Acne scars are being filled with tiny skin grafts taken from behind the patient’s own ear in a pioneering new treatment.
Acne is a hugely debilitating condition that affects around 90 per cent of young people at some point in their teens and early 20s.
The condition is generally caused by an imbalance of hormones, which result in an overproduction of sebum or oil. Treatments range from oral antibiotics, the contraceptive Pill to regulate hormones, to mild skin peels and cleansing creams and lotions.
Acne will almost always disappear with treatment, time or a combination of both, but many sufferers are then left with scarring.
‘Over the past five years, laser treatment, which stimulates the production of collagen, has been used very successfully as a treatment for acne scarring,’ says Dr Puneet Gupta, a GP with special interest in dermatology.
‘However for people with very deep craters, even strong laser treatment is not enough. They are usually in a very visible part of the face, are hard to camouflage even with make-up, and, as a result, patients often feel very self-conscious.
‘Dermatologists may also consider removing the scar tissue and closing up the wound with a few stitches. Unfortunately this method leaves a scar of its own.’
But Dr Gupta, who practises at The Private clinic of Harley Street, has started using ear skin grafts to fill the scars. Natalie Simonson, 33, was one of the first to undergo the grafts.
‘My acne started when I was 18 and continued throughout my 20s,’ says Natalie. ‘I had painful boils on my cheeks, chin, forehead and back. My GP referred me to a dermatologist who tried just about every treatment on the market. Sometimes they worked for a bit – more often they didn’t.
‘Acne ruled my life. People shouted out at me in the street, and I was frightened to go into relationships. I was also unemployed because I was too embarrassed to go to interviews.’
To add to her misery, when in her late 20s, her acne calmed down, she was left with severe scarring. She investigated laser treatments and visited Dr Gupta.
He says: ‘Natalie had four very deep holes, on her forehead, chin and left cheek, which were not responding to laser treatment. The largest was about 4mm deep, so we decided that skin grafts were the only alternative.
‘I injected a local anaesthetic into the crater and behind her ear, which is where the skin graft was coming from.
‘We have to use tissue from somewhere on the face because body skin is tougher than face skin and if you put it side-by-side you can really tell the difference.
‘I removed the scar tissue from the crater, then peeled a tiny bit of skin from behind Natalie’s ear and popped it into the crater, which was sealed with a couple of steri-strips.
‘The bleeding stops within minutes and over the next few days and weeks the new skin becomes part of the crater and fills it in up to the surface. It is a simple idea, but very effective.’
Natalie says: ‘Not only has most of the acne scarring gone, but so has any remaining acne. I can now walk down the street with my head held high. I feel transformed.’