Last Updated on August 8th, 2019
For many people, acne scar treatment is just as important as acne treatment because the scars acne can leave behind can be just as noticeable and frustrating as the acne itself. Luckily, acne scar treatment options are more plentiful today than ever before. From chemical peels to over-the-counter creams to surgical procedures, dermatologists have found all kinds of ways to heal acne scars. It all comes down to choosing the one that makes the most sense for you and fits your budget. In this article, we’ll go over some of your options so you can make an informed decision on how best to treat your acne scars.
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The road to clear skin can be long and frustrating, so when those of us with acne finally find a solution that really works for our skin, it’s easy to get excited about the prospect of finally being acne-free. The problem is, for most of us, that’s not where the fight for clear skin ends. Even after acne is gone, 95 percent of people with acne will be left with acne scars¹. That’s right, nearly everyone with acne has acne scars as well, so if you’re feeling like you’re the only one, or like you did something wrong to cause your acne scarring, trust us when we say that acne scars are a completely normal, albeit unfortunate, part of having acne. Luckily, there are ways to fade, reduce, and remove scars.
When it comes to addressing acne scars, there are numerous options to choose from. But one of the most effective ways to address the problem is to try to prevent them from ever forming in the first place. This may seem easier said than done, but with the right products, you can help to minimize and eliminate acne, so that you don’t go on to have scarring problems. Getting a handle on the management of acne is crucial right from the beginning so that it doesn’t become a larger problem that may lead to scars.
Trying some of the top-rated treatment products for acne, as well as acne scar treatment products, is an affordable and effective way to address the problem. Here are some of the top-rated products to consider trying:
Exposed Skin Care: The Exposed Skin Care line is a complete acne treatment system. Rather than buying various products from different brands to address the issue, you just need this one acne treatment system. It’s highly effective and has a great reputation for helping people get clear, beautiful skin. The treatment system comes with the tools you need for cleansing, treating, and moisturizing, and it’s all been formulated so it won’t dry out your skin. It even comes with a probiotic and microfiber cloth, so you can exfoliate and help your body gain beneficial bacteria to help fight acne.
Natural Scar Cream: Containing vitamin E, this natural scar treatment can be used for both new and old scars. It hydrates the skin, contains essential oils, and nourishes the skin. It’s highly rated by those who have used the product, with people reporting that it is an effective treatment for acne scars. Those who have had success with it typically see results within weeks, with some having a noticeable difference in just one week of using it.
TruSkin Naturals: This serum contains tea tree oil, one of our favorite acne-fighting ingredients. Not only does tea tree oil help get rid of acne, it can also help reduce the likelihood of scarring, making this a great preventative product. In addition to tea tree oil, it contains vitamin B3, vitamin C, retinol, and hyaluronic acid, among other ingredients. Some people claim this little bottle is pure magic and life-changing, it’s that powerful.
It might sound odd, but acne lesions are technically a type of wound, and they heal through the same process as other wounds we sustain, like cuts and bruises. There are three main phases of wound healing²: the inflammatory stage, the proliferative stage, and the remodeling stage.
In the inflammatory stage, the body’s goal is to prevent the wound from growing and return the body to homeostasis. Once an acne lesion, like a blackhead or pimple, forms, the body recognizes that there’s too much sebum (oil), too many bacteria, or too many dead skin cells, and the skin triggers the inflammation response to try and bring things back to normal. This inflammation helps bring more wound healing cells and immune system cells to the site of the wound, which helps facilitate healing.
In the proliferative stage, our cells produce lots of extra collagen to help repair or replace cells that have been damaged. This collagen is necessary for the repair of the skin cells, but it does not return our cells back to their previous functioning. Too much collagen leaves skin unable to perform some of its most basic duties, like growing hair, sweating, or adjusting body temperature. Although this reduced functioning is better than if the skin cells died completely, it’s not definitely ideal.
The remodeling stage begins approximately 20 days after the wound first forms, and it is dedicated to making the skin as functional as possible again. The repair collagen transforms into normal collagen, the skin pulls tighter together, and if the wound is very minor, the skin at least appears to be back to normal. However, in many cases, the wound has permanently damaged the skin and a scar will be left behind for a very long time.
Because everyone’s body heals wounds differently, and because everyone has different types of acne, there are also different types of acne scars³. There are two broad categories: atrophic and hypertrophic. Atrophic scars are those that are indented, and they come in three main types: ice pick, boxcar, and rolling. Hypertrophic scars are the opposite in that they are raised and involve excess tissue. They are simply known as generic hypertrophic scars or keloids.
