The last thing you want to see after recovering from a breakout is an unfriendly reminder left behind. If you’ve got some dark spots or areas with different pigmentation where pimples used to be, know that you can most likely fade dark marks (different from true acne scars) with time and the right treatments, and take comfort that they probably aren’t as noticeable to others as they may be to you.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way: Acne scars are technically permanent. That might sound disappointing and scary, but you do have options that can improve their appearance! Some just take more time and patience than others.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, some people are simply more likely to experience acne scarring, and popping pimples only increases those chances.¹ So, as difficult as it may be, hands off!
That said, while resisting the urge to pick and squeeze doesn’t guarantee you won’t be left with acne scars, it will certainly reduce the likelihood. (Here’s a quick article to show you how to help get rid of pimples without popping them!) Instead of squeezing , consistently use the recommended treatments for your skin type, and check in with your dermatology provider if your breakout doesn’t respond to treatment. Also, wear sunscreen to help protect your skin’s ability to heal itself by rebuilding collagen. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and an essential part of the healing process.²
As with most things, treating the problem before it occurs is best. Treating acne can help prevent future breakouts, which can help prevent scarring. Check out our tips on how to help treat cheek acne here.
You already know the bad news—acne scars are permanent. We’re talking about depressed or pitted scars, which are not expected to improve on their own over time. (The darker brown or red marks that acne lesions leave behind? These do go away eventually—read our guide to hyperpigmentation to learn more.)
The good news is that it’s often possible to improve the appearance of scars until they’re barely noticeable. It takes time, patience, and persistence—but it’s usually possible. Don’t let scars bring you down; a lot (and we mean a lot) of people have acne scars, and most likely, you don’t even notice them.
Regardless of what any advertising might say, no skincare product alone can magically remove acne scars. Treating acne scars requires more than you can do at home—aside from maintaining your skin using a cleanser, treatment, moisturizer, and sunscreen with SPF protection.
You shouldn’t feel pressured to hide your acne scars, but if you do want to pursue options to reduce the appearance of acne scars and improve skin texture, we’ll lay out some of the options for you. Different types of acne scars require different treatment approaches to achieve the best results.³ “If you want to pursue in-office treatment, I’d suggest reviewing your options in person with a local cosmetic dermatologist,” says Curology dermatology provider Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C.
Acne scar treatment options provided by dermatologists in-office include treatments that remove or improve the top layers of skin.
Microneedling involves a tool that repeatedly punctures the skin with tiny needles to stimulate collagen formation.
Laser treatments - Dr. Whitney Tolpinrud, a board-certified dermatologist at Curology says, “Ablative lasers remove the outer layer of skin (epidermis) and heat the underlying skin (dermis). This stimulates the growth of new collagen. Fractional resurfacing lasers heat a fraction of the skin in the shape of tiny columns, leaving intervening areas of normal skin untouched. This allows the skin to quickly repair the ablated columns of tissue creating new, 'fresh' skin. This allows for faster recovery and fewer side effects.”
Fractional radiofrequency resurfacing uses microneedling with heat to stimulate collagen and improve acne scars.
Minor surgery involves cutting the fibers that pull the surface of the skin down in depressed scars or cutting out scars altogether.
TCA peel is a non-invasive chemical peel that can range in depth, from superficial to deep, and is used to treat skin discoloration, scarring, and wrinkles. It uses trichloroacetic acid.
Dermabrasion uses a rotating instrument to smooth skin layers and remove dead skin.
“Injectable fillers, such as hyaluronic acid fillers, “plump” the skin. They’re often used to reduce the signs of aging but work similarly to reduce the appearance of acne scarring,” Dr. Tolpindrud says.
Each person’s case is unique. When it comes to treating scars, it can take multiple treatments and months to see improvement. We know how hard it can be to be patient when dealing with skin issues like acne scars, but it helps to set realistic expectations for improvement by speaking with skincare professionals.
Some scars are more stubborn than others, and it may take a few different types of treatments to improve them (which, unfortunately, can be pricey and time-consuming). We’re here for you through it all. Check out our guide to acne scars to learn what kind of acne scars you have, which can help you understand what to expect where treatment options are concerned.
