What are the Last Stages of Acne?


Acne is a common skin condition that affects people of all ages. For some, acne lasts only during the teenage years. But many continue battling breakouts well into adulthood. Acne goes through various stages as it develops, inflames, and then heals. Understanding the last stages of acne can help you better treat existing pimples and prevent new ones from forming.

What are the Last Stages of Acne

The Causes and Stages of Acne

Before diving into the later stages of acne, it helps to understand what causes pimples in the first place. Acne forms when dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria clog your pores. This leads to inflammation and pus-filled lesions on the surface of your skin.

Acne goes through the following stages:

  • Stage 1: You start getting non-inflamed bumps called comedones. These can be open comedones (blackheads) or closed comedones (whiteheads).
  • Stage 2: The comedones become inflamed, turning into small, red bumps called papules. The bacteria P. acnes and your body's inflammatory response cause irritation and swelling.
  • Stage 3: The inflamed bumps develop into pustules filled with pus. They look similar to papules but have a white or yellow center.
  • Stage 4: Nodules form as clumps of infection deep within the skin. They are large, hard lumps below the surface of the skin.
  • Stage 5: When nodules become very inflamed, they turn into painful cysts. Cysts are filled with pus and can cause permanent scars if not treated properly.

The last stage of acne occurs when the lesions finally resolve and heal. Let's look closer at how acne ends and the steps you can take to speed up the healing process.

The Final Stages of an Acne Breakout

Once a pimple forms, it will eventually heal and go away on its own. However, most people want to shorten the lifespan of a breakout. The final stages of acne include:

  • Inflammation decreasing
  • Pustules draining
  • Scabbing over lesions
  • Healing of the skin

It takes approximately 4-6 weeks for a pimple to go through the full cycle from inception to resolution. But you can help acne heal faster by using the right treatments and avoiding things that prolong inflammation.

How Does Acne Finally Go Away?

To better understand how acne resolves, let's walk through the stages step-by-step:

1. Inflammation starts to decrease. The redness and swelling of papules and pustules will reduce as your body's immune response calms down. For cysts or nodules, the large lumps will begin shrinking.

2. Pustules drain out the infection. As whiteheads and pimples start healing, the pus drains out through the head of the lesion. Try not to pop or pick at pimples as this can lead to further infection and scarring. Allow the pustules to drain naturally. Covering with a hydrocolloid bandage can help absorb the fluid.

3. A scab forms over the lesion. Once the pus drains out and inflammation goes down, a brown or yellowish scab will develop over the pimple. This is a protective layer while new skin forms underneath. Pick off scabs gently to avoid removing any new skin.

4. The scab falls off, revealing healed skin. It takes anywhere from 1-2 weeks for the scab to fall off on its own, revealing the healing tissue underneath. Once the scab comes off, you may see some post-inflammatory erythema (redness) or hyperpigmentation.

5. Skin completely heals. In the final stage, the damaged skin renews itself with healthy new tissue. Any lingering red or brown marks also fade with time. The whole healing process takes about one month. But you may still get occasional flare-ups.

How to Speed Up the Healing of Acne

While pimples go through the natural healing stages, there are some things you can do to help them resolve faster:

  • Avoid picking or popping pimples - This can delay healing by spreading bacteria and causing more irritation.
  • Use acne medication - Over-the-counter treatments with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid help kill bacteria while reducing inflammation.
  • Apply a hydrocolloid patch - These absorb fluid from draining pimples and promote healing.
  • Take care of your skin - Gentle cleansing and moisturizing helps restore your skin barrier faster.
  • Reduce stress levels - High stress exacerbates acne, so relax with meditation, yoga, or other activities.
  • Watch your diet - Avoid foods that spike blood sugar and insulin levels as these may worsen breakouts.

With proper skincare and lifestyle habits, you can decrease the lifespan of a pimple by a few days. But remember not to overdo treatment as this can cause more irritation. Let your skin heal at its own pace as well.

