Acne Scars: 4 Dermatologist-Recommended Procedures That Work

acne scars

Do You Have Acne?


Every month, we see hundreds of patients that struggle with acne and acne scars.  Acne is a common skin condition that occurs when hair follicles become clogged with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria. It typically appears as pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, or cysts.


It commonly affects areas of the skin that are rich in oil glands, such as the face, chest, back, and shoulders.


Acne can range from mild to severe and can have physical and emotional effects on individuals.


According to The American Academy of Dermatology, more than 50 million Americans struggle with acne annually.


While acne can disappear on its own, most cases need some form of treatment and may lead to long-term consequences, like acne scars.


Understanding Acne Scars

Acne scars are the result of inflammation in the skin caused by acne. When the skin pores become inflamed due to excess oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells, the inflammation can damage the surrounding tissue leading to scarring.


These are common among adolescents and adults. Around 1 out of 5 people with acne will develop scars. While acne scars do not pose a significant health risk, they can have a detrimental effect on one’s self-esteem and quality of life. If you struggle with acne scars, read on to better understand their causes, how they are diagnosed, and the various treatment options available.


Types of Acne Scars


Acne scars come in different forms and can be indented (atrophic) or raised (hypertrophic).


Atrophic Acne Scars

The most common type is the atrophic scar, characterized by skin depressions. Atrophic acne scars are characterized by tissue loss resulting in a sunken appearance. Atrophic scars have three subtypes: ice pick, rolling, and boxcar scars.

  • Ice-pick scars are narrow, deep pits that extend into the skin.
  • Rolling scars are shallow and have rounded edges that create a wavy appearance on the skin.
  • Boxcar scars are broad and have well-defined edges that create a box-like appearance on the skin.

Hypertrophic Acne Scars

On the other hand, hypertrophic scars appear as raised bumps. These can occur in any area of the body where acne is present. Hypertrophic acne scars are caused by an overproduction of collagen during the healing process. Thus results in a raised appearance. This type of scar is less common than atrophic scars and is sometimes called keloid scars.


Causes of Acne Scars

Acne scars can be caused by severe or frequent acne breakouts, which may result from various factors such as genetics, skin type, poor skincare routine, hormonal changes, and stress. When left untreated or improperly managed over time, these acne lesions often lead to scarring on the affected areas of the skin. In addition to those causes mentioned earlier, picking at existing pimples instead of allowing them to heal naturally could also increase inflammation and ultimately cause scar formation.


Diagnosis of Acne Scars

Acne scars can be a source of emotional distress for many individuals and should be evaluated and treated early by a dermatologist to prevent further disfigurement.


Diagnosis is typically done through a physical examination by a dermatologist or other skin care provider. They will examine the scars and consider your medical history, previous acne treatment(s), current skincare routine, and any other factors that may contribute to the formation or persistence of the scars.


Considering all these, the dermatologist will develop a treatment plan for you. 


Treatment Options for Acne Scars

Fortunately, several options exist for treating acne scars – from topical creams to surgical interventions. However, finding an approach that works best for each patient can be complex due to variations in morphology and severity across different types of acne scars, including hypertrophic or atrophic keloid.


Examples include coatings like hydroquinone and tretinoin; AHAs; Vitamin C use; silicone/non-silicone sheets/gels usage; soft-tissue fillers; cryotherapy: microdermabrasion/chemical peeling/radiofrequency/intense-pulsed light laser treatments are also available but may not provide complete resolution. Moreover, surgical interventions such as punch excision or subcision may be necessary for some patients with more severe or persistent scarring.



1. Microneedling

Microneedling, also known as collagen induction therapy, involves using a device with tiny needles to create controlled micro-injuries in the skin. These micro-injuries stimulate the production of collagen and elastin, leading to the remodeling of scar tissue. Microneedling can improve the appearance of various types of acne scars, including atrophic scars. It can be combined with radiofrequency (RF) therapy, which uses a special light to promote even more collagen production. Some microneedling is accompanied by the application of topical serums or platelet-rich plasma (PRP) for enhanced results.



