Rouleau explains: “Redness can be caused by trauma to the skin cells caused by aggressively picking at blemishes. Picking at the skin can leave a red post-breakout mark long after the infection disappears. Whether or not you picked at your blemish (hopefully not), it’s common to be left with a red, dark, or purple mark that can hang around for weeks.” It feels like she’s explaining my exact situation, to be honest. Sometimes I pick (eek, sorry!), and sometimes I’m really good about keeping my hands to myself.
She continues, “It leaves a scar because it stretches and damages the surrounding tissue, resulting in increased melanin activity. This is considered to be a scar, but it will fade with time by using a skin lightener and increasing exfoliation. Also, infections can cause a blemish to be red and inflamed.”
Thornfeldt adds: “Inflammation is the body’s natural response mechanism to heal itself. Unfortunately, when it goes on too long, inflammation can become very harmful to the skin—this is when we see dark spots where the acne lesion was. This is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. So the redness is the skin still creating inflammation as it’s healing the area. Another factor is the dilation of the blood vessels. This occurs due to the increased nutritional needs of the inflamed lesions since the cells are excessively active. Those vessels may take six to 12 weeks to completely shrink, so often the older lesions have a purple hue as the rest of the inflammation resolves.”
Don’t Touch Your Acne
“Do not pick your skin! For starters, ice it down. The cold helps to reduce both redness and swelling caused by picking at a blemish. Apply an ice cube directly to the blemish, and leave it on for 10 minutes. Then, apply a blemish treatment appropriate for the type you’re dealing with," says Rouleau, who created a "No Picking Skin Contract" that you can sign to commit to keeping your hands off your face. "I promise you’ll have clearer skin with fewer scars.”
Try Anti-Inflammatory Treatments and Diet
Thornfeldt advises, “The best way to prevent the inflammation is to use acne products that have anti-inflammatory properties in them. I recommend my patients use an Epionce Lytic product. That is going to help repair and fortify the skin barrier—so the skin can become healthy as quickly as possible.”
Eating an anti-inflammatory diet will also help prevent inflammation from showing up on your skin. Avoid foods that increase inflammation including chocolate, sugar, starch, alcohol, and spicy foods.
In addition to using the appropriate blemish treatment, wear sunscreen to treat red spots, since it can help expedite the healing and fading process. We like Neutrogena's oil-free and lightweight SPF.
Rouleau says, “If the affected skin is exposed to daylight, the UV rays stimulate the melanin cells—even if it’s cloudy outside—making the scar darker and redder in color and visible longer.”
“Spearmint tea and green tea especially help [acne redness] clear faster,” says Thornfeldt. Green tea is a botanical derived from the leaves and buds of the tea plant Camellia sinensis. The active components of green tea are polyphenols (also called catechins) that are believed to benefit the skin due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Purchase Brightening and Exfoliating Products
Rouleau explains, “The Renée Rouleau Post-Breakout Fading Gel ($43) is a spot treatment to lighten and fade red, dark, or purple scars and spots left behind from blemishes on the skin. This product uses a blend of gentle brighteners and exfoliating acids to lift discoloration and fade stubborn acne marks. You’ll see a dramatically noticeable improvement in promoting even-toned skin with continued use. This gel contains white tea extract, which contains anti-inflammatory tea to soothe signs of redness and irritation, and lactic/amino acid complex, which provides cellular turnover with minimum irritation.”
Thornfeldt has a few favorites as well: “I recommend all of my patients, with or without acne, use an Epionce Renewal Facial Cream ($98). Also, if your skin is especially susceptible to dark spots, I recommend a hydroquinone-free lightening product to keep the post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation at bay. My go-to is the Epionce MelanoLyte Tx ($70) and MelanoLyte Pigment Perfection Serum.”
Hydroquinone is a chemical compound used in products that treat hyperpigmentation. It works by interacting with the melanin-producing cells in the skin and decreasing the production of pigment.
While this is one of the more expensive options, microneedling may also give you the best results.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, this procedure is going to work the best on acne scars that have an "indented" look along with scars that have created hyperpigmentation. This is due to the promotion of collagen microneedling brings to the skin, which makes it stronger, elastic, and more hydrated.
The downfall is you may require anywhere from three to six treatments to see results, which can add up!
At what age is acne the worst?
Acne can affect anyone at any age, but it’s believed the age group from 12 years up to 24 years may be the most affected (thanks a lot, puberty!).
Does acne redness go away?
Eventually, a mark left by a pimple will fade, but it can take a long time if it’s not treated.
Why is my acne not going away?
When we deal with bacteria, oil, and inflammation, we can continue to get acne flare-ups on the reg. Work with a dermatologist to see what treatment option may work best for you.
Minihane AM, Vinoy S, Russell WR, Baka A, Roche HM, Tuohy KM, Teeling JL, Blaak EE, Fenech M, Vauzour D, McArdle HJ, Kremer BH, Sterkman L, Vafeiadou K, Benedetti MM, Williams CM, Calder PC. Low-grade inflammation, diet composition and health: current research evidence and its translation. Br J Nutr. 2015 Oct 14;114(7):999-1012. doi: 10.1017/S0007114515002093.
Cleveland Clinic. Acne scars: management and treatment. Updated June 23, 2020.
OyetakinWhite P, Tribout H, Baron E. Protective mechanisms of green tea polyphenols in skin. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2012;2012:560682. doi:10.1155/2012/560682
The American Association of Dermatology. Acne Scars: Diagnosis and Treatment.
John Hopkins Medicine. Acne in adolescents and young adults. Updated June 8, 2018.