How Long Does Post-Acne Redness Last?

Once a pimple has healed over, you may be left with some lingering red or pink discoloration on your skin. This post-inflammatory erythema is common after a bad breakout. The red marks occur due to damage to the skin and small blood vessels near the surface.

Post-acne redness usually starts fading after 1-2 months. But it can persist longer depending on your skin type and the severity of the acne. People with darker skin tones may experience redness on the face for 6 months or longer.

Here are some tips to help speed up the fading:

  • Apply a vitamin C serum to help rebuild collagen
  • Use products with niacinamide to calm inflammation
  • Treat any PIH or dark spots left with chemical exfoliants
  • Always wear sunscreen to prevent further discoloration

With time and diligent skincare, the post-acne redness will eventually subside. If it takes longer than 6-12 months to fade, see a dermatologist who can suggest laser or light treatments.

When to See a Dermatologist

In most cases, acne will clear up on its own in 4-6 weeks. But if you have persistent cystic acne or acne that suddenly worsens in your 20s, 30s or 40s, it’s best to see a dermatologist. A dermatologist can help identify the causes and create a tailored treatment plan.

See a dermatologist right away if you experience:

  • Large, painful nodules or cysts
  • Acne concentrated in the jawline or chin
  • Excessive scarring from acne lesions
  • Acne not improving with over-the-counter medication
  • Signs of infection like fever, warmth and swelling

A dermatologist has access to prescription-strength acne treatments such as antibiotics, retinoids, and hormonal therapy. Procedures like light therapy and cortisone injections can also help severe acne heal faster with minimal scarring.

How to Prevent Post-Acne Marks and Scars

Acne scars form when there's damage to the deeper layers of skin tissue. Scarring is more likely if you have severe or cystic acne. But you can take steps to minimize scarring and prevent dark spots after acne:

  • Leave pimples alone instead of picking or popping.
  • Avoid abrasive scrubs and products that can damage skin.
  • Apply a topical retinoid to help acne heal fast with less chance of PIH.
  • Use sunscreen daily to prevent dark marks from getting darker.
  • If you scar easily, get an acne extraction at a derm’s clinic.
  • Treat any dark spots right away with products containing vitamin C, niacinamide and kojic acid.
  • See a dermatologist early to minimize the need for invasive procedures later.

While you can’t always prevent acne scars, early intervention and proper aftercare can make a big difference in healing with minimal spots or marks on your skin.

When to Try Acne Scar Treatment

If you’re still struggling with acne marks or scars after 6-12 months, it may be time to consider professional scar treatment. Talk to your dermatologist about options like:

  • Laser skin resurfacing - to improve skin texture and appearance
  • Chemical peels - to remove damaged outer layers and promote new collagen
  • Microneedling - to induce collagen and soften the look of scars
  • Filler injections - to raise indented scars so they’re flush with the skin
  • Subscision - to release fibrous bands pulling down on skin and causing depressions

Procedures can reduce the appearance of acne scars significantly, but results take time. Have patience and stick with the recommended treatment plan.

Combining clinical treatments with at-home care such as retinoids, chemical exfoliants, and sunscreen can enhance and maintain your results.

What to Do After Your Acne Finally Clears

Congratulations, your acne has finally resolved! But the skin repair process isn’t over yet. Make sure you help your skin bounce back by:

  • Continuing to cleanse and moisturize gently every day
  • Using a retinoid 2-3 times a week for maintenance
  • Applying products with ceramides and hyaluronic acid to restore your moisture barrier
  • Getting facials with light exfoliation to help fade any lingering marks
  • Following a nutritious, anti-inflammatory diet to prevent future breakouts
  • Doing monthly acne facials or chemical peels to refresh your skin

Staying diligent with your skincare even after acne clears keeps breakouts at bay and your complexion smooth. Don’t neglect sunscreen either as UV damage can cause new dark spots and fine lines.

