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Acne scar treatments

Acne is a common skin affliction in people of all ages, particularly teenagers. Even after a bout of acne has cleared up, it can leave scars behind on the skin.

While acne scarring might hurt your self-confidence, most acne scars fade on their own over time. In more severe cases, acne scars can be permanent. However, there are several over-the-counter and prescribed treatments you can try to reduce the appearance of acne scars.

Types of acne scars

Acne occurs when the skin’s pores clog with dead skin cells, bacteria and oil. The clogging results in inflammation around the skin’s hair follicles, leading to raised whiteheads or blackheads on the skin.

The strain of this inflammation on the cells around the pores can lead to scarring as the skin tries to heal from the lesions. Scarring can appear anywhere that acne occurs on the body which is usually the face, chest and upper back.

There are three main types of acne scars:

  • Skin discoloration
  • Indentations
  • Raised tissue

How long does it take for acne scars to fade?

The size and severity of the scar dictate how quickly it fades or whether it will be permanent. Discoloration, for example, often fades on its own over time. Other scarring, such as indentation, is more likely to be permanent and requires intervention to reduce its appearance.

Acne scars that fade on their own usually disappear within a few months. Others can fade slowly with medical or cosmetic intervention over months or years.

How to reduce the appearance of acne scars

The best method for removing acne scars depends on the:

  • Color and type of your skin
  • The severity of the acne scars
  • Type of acne scars
  • Placement of acne scars

Some methods are not suitable for sensitive skin, for example. Other methods are suitable for facial acne scars but may not be ideal for scars on the chest or back.

It’s best to check with a licensed dermatologist before trying new treatments for acne scars. If you’re applying a new over-the-counter method, conduct a small patch test on your skin first to check for irritation or other negative side effects.

Skin care products

You’ll find plenty of acne scar serums on the market, but their effectiveness depends on their ingredients. Look out for skin care products that contain:

  • Alpha hydroxy acids
  • Lactic acid
  • Retinol
  • Salicylic acid

Most of these ingredients work by removing dead skin cells, reducing discoloration and exfoliating the skin to reduce the appearance of acne scars. You’ll find them in skin care products such as acne cleansers, exfoliating serum, moisturizing creams and at-home peels.

Skin fillers

Plumping the skin around indentation scars reduces the severity of the depression on the skin’s surface, thereby minimizing their appearance.

Cosmetic filler treatments that inject collagen or fat into the skin’s surface can achieve this effect and make the indentations less noticeable. However, this result isn’t permanent, so it requires regular injections.


Microneedling is a cosmetic treatment that stimulates collagen production in the skin. The aesthetician numbs the area before rolling a device with small needles over the scarred skin. The idea is that the needles stimulate collagen which plumps the skin and reduces the appearance of acne scars.

Microneedling is an accessible cosmetic treatment and there is little to no risk of side effects such as skin pigmentation. It’s suitable for all skin types and colors, but you will need regular treatments over several months to see results.

Corticosteroid injections

Medical professionals sometimes prescribe steroid injections to treat acne scars. This method is typically used for raised scars as it softens the hard tissue and flattens the scar. You’ll typically need a series of injections over a few months to complete this treatment.


Dermabrasion is one of the most effective methods for removing scars but it’s also one of the harshest treatment options. It is not suitable for highly sensitive skin and can result in scarring and pigmentation.

The treatment is usually performed by a doctor or dermatologist. Using a special mechanical device, the doctor brushes the top layer of skin off. This method can remove acne scars completely, particularly raised scars or shallow depressions.

Neutrogena Microdermabrasion Starter Kit

If you have mild scarring, the same effect is achievable with an at-home microdermabrasion kit. This milder form of treatment is also more suitable for sensitive skin.

Laser treatment

Lasers are used for lots of cosmetic treatments including hair removal and the treatment of skin pigmentation. When it comes to removing acne scars, the light from the laser pulses over the skin, removing skin cells and encouraging collagen production. The result is a smoother skin surface and reduced discoloration from acne scars.

One benefit of laser treatment is that, unlike other resurfacing treatments such as chemical peels, the laser targets only the acne scars rather than the full face. It also heals much faster than other resurfacing methods.

However, laser treatment is typically unsuitable for darker skin tones because it can result in pigmented patches.

Chemical peels

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel

Chemical peels work in a similar way to dermabrasions. The object is to remove the top layer of skin to reduce the appearance of indentation scars. However, instead of a device, chemical peels use a strong acid on the skin.

There are several options for chemical peels. You can use mild or moderate chemical peels and repeat the treatments if needed. Deep chemical peels can only be applied once, but they provide the most noticeable results.

Chemical peels are effective but they can result in pigmentation if used on darker skin tones.

Surgical removal

In extreme cases, your doctor may recommend a minor surgical procedure to remove large scars. According to the Mayo Clinic, the procedure is known as punch excision. It involves cutting raised scars away from the skin and putting stitches in their place. Sometimes, a skin graft is used to cover the wound and provide a smoother texture once the skin heals after the surgery.

What you need to remove acne scars

Differin Gel Acne Scar Spot Treatment

Differin Gel Acne Scar Spot Treatment

This spot treatment gel is designed for one application per day after facial cleansing. It contains ingredients such as bakuchiol and peptides to speed up the cell renewal process and create a firmer, more even skin texture.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Ulta Beauty

Cerave Resurfacing Retinol Serum

Cerave Resurfacing Retinol Serum

This Cerave serum is applied all over the face before moisturizing. The retinol in the serum reduces the pigmentation of acne scars and minimizes pores, resulting in smoother skin with continued use.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Ulta Beauty

Murad InvisiScar Resurfacing Treatment

Murad InvisiScar Resurfacing Treatment

From a trusted name in skin care, this treatment diminishes scars in just eight weeks. It works well on old scars, too.

Where to buy: Sold by Ulta Beauty

Truly Scar-Prevention Star Acne Patches

Truly Scar-Prevention Star Acne Patches

Stop acne scars before they start with these star-shaped patches flecked with tea tree oil. Not only do they look great, but they also help to eliminate the blemish while protecting the skin as it heals.

Where to buy: Sold by Ulta Beauty


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Lauren Farrell writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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