Ice pick scars are so named because they look like someone took a very small ice pick and made small pock marks on a person’s skin. They have sharp angles downward into the skin and can be either deep or shallow. The deep scars often form due to a pimple or cyst that extended deep into the pores, while shallow ice pick scars may be caused by small pimples or even whiteheads. Although they are the smallest type of scar, they are often very visible and difficult to treat. Atrophic scars are defined by a lack of tissue underlying the skin cells, and it can be difficult to find a way to replace that tissue or make it look like it’s still there. However, there are possible solutions, which we’ll explore further down in this article.
Boxcar scars are much wider and shallower than ice pick scars, but they have the same sharp angles and are also caused by a lack of tissue below the newly healed skin. Unlike ice pick scars, boxcar scars never form from a blackhead or whitehead because they are caused by acne lesions that involved a lot of inflammation. Pimples or cysts that get very inflamed tend to become very wide, taking up more than just one pore, and when they finally heal, a wide area of tissue may have been destroyed or damaged, resulting in a boxcar scar.
Rolling scars differ from both ice pick and boxcar scars because they have sloping, gentle angles rather than sharp ones. Combined with the fact that rolling scars are shallow, this makes it look almost as if there are waves in the skin. Rolling scars are also different because they involve the development of new, fibrous tissue beneath the skin. After an acne lesion starts to heal and some tissue below the surface has been destroyed, the skin will develop thick, fibrous tissue that binds the top layer of the skin to the lower layers of the skin. This causes a shallow, sloping indent, which forms a rolling scar.
Hypertrophic scars are completely different from atrophic scars because they don’t indent at all. Instead of developing a lack of tissue after acne heals, the skin creates far too much tissue, resulting in a raised scar. Generic hypertrophic scars are typically slightly pink in color and remain within the space that the original wound occurred, but keloids often have a slightly darker color and may extend beyond the site of the original wound. Hypertrophic scars and keloids are much more common on the body rather than the face, and they are more common in people with dark skin compared to those with fair skin.
Although hyperpigmentation isn’t technically a type of acne scar, it is a common side effect from acne and can lead to scarring, so it’s important to understand how it works. Throughout the healing process, your body sends all kinds of extra resources like nutrients, hormones, and cells to the site of the wound. One of these resources is melanin, a group of pigments that deposits color to our skin. If the wound heals quickly, the skin color will be just slightly darker for a brief period of time. But if a wound takes a while to heal, it’s very likely that a dark spot or patch will be left behind for several weeks, months, or even years.
Although everyone can experience hyperpigmentation, it is most common in people with dark skin, whose skin already produces more consistent melanin. These dark patches can take on an almost purple or blueish tone, and often last several months or even years. To make things even more difficult, many of the skin lightening treatments that help reduce hyperpigmentation in those with fair skin aren’t known to be safe for dark skin. Due to a lack of research, it’s hard to say if products like hydroquinone, benzoyl peroxide, or lemon juice will help or hurt hyperpigmentation in dark skin. According to personal accounts found online, some people with dark skin experience success with traditional skin lightening methods, while others found that these typical treatments actually made their hyperpigmentation worse. Our best advice would be to seek out dermatologists with excellent reviews from other people of color and a strong track record of treating dark skin types. As a note, all of the acne scar treatments described below can be safe for skin of color, as long as they are performed by someone who understands and has experience with skin of color.
Although treating acne is by no means easy or simple, it may start to seem that way after reading about the different types of acne scars. Scars form because the skin cells themselves have become irreparably damaged, and unlike excess sebum or inflammation, there’s no cream that can make that go away in just a few weeks. But that doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless. It just means that dermatologists had to get a little more creative when coming up with ways to help heal acne scars.
A chemical peel might sound scary at first, but it’s actually a very safe, well-researched treatment for acne, aging, and scarring. It is offered by many spas, dermatologist offices, and aestheticians, and it has a good track record for helping to get rid of acne scars. In a study published in the journal Clinics in Dermatology4, researchers evaluated how effective chemical peels were for treating both active acne and acne scars. What they concluded from their research is that a series of chemical peels can provide significant improvement in just a short period of time, leading to patient satisfaction.
