Acne Scars

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on October 05, 2022
3 min read

Acne scars are marks left behind after the acne itself has gone away. It’s common to have scarring.

Treatment can help make them less noticeable. A dermatologist (skin doctor) can help you choose the right ones for you. They’ll look at your scarring and make recommendations based on the type of damage to your skin and how serious it is.

Acne can leave different types of scars depending on what kind it is and how you take care of it. There are at least seven types:

  • 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
  • Hypertrophic: raised scar tissue where acne was
  • Keloid: raised scar that’s larger than acne was
  • Dark spots or staining: skin looks red to purple
  • Perifollicular elastolysis: flesh-colored or yellow


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 four 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.
  • Microdermabrasion. Tiny crystals sprayed onto the skin may help with mild scars.

New skin will begin to form about 7-10 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.

Microneedling (or rolling). 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. Sometimes, doctors call this collagen induction therapy.

Skin tightening. A doctor uses a type of energy called radiofrequency to tighten the skin.

Injections. A doctor will inject medicines such as corticosteroids, chemotherapy, or Botox . This is typically done in a series. Your doctor can tell you how often you will need to have it done.

Electrodesiccation. This treatment uses an electric probe to heat and kill skin tissue. This can help with boxcar scars.

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).

Cryosurgery. Treatment freezes skin to help raised scars fall off.

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

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?


You can take steps to help with acne scars at home. If the scar changes your skin color, you may be able to use over-the-counter bleaching products to lighten the area, or sunscreen to keep it from getting darker.

To lower your chance of scarring, take gentle care of your skin. Dermatologists offer these tips:

  • Don’t pick, pop, or squeeze your acne.
  • Use gentle cleansers. Don’t scrub.
  • Scar creams, gels, or silicone dressings can help scars fade.
  • Over-the-counter bleaching agents can help with dark spots.
  • Use sunscreen or avoid the sun.


Show Sources


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,” “Acne Scars: Self-Care,” “Acne Scars: Diagnosis and Treatment.”

Mayo Clinic, “Acne scars: What’s the best treatment?”

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

Cleveland Clinic: “Dermabrasion & Microdermabrasion.”

Scars, Burns & Healing: “The evidence behind the use of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) in scar management: a literature review.”

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