Guide to Treating Acne Scars and Skin Damage

If you’ve had severe acne, you may have scarring. A wide variety of treatments can help make them less noticeable. A dermatologist (skin doctor) can help you choose the right ones.

Your doctor will examine you and suggest a treatment plan. Her recommendations will depend on the type of damage to your skin and how serious it is.

Acne leaves three major types of scars:

  • Ice pick: deep but small pits
  • Boxcar: sharp angles and edges; can be shallow or deep
  • Rolling: tend to be wide and shallow (a wavy look) caused by damage under the surface

How to Treat Scars

You may need more than one kind of treatment to smooth your skin. Most are done in the doctor’s office or as an outpatient procedure at the hospital.

Skin resurfacing. The goal is to remove damaged layers of skin so that new, healthy skin appears. There are three major ways your doctor can do this:

  • Laser. A laser creates a more even surface to your skin.
  • Dermabrasion. A rapidly spinning wheel with a rough surface removes damaged skin.
  • Chemical peel. A special type of acid removes the top layer of your skin. This can help with deeper scars.

New skin will begin to form about 7 to 10 days after resurfacing. The area may stay pink from several weeks to several months.

Fillers. Your doctor puts a filler (collagen or fat) into the damaged area with a needle. It puffs up the skin under the scar to help smooth it out. Because your body slowly absorbs the filler, the process needs to be repeated from time to time.

Rolling (or needling). The doctor rolls a device covered in tiny needles over your skin. It’s a safe way to stimulate the tissue under it to grow. You may have to do it several times.

Surgery. Some people need an operation to remove bad acne scars or cysts. Your doctor cuts away or loosens the scars. The area is then repaired with stitches or a skin graft (skin from another area of the body).

PRP. Platelet-rich plasma is taken from your own blood and injected into scars once a month for 4 months.

Be Sure to Ask:

Regardless of which procedure you may be considering, you’ll have questions. Make a list and bring it to the appointment. Here are some you may want to ask:

  • Will I need other treatments?
  • Will it hurt?
  • What are the risks?
  • How long before I see a change?
  • Will I need to have the treatment more than once?
  • What can I do (or not do) after surgery?
  • How much does it cost?
  • What will my insurance cover?

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on May 17, 2019



National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: “What Is Acne? Fast Facts: An Easy-to-Read Series of Publications for the Public.”

TeensHealth from Nemours: “Can Acne Scars Be Removed?”

American Society for Dermatologic Surgery: “Acne Scars.”

Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology: “Treating Acne Scars: What’s New? Consensus from the Experts.”

American Academy of Dermatology: “Acne Scars, Overview.”

Mayo Clinic, Diseases and Conditions, Acne: “What’s the best treatment for acne scars?”

The American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery: “Skin Resurfacing.”

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