Chemical peels are commonly used to help improve the skin’s appearance, even beyond those with acne scars. They involve applying a particular chemical, such as salicylic acid or glycolic acid, to the skin and letting it sit for a brief amount of time. The goal is to allow the chemicals to sit long enough to destroy a fine layer of skin cells on top of the skin but not so long that it causes damage to the lower layers of the skin. This encourages the generation of new, healthier skin cells, and when chemical peels are applied for several weeks in a row, it can significantly reduce the severity of acne scarring. Chemical peels for acne scar treatment are available in superficial, medium, or deep peels. The specific type of peel that someone would get depends on their skin type, among other factors.
Takeaway: Chemical peels can be effective in addressing acne scars. The cost of getting a chemical peel varies, depending on the intensity and where you have it done. While you want a professional and experienced place to do it, be sure to inquire with several places regarding pricing, options, and their success rate in using to help those with acne scars.
It may sound like a high-tech treatment, but laser treatments can be very effective. Laser treatments for addressing acne scars involve using a high-energy light that will burn away the damaged skin. The laser gently targets the scars and heats the skin in that area to remove the damaged spots. Typically, people who get laser treatments for their acne scars will have a series of applications that take place over the course of one week.
Although laser treatments haven’t been around quite as long as chemical peels, there is still significant research to suggest they are both safe and effective. In a study published in the Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery5, researchers evaluated the effectiveness and safety of using laser treatments for acne scarring. The study included 80 patients with facial acne scars who underwent four treatment sessions. Following the series of treatments, they found that 78 of the patients had at least a 25 percent improvement, and 50 of them had at least a 50 percent improvement. They concluded that 97 percent of the patients who took part in the study had at least a fair improvement and there were very few adverse effects.
Takeaway: Laser treatments can be effective for addressing acne scars. They do require multiple applications and not all types of scars respond as well to them. The best way to find out if you are a candidate for laser treatments is to consult with a cosmetic surgeon or dermatologist that offers the service.
Dermal fillers are one of the top recommendations for atrophic acne scar treatment because they can help replace the missing tissue below the surface of the skin. Dermal fillers do more or less exactly what their name implies: they fill in spaces below the top layer of skin (the epidermis). Any time you get something injected into your skin, it’s important to do your research and only receive treatment from a provider you trust. The last thing you want is someone injecting you with something potentially harmful. So what exactly are they supposed to inject you with?
Dermal fillers are a gel-like substance which can be made with a variety of things, including methylmethacrylate, hyaluronic acid, and poly-L-lactic acid. These fillers have been well-researched and are considered safe for use. In a study published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Dermatology6, researchers looked at the effectiveness of fillers for acne scar treatment and found there was evidence to support the use of methylmethacrylate for permanent fillers, and poly-L-lactic acid and hyaluronic acid for semi-permanent fillers to treat acne scars. These semi-permanent options can last anywhere from 6 months to 2 years depending on where they’re injected, while methylmethacrylate fillers only need to be injected once.
Takeaway: You can get dermal fillers to treat atrophic acne scars at many spas, dermatology centers, and plastic surgeon offices, but it’s important to know that the provider uses quality ingredients in their fillers. You can receive temporary, semi-permanent, or permanent fillers, though semi-permanent or permanent options are typically best for scarring.
Adapalene 0.3% is a topical acne scar treatment, and typically goes by the common brand name of Differin. Adapalene is a type of retinoid, a medication type which works to regulate cell growth. They are often prescribed to treat acne or help reduce wrinkles, but research suggests they can also help improve atrophic acne scars. Substantial research shows that adapalene 0.3% is an effective acne scar treatment. In a study published in the journal Dermatology and Therapy7, researchers evaluated the product by having a group of people with acne scarring use it daily for four weeks and then twice daily for 20 weeks. They assessed the scarring at intervals throughout the study. They found that the treatment improved their skin, the participants were satisfied with the outcome, and they reported an improvement in their quality of life.
There are countless retinoids available through your dermatologist’s office, but we recommend adapalene 0.3% specifically for two reasons. First, adapalene 0.3% is available over-the-counter, meaning you can skip an expensive visit to the dermatologist. Second, adapalene is technically a retinoid-like compound and is in fact much gentler than most retinoids. This is important because irritating scar tissue is likely to cause more inflammation, which will not reduce scarring at all.
Takeaway: If you want to try an inexpensive treatment, you can pick this up at your local drugstore and get started. It’s important to note that the results don’t happen quickly though; you will need to use it for several months as the transformation gradually takes place.
