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How to get rid of acne scars

How to get rid of acne scars

Stefano Mirabello NowPatientGreen tick
Written by Rajive Patel, BPharm
Updated on 4 Sep 2023

Having acne is bad enough, but the scars it can leave behind can be devastating. It’s cruel that you can finally conquer the stubborn condition only to be left with a lasting reminder of it. A reminder that can be every bit as difficult to live with as the acne itself.

But you don’t have to live with acne scars forever. Even serious acne scarring can be treated. Here we explain the different options available to get rid of your acne scars, including products you can use at home and professional acne scar treatments provided by a dermatologist.

How does acne cause scarring?

You get acne scars when the layers of skin beneath the surface become damaged. These layers act as structural support for your skin. If they’re harmed, the skin on the surface layer above can pit and sag or raise up into bumps, giving you scars.

Acne doesn’t always leave you with scars but two factors make acne scars more likely. The first is the severity of your acne. Larger pimples – particularly infected ones – can intrude into the supportive layers of your skin and damage it. Damage is also more likely if your acne causes inflammation in your skin.

The second factor is whether or not you try to pop your pimples. Squeezing your pimples can be satisfying but you increase the risk of damaging the lower layers of your skin, leaving you with acne scars.

What types of acne scars can you have?

There are two main categories of acne scarring – these are called ‘depressed acne scars’ and ‘raised acne scars’. While most treatments are suitable for both, it’s worth knowing what types of scars you have as some treatments work better for specific scars.

So, what do acne scars look like?

Depressed acne scars

Depressed acne scars occur when the supportive layer in your skin is damaged by spots and inflammation intrudes down into it. A loss of structural collagen in these layers causes cavities to form that your surface skin sags into. These scars range from shallow boxcar scars to deep and sharp ice pick scars.

Raised acne scars

The second category of acne scars – raised scars – occurs when your supportive skin layers produce too much collagen in response to damage. As a result, bumps and lines can start to form in your surface skin. These scars can often be a brighter color than your skin, making them particularly visible.

Do acne scars go away?

Acne scars often fade over time but won’t go away unless you treat them. This is because they are the result of permanent skin damage.

How long does it take for acne scars to fade?

Acne scars can fade over time, particularly in the first few years after they appear. However, some acne scars are a result of permanent damage to the layers of your skin and if left untreated they won’t fade entirely.

How to prevent acne scars

Prevention is better than the cure. You can limit your chances of developing acne scars by:

  • Treating your acne: You should use an effective acne treatment like tretinoin to try and stop your acne from becoming too severe and limit your chances of getting scars. This is really the most important step you can take to prevent acne scars
  • Not popping or picking your pimples: As tempting as this can be, it increases your chances of causing damage that can lead to acne scarring. Read more about popping pimples
  • Seeing a dermatologist: A dermatologist (a specialist in skincare) can recommend appropriate acne treatments to tackle your acne and reduce the inflammation and damage it causes

How to remove acne scars

Because acne scars are caused by permanent damage to the supportive layers of your skin, they’re tough to tackle. You may never get rid of your acne scarring entirely but there is a lot you can do to dramatically reduce the appearance of your acne scars. Effective acne scar treatments include:

  • Salicylic acid for acne scars: This is a type of natural acid that can remove dead skin cells and reduce inflammation in your skin to improve the appearance of acne scarring. You can find salicylic acid in a wide range of over-the-counter skin products. These are generally more suited to tackling mild acne scarring
  • Topical retinoids for acne scars: These are a group of acids that are based on vitamin A. They’re found in a range of skin products like creams and serums that you apply to your affected skin. Retinoids help to speed up the regeneration of your skin cells. Research has shown this can visibly reduce the appearance of acne scars. You can buy milder retinoids over the counter or stronger ones including tretinoin with a prescription
  • Chemical peels for acne scars: This is when certain chemicals are applied to your face to remove the surface layers of skin. Research has shown chemical peels can improve the appearance of acne scars, but they should only be performed by a qualified dermatologist
  • Dermal fillers for acne scarring: These are soft fillers often based on collagen that can be injected into your skin by a dermatologist. They help to fill the cavities in your supportive skin layers that cause depressed acne scars
  • Microneedling for acne scars: This is when a dermatologist inserts a small needle repeatedly into the skin around your scars to encourage the production of new collagen to smooth out your skin. Research has shown it can be effective in lessening acne scars
  • Laser treatments for acne scars: This can remove the surface layers of your skin, leaving clearer skin beneath and reducing the visibility of your scars. You need to have a consultation with a dermatologist first as laser treatments aren’t suitable for all skin types

You’ll likely also find a lot of advice online about natural and home treatments for acne scars. The majority of these have little to no scientific evidence to back them up but they’re often safe and cheap to try, so you can always experiment and see how they affect your skin. Recommended natural acne scarring treatments include:

  • Vitamin E capsules that are broken and rubbed into your skin
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil
  • Shea butter
  • Aloe vera gel
  • Honey
  • Baking soda
  • Lemon juice

There’s plenty of noise online about acne scar removal too. Surgical removal is rarely an option however, as the process of cutting a scar away from your skin also causes damage and would often result in a more pronounced scar.

Can exfoliating help acne scars?

Exfoliation may improve the appearance of acne scars, particularly milder scars. However, acne scars are caused by damage to layers of your skin that exfoliation can’t reach. This means that exfoliation can’t completely get rid of acne scars and will likely have little impact on more pronounced scars.

Remember, with the right treatment you can conquer your acne scars and boost your confidence at the same time.


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