If acne returns after a few months, reevaluate your regimen. You may need to switch to more targeted acne treatments and explore your hormonal health. With some trial and error, you can find the right balance to maintain clear skin for good.

In Summary

Like all skin wounds, acne breakouts follow a natural healing process from start to finish. The last stages of acne occur as inflammation decreases, lesions drain out infection, scab over, and finally heal with new skin. While pimples will eventually resolve on their own, you can help them heal faster by caring for your skin properly and avoiding anything that causes more irritation.

If your acne is severe or slow to clear, consult a dermatologist early on. With professional treatment, you can minimize scarring and achieve clear skin again. Stay consistent with topical care even after acne clears to keep your complexion healthy, glowing and resilient to breakouts.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Last Stages of Acne

Acne is a very common skin condition that goes through various stages as it develops and eventually resolves. Many people have questions about the later stages of acne, including how pimples finally heal, how to prevent scarring, and what to do after breakouts clear up. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the last stages of acne.

What are the final stages before acne goes away completely?

In the final stages, inflammation and swelling reduce, pustules begin draining out the pus and infection inside, a protective scab forms over the lesion, the scab falls off to reveal new skin underneath, and finally the skin completely heals with no evidence of the pimple. This whole process usually takes around 4-6 weeks for each individual pimple.

How long does it take for a pimple to completely heal?

On average, it takes 4-6 weeks for a pimple to go from initial formation to complete healing. The inflammatory phase when it’s red and swollen may last 1-2 weeks. Draining and scabbing happens over another 1-2 weeks. The scab falls off within 7-14 days depending on size. And the final healing of new skin takes another 1-2 weeks. Proper care can speed things up by a few days.

What helps acne and pimples heal faster?

To promote faster healing of acne, you can:

  • Avoid picking or popping to prevent worsening infection
  • Use acne medication like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid
  • Apply hydrocolloid patches to help drain pus
  • Cleanse and moisturize skin gently every day
  • Take care of your overall health and stress levels

How long does post-acne redness usually last?

It’s common to have redness remain after a pimple heals over. This post-inflammatory erythema usually starts fading after 1-2 months. But it can last longer (up to 6 months or more) depending on your skin tone and severity of acne. Using products with vitamin C, niacinamide and kojic acid can help the redness resolve faster.

What causes acne scars and how can you minimize them?

Scars form when acne damages the deeper layers of skin tissue. Scarring is more likely with severe cystic acne. To help prevent scars: don’t pick at pimples, use a topical retinoid to promote healing, apply sunscreen to prevent dark spots, treat any dark marks ASAP, and see a dermatologist early on for severe acne.

When should you consider acne scar treatment from a dermatologist?

If acne scars remain noticeable after 6-12 months of diligent at-home treatment, talk to your dermatologist about options like laser resurfacing, chemical peels, microneedling, filler injections or subscision. These procedures can significantly improve the appearance of acne scarring over time.

What’s the best way to care for skin after acne finally clears up?

After acne resolves, it’s important to continue gentle cleansing, moisturizing, using retinoids, eating a healthy diet, and doing monthly facials to exfoliate. This helps prevent future breakouts and keeps your skin looking its best. Don't neglect sunscreen either to avoid new dark spots or fine lines.

Why might acne return again after clearing up?

Acne may return after several months if you stop treatment altogether or don’t care for your skin diligently enough. Hormonal imbalances and stress can also trigger flair ups. If breakouts recur, reevaluate your regimen. You may need to switch to more targeted acne treatments or explore your hormonal health.

Is it possible to get rid of acne for good?

For many people, yes - with the right treatment plan, it is possible to clear up acne for good. This involves finding the right balance of gentle skincare, targeted acne treatments, hormonal regulation, lifestyle habits, and ongoing maintenance care. It may take some trial and error to keep breakouts at bay in the long-term.

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