When it comes to getting rid of acne scars, the treatment options are endless. If office procedures aren’t your thing, there are more natural options available that are proven to be effective as well, like using essential oils. Research has found several essential oils to be powerful tools in reducing acne, but further research has also found that they can help reduce acne scarring as well.
In a research study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine8, researchers shared their findings on using commercial essential oils to treat skin diseases. In addition to their list covering which essential oils help clear up acne, they also included ones that can be used for scars. Some of the essential oils they found to be useful in treating acne scars include yarrow, rosewood, frankincense, mandarin, myrrh, palmarosa, carrot seed, and lavender.
If you decide to try using essential oils as an acne scar treatment, it’s important to know how to use them. Essential oils should never be applied directly to the skin because they are too strong and may cause irritation or even burns. It’s best to combine essential oils with a carrier oil, but it’s important to choose one that won’t clog pores. Sunflower oil, hemp seed oil, and argan oil can all serve as a base for your essential oil scar treatment because they are very unlikely to clog your pores in the process.
Takeaway: Essential oils are natural, typically have few negative side effects to using them, and can address both acne and acne scars when used correctly. They’re a relatively affordable option that doesn’t require any kind of office visit, which can help save on money and time.
A process that gently scrapes away the top layer of the skin, microdermabrasion is another option you may want to consider for atrophic acne scar treatment. Typically performed by plastic surgeons, dermatologists, and aestheticians, the treatment involves using an abrasive tool to clear away the top layer of skin, similar to a chemical peel. This encourages new, fresh skin cells to generate and eventually fill in the scar left behind by acne. It does take up to a week to recover from, and most people require multiple treatments over time in order to achieve the results they would like, but it leaves the skin looking fresher, smoother, and clearer.
In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology9, researchers shared their findings regarding microdermabrasion. They advised that it is a simple and safe procedure that can be used for acne scar treatment. They concluded that because of its simplicity and patient satisfaction rate, it was going to stick around as a popular treatment option.
Takeaway: Microdermabrasion provides an effective treatment option for some people. If you consider taking this route, you will have some recovery time and likely need multiple treatments. Be sure to account for that when fitting it into your schedule and budget.
So far, most of the acne treatment options we’ve presented have been aimed at reducing atrophic acne scars, specifically ice pick or boxcar scars. When it comes to rolling scars or hypertrophic scars, minimally invasive surgical options are usually more effective. This is because all of the options presented above aim to encourage new cell growth, but that won’t help with rolling or hypertrophic acne scars because they already have more than enough tissue.
Even though rolling scars are technically atrophic, they also involve extra fibrous tissue that binds the top layer of skin down to the layers below, creating an indention in the skin. Encouraging new cell growth won’t get rid of this excess fibrous tissue, so it’s unlikely to reduce rolling scarring. Instead, a minor surgery called subcision is often recommended. This is when a dermatologist goes under the skin and simply cuts that fibrous tissue so it no longer pulls the top of the skin downward.
For hypertrophic scars, one of the most popular treatment options is scar removal. Skilled professionals can cut out a raised scar or keloid and leave behind a much smaller, less noticeable scar that many people find preferable. It’s important to do your research when looking for a dermatologist or cosmetic surgeon to perform this procedure because you don’t want to end up with more scarring than you started with.
Takeaway: While there are many options for improving atrophic acne scars, rolling and hypertrophic scars often require surgery in order to improve.
Q. Is there an acne scar treatment that is effective?
A. There are numerous treatments that have been shown to be effective for addressing acne scars. Many have been used in medical studies to determine whether they are effective and safe. The more you learn about the many types of options available, the more likely you are to see the one that is a good match for your particular needs.
Q. Which treatment method should I use?
A. It’s a personal decision as to which treatment option will be best for your particular situation. There are factors, such as the type of acne scars you have, your budget, and your recovery time that will need to be considered when opting for the treatment that is right for you.
Q. Do acne scars make people depressed?
A. Research demonstrates that those with acne scars are often prone to experiencing a lower quality of life and being less happy overall due to feelings of shame or embarrassment. If you find that your acne scars have a profound effect on your mental health, you aren’t alone. The way our society treats scarring and acne has been known to cause negative outcomes for many people. Treating your acne scars is one way to help alleviate this depression, but therapy is another great option as well.
Q. What is the best treatments for acne scars?
A. There is no one best treatment, but there are numerous effective treatment options to choose from. Not everyone is a candidate for every type of treatment that is available. There are variables that will need to be considered, including the type of acne scar that the person has, because some respond to particular treatments better than others do.
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