Getting Rid of Acne Scars

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Acne Scars

You don't have to live with acne scars. Many different treatments can help you get rid of them. What would be best for you, though, depends on the type of scarring you have.

Types of Acne Scars

There are two main types of acne scars:

  • Raised scars. Other names for these are hypertrophic scars or keloids. They form when the body makes too much collagen, a fiber-like protein, to heal a wound. This causes a bump to form on the skin.
  • Depressed scars. These are sunken scars, also called atrophic scars. They form when skin tissue is lost. They can look like small holes in the skin, sometimes called "ice pick" scars. They can also look like deeper, oval dents in the skin, called "boxcar" scars. Depressed acne scars can make the skin look wavy.

To decide how to treat your acne scars, your doctor will also consider:

  • Where the scar is on your body
  • The size of the scar
  • How long you've had the scar

Treating Raised Acne Scars

A combination of treatments often works best to get rid of raised acne scars. Here are your options:

  • Injections: A doctor can inject corticosteroids and other medication right into an acne scar. This can make it softer, smoother and flatter. Usually, the process involves about four injections spread out over several weeks. However, the number of injections can vary from person to person.
  • Surgery: If injections don't get rid of raised acne scars, some people turn to surgery. Your dermatologist can usually take care of it in the office. Because raised scars sometimes come back, your doctor might inject drugs into the scar before and after the surgery. It also helps to keep pressure on the area after the procedure.
  • Laser therapy: A “pulsed dye” laser can lighten up dark spots on the skin. It can flatten raised acne scars. The treatment also can make scars less painful and itchy. After the treatment, your doctor might inject medicine or prescribe pressure therapy. This could help keep the scar from returning.
  • Cryotherapy: This treatment freezes raised acne scars. The doctor also injects medicine to get the best results. It takes several sessions for all the necessary steps. People with dark skin tones might not want to try cryotherapy, however. The treated area may become lighter than the skin around it.
  • Silicone gel and tape: Gel and tape will not get rid of raised acne scars entirely, but they can help make them smaller. It can take six months of regular use to see improvement.
  • Acne cream: Retinoids, which are prescription acne creams, can also help relieve the pain and itch of scars.

Treating Depressed Acne Scars

For acne scars that look like round or oval dents in the skin, several treatment options exist:

  • Surgery: Doctors can use various techniques to smooth the skin surface including: Punch excision: this removes the whole scar; Punch elevation: this removes the scar and raises the skin to smooth it out; Punch graft: this removes the scar and fills the hole with skin; Subcutaneous incision: this separates the scar from the skin around it to make the skin surface smoother.
  • Laser resurfacing: For this procedure, the doctor uses a laser to remove the outer layer of skin. As this happens, the skin underneath heats up, causing the body to make more collagen. When the skin heals, the new skin should be smoother. This method works best on shallow scars. Most people need several sessions to see results. Over time, acne scars become less visible. In some cases, the skin continues to improve for up to 18 months.
  • Fillers: A doctor injects a substance into the scar area to smooth out the skin surface. Fillers work right away. However, the results are usually temporary. Some fillers last 3 to 6 months. Others work for up to three years. Only the PMMA (polymethyl methacrylate) filler is permanent. Other fillers include collagen, hyaluronic acid, and fat taken from your body by liposuction.
  • Chemical peels: This procedure removes the top layer of skin. Doctors use a chemical like glycolic acid. Some very strong chemical peels go deep into the skin to remove bigger scars. First, the top layer of skin peels off. Then new, smoother skin forms. This happens about two weeks after the procedure.
  • Microdermabrasion: For this method, the doctor uses a hand-held machine or wand to remove the top layer of the skin. As the skin heals, shallow acne scars become less visible. It may take several treatments to see improvement. For more severe cases, a doctor can use a more aggressive procedure called dermabrasion.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jul 29
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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  2. Depressed Acne Scars: Effective Treatment Available. American Academy of Dermatology. Sept 2009. 
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  5. What are microdermabrasion treatments? American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
  6. Gregory Juckett, MD, MPH, and Holly Hartman-Adams, MD, West Virginia University, Morgantown, W. Va. Management of Keloids and Hypertrophic Scars. Am Fam Physician. 2009 Aug 1;80(3):253-260.