Finding the best acne scar treatment can be difficult, not to mention frustrating. One of the worst parts about acne is that even once it clears up, it leaves scars that can be just as prominent as the acne itself. Fortunately, they are also treatable, through a variety of methods.
So what clears acne scars? You will likely see the best results from dermatological products or procedures, but there are DIY and over-the-counter remedies also worth trying, especially if you’re on a tight budget. But before you can make any real headway in treating your acne scars, it’s important to stop them from forming, which requires a gentle, consistent skin care routine.
The First Step: Prevention
It's obvious—the best way to prevent any acne scar from forming is to prevent acne. That’s easier said than done, we know, but with the right daily skin care routine, you might be surprised at how quickly your pimples fade.
Products containing the right ingredients, but at very high concentrations, can get rid of acne relatively quickly. However, these also tend to irritate the skin. When the skin is irritated, it responds with inflammation and excess oil production—two of the three main causes of acne. (The third causative factor is bacteria, which can also increase any time there’s an increase in oil production, since oil is their nutrition.) Therefore, harsh treatments are usually only a temporary solution, because ultimately, they cause new acne to form.
Gentle and Consistent Is Best
Gentle, consistent treatment is the best acne treatment, because it heals acne properly and prevents new pimples from forming. Exposed Skin Care ? takes this approach. We combine scientific and natural ingredients in all of our products by using proven acne fighting ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid in lower, safer concentrations. We also add tea tree oil, green tea extract, or aloe vera to keep the skin healthy, and prevent irritation and inflammation.
The Second Step: Know Your Type of Acne Scars
It’s important to know what kind of acne scarring you have in order to choose the best treatment. Are your scars depressed? Raised? Darkened? Different types of acne scars require different treatments, so the second step is knowing what you’re dealing with.
Depressed Acne Scars
There are three main types of depressed scars: Ice Pick, Boxcar, and Rolling. All these acne scars indent the skin, just to different degrees and in different sizes, and they are very common. Your dermatologist would probably call them “atrophic scars.”
A depressed acne scar forms when skin cells don’t recover after an acne lesion heals and there’s a lack of skin tissue.
Ice pick scars are very small, but relatively deep dots in the skin. They get their name because they look somewhat like a very small ice pick punctured the skin, and they are generally caused by cystic or nodular acne that penetrated deep into the skin. Because of their depth, ice pick scars are unlikely to disappear completely, but they can be significantly improved, depending on the treatment.
Boxcar scars are wider and usually shallower than ice pick scars. They have nearly vertical edges rather than sloping or gradually deepening edges, which give them the somewhat severe appearance of being “punched out,” like a hole punch. Boxcar scars may be caused by any kind of inflammatory acne, from papules to cysts. Although boxcar scars rarely fade entirely, the right treatment can significantly reduce them.
Rolling scars are wide and shallow. They derive their name from the way the scars appear, which is to give the skin a slightly wavy look. Slightly inflamed acne, like papules or pimples, typically causes this type of acne scar. In response to the inflammation, a fibrous section of tissue develops beneath the epidermis and binds itself to lower layers of the skin, which creates a wide indentation. Rolling scars may require minor surgery to improve.
Raised Acne Scars
Raised scars are a more general category resulting from any acne where excess skin tissue is produced as a lesion heals. Their medical term is “hypertrophic.” The skin responds with inflammation to any infection associated with pimples and cysts, and raised scars occur when this response doesn’t seem to disappear once the acne has healed. New skin cells continue to be produced and the area becomes more and more inflamed, until a raised scar is formed. There are several options of raised acne scar treatments, but especially severe raised scars, called keloids, usually require dermatological intervention to improve.
Hyperpigmentation Acne Scars
The American Academy of Dermatology doesn’t acknowledge hyperpigmentation as scars, but we think it’s not an unwarranted addition to the list. After all, they cause the same kind of frustration as acne lesions, and they’re not impossible to treat.
What are hyperpigmentation acne scars? Sometimes, dark spots appear after pimples heal, and they can last anywhere from a few weeks to longer than a year. The condition is also called “post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.”
There are countless ways to treat spots and acne scarring, but do-it-yourself remedies are by far the most fun. They also tend to be less expensive. Let’s take a look at a few options.
The Best DIY Scar Treatment for Pimples
Our top recommendation of a natural remedy for acne scars: a lemon juice and honey mixture, followed by an aloe vera mask. The lemon-honey mask will speed the healing process, reducing scar formation, and exfoliate dead skin cells and some scar tissue cells. The aloe vera mask will work to encourage the growth of new, healthy skin cells and prevent any irritation potentially caused by the lemon in the lemon-honey mask.