2. Chemical Peel

Chemical peels are skin procedures often considered one of the best treatments for scars. Although its effectiveness can depend on the type of scars an individual has, this, combined with other topical treatments, is a game changer for scarring. A solution containing specific acids, such as glycolic, salicylic, or lactic acid, is applied to the skin during a chemical peel. The solution exfoliates the top layer of the skin, promoting the growth of new, healthier skin cells and reducing the appearance of acne scars.


Chemical peels can be categorized into at-home options and professional treatments. At-home chemical peels are milder and typically contain lower concentrations of acids. These products are designed for regular use and can help improve the overall texture and tone of the skin, including reducing the appearance of acne scars. For acne scars, we recommend seeing a board-certified dermatologist who can determine the right strength for your scars. It also minimizes the possibility of complications like hyperpigmentation. Professional chemical peels use higher concentrations of acids to achieve more significant results.


3. Laser Surfacing

Laser resurfacing significantly improves skin appearance and treats minor facial flaws. This procedure involves using a laser to target the top layers of the skin and break up scar tissue caused by acne. By directing focused light energy onto the scars, laser resurfacing promotes the growth of new, healthy skin cells, which gradually replace the scarred tissue.


Laser treatment for acne scars can be an effective option because it stimulates collagen production, which helps to improve the texture and appearance of the skin. The scar tissue absorbs the laser energy, causing it to break down and fade over time. The treatment also encourages the development of new collagen fibers, which can help fill in and smooth out the scars.


Laser resurfacing can be performed using different lasers, including ablative lasers. Ablative lasers remove thin layers of the skin, allowing new skin cells to grow and replace the scarred tissue. This process can significantly improve scars, reducing their visibility and improving overall skin texture. It is important to note that laser resurfacing may not be suitable for everyone or all types of acne scars. The suitability of this procedure depends on factors such as the severity and type of scars, as well as individual skin characteristics.


4. Microdermabrasion

Microdermabrasion is a skin procedure that is considered to be effective for certain types of depressed acne scars, particularly those that cause pits or indentations in the skin. This treatment works by gently removing the top layer of the skin, helping to improve the overall texture and appearance of the skin. Microdermabrasion is mildly effective in treating superficial and depressed acne scars, although multiple sessions are usually required for optimal results.


During a microdermabrasion session, a dermatologist or esthetician uses a handheld device to exfoliate and suction away the outermost layer of skin. By doing so, microdermabrasion can help to smooth out irregularities, fade acne scars, and brighten the complexion. The gentle and non-invasive treatment suits individuals with different skin types. Microdermabrasion is a well-tolerated procedure that does not typically require downtime or extensive recovery periods.


Despite the various treatment options, there are limitations to their effectiveness in improving the appearance of scars. As such, early and effective acne treatment is still best to prevent acne scarring. More so, treatment should be tailored to the patient’s needs and skin type, with close consultation and monitoring by a dermatologist or other experienced provider.


The Importance of Dermatologist-Recommended Procedures

When treating acne scars, seeking professional guidance from a dermatologist is crucial. While numerous over-the-counter (OTC) products are available, dermatologist-recommended procedures offer higher efficacy and safety. Dermatologists are experts in understanding the various types of acne scars. They can tailor treatments to your specific needs, ensuring optimal results. To find the best course of action for your unique needs and to get the desired outcomes, consult a dermatologist.


Prevent Acne Scarring Today

Prevention of acne scarring remains the best strategy for preserving healthy and clear skin. To do this, early and effective treatment of acne is recommended. Patients must seek medical attention from a dermatologist or other skin care specialist when they experience acne symptoms.


This will enable the specialist to develop and implement a treatment plan that matches each patient’s specific needs, reduces inflammation, prevents scarring, and restores the skin to a healthy state.


Additionally, avoiding squeezing or picking pimples and cysts can help prevent scarring, which often increases inflammation and tissue damage.


It’s worth noting that not all acne lesions lead to scarring, and the severity of scarring can vary greatly among individuals. Early and effective treatment of acne can help minimize the risk of scarring. At Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics, we encourage patients to seek help at the first signs of severe acne.


However, if it indeed turns to scars, we have a range of procedures we can use to reduce scars, improve confidence, and enhance your quality of life.


Schedule an appointment to treat your acne scars today. We serve patients in the DMV area, including Howard County, Baltimore, Fulton, and surrounding areas. Let’s help you regain your confidence by clearing up your acne scars, starting today!


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