Atrophic means that skin tissue has degraded. Atrophic scars appear as divots or indentations in the skin. While the pathology is not fully understood, they most likely form from inflammation and degradation of collagen⁴—there isn’t enough collagen to support wound healing. There are three types of atrophic scars: boxcar, ice pick, and rolling.⁵
Boxcar scars are round to oval-shaped with sharp edges that account for 20-30% of atrophic scars. These can be shallow or deep, with the shallow type more responsive to skin resurfacing treatments. Boxcar scars are generally wider with sharply demarcated vertical edges.
Ice pick scars are narrow, V-shaped scars that penetrate deeper into the skin. Ice pick scars look like small holes and comprise 60-70% of atrophic scars. These are difficult to treat because of their depth.
Rolling scars are wide depressions with rounded edges. Rolling scars have an irregular, rolling appearance and account for 15-25% of atrophic scars. Treatment for this type focuses on correcting the subdermal layer.
Both hypertrophic and keloid scars are raised scars resulting from abnormal wound healing from wounds penetrating to the dermal layer. Both scars develop when extra tissue forms at and/or around the original wound area. In this case, collagen production is overabundant. Like atrophic scars, both hypertrophic and keloid scars seem to occur as a result of inflammation. They’re more common in younger people and those with darker skin complexions. Keloid formation also seems to be linked to genetics. Hypertrophic scars do not appear to be linked to genetics. Keloid and hypertrophic scars are more common in Asian- and African-American populations and people with darker skin.⁶
While these two are similar, there are differences:
Hypertrophic scars are confined to the wound area. They’re common in areas of skin with increased tension. Collagen fibers lay down parallel to the epidermis (the top layer of your skin). Usually, a hypertrophic scar will develop within a month or two afterward. While hypertrophic scars do not go away on their own, they may become less noticeable and are easier to treat.
Keloid scars extend beyond the wound area. They’re found in both taut and less taut skin areas. Their collagen pattern is irregular and random and often has visible blood vessels. Keloid scars tend to develop months later. These scars do not go away on their own and are often more challenging to treat.
The best way to prevent acne scars is to prevent acne from happening in the first place. That’s where Curology comes in!
Consider your skincare routine your first line of defense against pesky permanent reminders of breakouts past. Topical treatments like your personalized prescription formula can help keep acne under control. If you’re dealing with breakouts, sign up for Curology, upload some selfies, and get checked out by one of our medical providers.
With Curology, you’re paired with a licensed dermatology provider to create personalized skincare routine designed for your specific skin concerns. If Curology is right for you, we’ll send you a free 30-day supply of your personalized formula— just pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover shipping and handling. During your free trial, you can opt to try any of our other products, like the cleanser + moisturizer duo, the sunscreen, or the emergency spot patch treatment. Go ahead, sign up now!
Some people are more likely to experience acne scarring, and popping pimples only increases those chances. Instead of squeezing, consistently use the recommended treatments for your skin type. Also, wear sunscreen to help protect your skin’s ability to heal itself by rebuilding collagen.
Regardless of what any advertising might say, no skincare product alone can magically remove acne scars. Acne scar treatment options provided by dermatologists in-office include treatments to improve the top layers of skin. When it comes to treating scars, it can take multiple treatments and months to see improvement.
American Academy of Dermatology. Acne Scars: Who Gets and Causes. (n.d.).
Nezwek, T. A., & Varacallo, M. Physiology, Connective Tissue. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. (2021).
Jacob, C.I., et al. Acne Scarring: A Classification System and Review of Treatment Options.Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2001, July).
Fife, D. Practical Evaluation and Management of Atrophic Acne Scars. (2011, August).
Connolly, D., et al. Acne Scarring – Pathogenesis, Evaluation, and Treatment Options. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (2017, September).
Carswell, L., et al. Hypertrophic Scarring Keloids. (2022, May 1).
This article was originally published on September 14, 2020 and updated on August 10, 2022.
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Meredith Hartle, DO