- 1 tablespoon raw honey
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon aloe vera
First, make sure you’re using raw honey and fresh lemon juice. Bottled lemon juice and honey with added ingredients also work, but they do lose many of their healing benefits.
Combine the honey and lemon until evenly mixed and apply to the skin. Allow the mask to set for half an hour, then remove it by rinsing your face with cool water, and gently rubbing the skin with your fingertips. Pat dry with a soft towel.
Now, simply apply the aloe vera to your face and let it stay for 30 minutes ⏰ to an hour before washing it off with cool water. Pure aloe vera taken directly from the plant is always best, but bottled is fine, as long as it’s pure aloe vera with no additives.
Combined, these masks should help shed scar tissue and encourage new, healthy cells to take their place, and they’re safe for any skin type.
The Best Over-the-Counter Treatment for Acne Scars
Over-the-counter chemical peels containing alpha-hydroxy acids can exfoliate enough to improve depressed scars slightly, and it can work well for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or dark spots, too.
Alpha-hydroxy acids are plant and animal-derived acids, including lactic acid, glycolic acid, malic acid, and so forth. Lactic acid is derived from milk, while glycolic acid is derived from fruit. Glycolic acid removes dead cells on the skin's surface, while salicylic acid (a beta-hydroxy acid), is better for deep exfoliation and unclogging the pores. Both can treat acne, but salicylic acid is probably better for treating scars.
The exception is rolling scars, which are caused by excess fibrous tissue beneath the surface, and for this, even long-term removal of dead skin cells won’t do much.
Retinoids and Vitamin C
Dermatologists often recommend using retinol, a vitamin A analog, and vitamin C. They work well on all skin types, but medium-dark to dark skin tones typically see good results from retinoids, many of which are starting to be available over the counter. Retinol can help reduce dark marks, and vitamin C is a wonderful anti-inflammatory.
However, do not use them together, as the combination is too abrasive and will cause severe irritation. As explained by well-known Dr. Claire Y. Chang of Union Square Laser Dermatology, New York, in an interview with HuffPost:
Vitamin C and retinol work optimally in different pH environments, and thus, should typically not be combined.
Products Specific for Acne Scars
You could also consider very specific products for acne scar treatment, such as those developed by Dr. Dennis Gross, or the relatively new Murad InvisiScar Resurfacing Treatment. Dennis Gross also sells a blue LED light device for spot treatment, which is allegedly very effective. Both are safe for use on all skin types and tones.
The Best Dermatological Procedures To Treat Acne Scars
If you’re considering visiting your dermatologist to get rid of scar tissue, we agree with the recommendation of the American Academy of Dermatology. In their own words:
To obtain the best results, your dermatologist may recommend more than one treatment. For example, if you have a deep boxcar scar ..., laser therapy and a type of acne scar surgery called “subcision” may be necessary to give you the results you want.
Laser Treatment for Acne Blemishes
Skincare expertsSkincare experts have found that light therapy can be an excellent form of acne treatment, also that concentrating the light into a laser beam can be an excellent acne scar treatment. Lasers are used to safely remove a layer of skin from the surface, and the procedure is also called “laser resurfacing.”
Laser treatment can help both raised and depressed scars, but it is not always the safest option for dark skin. Not every dermatologist is aware of, or knows the differences between treating acne scars in dark skin and acne scars in lighter skin. Yes, it’s shocking when a trained dermatologist doesn’t know that different skin tones require different treatments, but we trust that this is an emerging field of study.
We do advise, though, that if you have dark skin and want to try laser resurfacing, you make sure to visit a dermatologist with an excellent reputation for treating acne scars in your skin tone.
Injections for Acne Scars
Depressed scars can benefit from filler injections, which are typically made of collagen or your own fat. They can raise the depressed scar to bring it closer to the surface. Fillers aren’t permanent, unfortunately, and this procedure needs to be redone every year to year and a half.
Raised scars, on the other hand, can receive injections of corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and stop the process of excess skin cell production. However, this might not be a solution if you have a very sensitive skin type.
Dermatological surgery can be the best acne scar treatment in some cases. Rolling scars, for instance, are best treated with minor surgery to cut away the fibrous tissue pulling the surface of the skin down.
Large keloids can also be treated with surgery that removes the keloid and leaves a much smaller scar in its place. Surgery, along with injections and laser therapy, are much more expensive than other options and they aren’t always covered by insurance, so even though they are typically the most effective, you may want to try a few other options first. You may be surprised at how well they work!