What You Can Do About Acne Scars

The Best Acne Scar Treatments and Procedures

Acne is one thing, scars are another. Acne will eventually go away (really, it will). Scars, on the other hand, are a bit tougher to deal with. But scar treatment has come a long way, and there are many things you can do about acne scars.

Acne Scar Treatment Options
Verywell / Alexandra Gordon​

What to Do First

Acne scars are created when skin tissue is damaged. Doing things like picking at and popping pimples can definitely damage your skin and cause scarring. But even if you're really careful with your skin, scars can still develop.

Severe blemishes, those that are very inflamed, are more likely to scar. And for people who are very prone to scarring, even minor blemishes can leave scars.

If you have noticed some scarring, there are a few things you can do. First things first—acne needs to be brought under control. If you haven't seen a dermatologist yet, do it.

Don't waste time using over-the-counter products. If acne is scarring your skin, getting on a prescription acne treatment ASAP will help minimize scarring.

If you're already being treated by a dermatologist, follow their directions exactly and let them know if you have any concerns. Once your skin is fairly clear, then you can decide on what steps to take next for treating your scars.

Topical Retinoids

Topical retinoids are used to clear acne, but they're also prescribed to fade dark marks that acne blemishes leave behind. These dark spots on the skin (usually brown, red, or purple) are super common, and nearly everyone with acne gets them to some extent. It's called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation isn't a true acne scar. In some cases, it even fades away all by itself without treatment. Topical retinoids help speed the process up and work to fade away even stubborn marks.

Topical retinoids only work on dark marks. Pitted or depressed scars need more than just topical creams.


Microneedling is a procedure in which a device is used to create small prickling in the skin. This process stimulates healing, which can reduce some acne scars for some people.

Microneedling is usually done in a dermatologist's office, and it can be done with or without radiofrequency.

There are also at-home devices that you can use for self-administered microneedling. Keep in mind that you can cause serious skin damage that does not rectify scars—and may possibly produce more scarring—with an at-home procedure, This risk will be higher if the device is used incorrectly.

Chemical Peels

With this treatment, a doctor would apply a chemical to your face to exfoliate the top layer. Chemical peels such as trichloroacetic acid (TCA) cross-hatching are good for ice pick scars. Other chemical peels may be of benefit as well, especially for hyperpigmentation.

Light chemical peels are also sometimes used to treat severe acne.

Laser Treatments

Laser treatments come in two forms: ablative and non-ablative. Ablative lasers resurface the skin by removing outer layers. Non-ablative lasers create changes in the dermis without causing damage to the skin's surface.

Ablative Lasers

The most common ablative lasers used to treat acne scars are the carbon dioxide and erbium-YAG lasers. These lasers burn skin tissue in a controlled manner to a specific depth. The usual result is that the new skin cells are smoother, atrophic scars are reduced in-depth, and the overall look of scarring is softened.

Skin generally heals within two weeks but can remain red for a period of time after healing. The redness fades over the course of several weeks to several months.

Non-Ablative Lasers

Non-ablative lasers tighten the skin and stimulate new collagen formation. They are often called lunchtime lasers because they can be done quickly, such as over a lunch hour. Unlike ablative lasers, there is minimal to no downtime.

These lasers are most beneficial for mild acne scarring and pigmentation problems, rather than deep, pitted scars. Pulsed dye lasers are a form of non-ablative laser used to improve raised scars and keloids.

Side Effects

Hypopigmentation, or the loss of skin color, is a possible side effect of laser treatment, especially in darker skin tones. Your dermatologist can tell you if you're a good candidate for laser treatment.

Punch Techniques

Punch techniques including punch excision, punch elevation, and punch grafting are used to treat ice pick scars and other depressed scars. A small punch tool, which is often described as a tiny, circular cookie cutter, is used to cut the scar from the skin. After the scar is excised, the skin is sutured closed.

ice pick acne scars
Ice pick acne scars.

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

A small scar resulting from the treatment may be left, but it is generally less obvious than the original one. The new scar can grow fainter with time, and it can be resurfaced more easily using resurfacing techniques such as microdermabrasion or laser treatment.

After a scar is excised, a skin graft can be used to fill the void. The graft is usually taken from the skin behind the ear.

For deep boxcar scars whose bases are comprised of normal-looking skin, the punch elevation technique may be used. During punch elevation, only the base of the scar is excised.

The dermatologist then elevates the base to the skin's surface, where it is attached with sutures, steri-strips, or skin glue such as Dermabond. Unlike skin grafting, the skin after punch elevation has the same tone and texture as the surrounding tissue.

Subcutaneous Incision

Subcutaneous incision, also known as subcision, is used to treat rolling acne scars, as well as some depressed acne scars. Subcision is a simple surgical procedure performed under local anesthesia.

A needle or small scalpel is inserted to run parallel to the skin's surface. The instrument cuts the bands of tissue that tether the skin to deeper structures. The skin visibly lifts once these bands have been released, smoothing the skin surface's appearance.


Dermabrasion is performed under local anesthesia at your dermatologist's office. A rapidly rotating wire brush abrades the top layers of the skin. After healing, the look of scars has softened and pitted scars are reduced in depth.

Dermabrasion is used to treat depressed boxcar scarring. This procedure may make ice pick scars look more prominent because while narrow at the skin's surface, they often widen near the base. Once considered the gold standard in acne scar treatment, dermabrasion is used less often in favor of laser resurfacing techniques.

Dermabrasion may cause pigmentation changes in darker skin tones.


Not to be confused with dermabrasion, microdermabrasion is a cosmetic procedure that is performed at day spas as well as dermatologists' offices.

During a microdermabrasion treatment, a machine discharges ultra-fine aluminum oxide crystals through a tube onto the skin. The crystals are simultaneously vacuumed away. A series of treatments is needed.

As only the surface skin cells are removed, microdermabrasion works best on hyperpigmentation. This treatment won't do anything for pitted or depressed scarring.

Dermal Fillers

Another treatment option for depressed acne scars is the use of dermal fillers. A filler substance is injected into the acne scar, elevating the base of the scar so it is more even with the skin's surface. Results are not permanent, so treatment will need to be repeated after several months.

Substances used as dermal fillers include human and bovine collagen, hyaluronic acid, and fat transferred from the patient's own body. Your dermatologist will help you decide which filler will be most appropriate for you.

Steroid Treatments

Steroid treatments are often used for raised hypertrophic and keloid scars. Steroids may be injected directly into the scar tissue, causing the tissue to shrink or flatten, softening the scar tissue and improving the overall appearance.

Corticosteroid creams and impregnated tapes (which are infused with a corticosteroid, applied over the scar and left on for several hours at a time) may also be used to treat hypertrophic scars.

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

hypertrophic acne scars
Hypertrophic acne scars.

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Frequently Asked Questions

How can you tell if a pimple will become a scar?

If you have cystic or nodular acne, it may be more likely to scar. That's because the blemishes form deep under your skin. Picking or squeezing pimples may also cause scarring, so it's best to avoid popping them so they'll heal correctly.

Can aloe vera get rid of acne scars?

It probably can't get rid of them, but it may be able to make them lighter. A 2018 review found that aloesin, a component in aloe vera, is effective in reducing hyperpigmentation, including the dark marks left behind by acne.

A Word from Verywell

It's important to be realistic and understand that most scars can't be completely erased. But much improvement can be achieved with the right treatment or combination of treatments. Your dermatologist can recommend the most appropriate scar treatments for you.

Many people choose to not treat their scars, and that's OK too. Remember, the scars are much more obvious to you than they are to anyone else.

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9 Sources
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