Acne can leave scars on the face and other areas. However, natural remedies, over-the-counter treatments, and medical treatments can help remove pimple scars.

Options for managing acne and reducing the appearance of scars include natural, over-the-counter, and prescription remedies.

Options will depend on the type and extent of scarring and include chemical peels, such as salicylic acid retinoids and other creams, laser treatment, or surgery.

In this article, learn about various ways to help reduce the appearance of acne scars and promote healthy skin.

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Suitable treatment options may vary slightly depending on the type of scarring that acne has caused. There are three main types of acne scars:

Atrophic scars

These scars appear as small indentations in the skin.

  • Icepick scars are small scars that look like pinpricks.
  • Boxcar scars are larger indentations with clear edges.
  • Rolling scars have unclear edges and give the skin a rolling or undulating appearance.

They occur when the skin does not make enough fibroblasts in healing. Fibroblasts are cells that play a crucial role in wound healing and collagen production.

Hypertrophic scars

Hypertrophic scars occur when the skin makes too many fibroblasts as the acne spot heals, causing a raised scar.

Keloid scars

Keloid scars are similar to hypertrophic scars but tend to be thicker than the original acne spot. There may be hyperpigmentation, making them darker than the surrounding skin. They may be red or brown. There may also be itching or pain.

Which treatments are best for acne on darker skin tones?

This slideshow shows images of different types of acne scars.

Various over-the-counter remedies can help reduce the appearance of acne scars. Products containing the following ingredients may be useful.

However, over-the-counter creams and lotions are unlikely to remove or flatten a raised scar fully.

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is a naturally occurring compound used in acne skin care products. Salicylic acid peels help clear dirt, skin cells, and other debris that leads to acne from the skin’s pores.

An older 2010 review suggests using a peeling product containing 30% salicylic acid and applying it three to five times every 3–4 weeks. The authors also note that it is unlikely to cause hyperpigmentation and is, therefore, suitable for use on darker skin.

It also helps reduce swelling and discoloration in the area, which may minimize the appearance of scarring. Salicylic acid can help treat all scar types.

However, people with sensitive skin should do a patch test on a small area of skin before using it on their entire face, as it may cause dryness or irritation.

Retinoids

Some topical retinoids may help get rid of acne scars. As the authors of a 2017 review note, topical retinoids block inflammation, reduce acne lesions, and speed up cell regeneration.

The authors also state that retinoids could help lighten hyperpigmented acne scars, including those in people with darker skin tones.

It is important to note that retinoids can make the skin sensitive to the sun. Anyone using retinoids for acne or scar treatment should wear sunscreen outdoors.

Alpha hydroxy acids

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) can help increase the rate at which skin renews its cells. Some doctors recommend AHAs for treating acne and reducing the appearance of acne scars.

AHAs are a mild form of acid that scrapes away the outer layer of skin to reveal fresh, new skin underneath. This process may help reduce hyperpigmentation due to scarring.

However, swelling, burning, and itching may occur at high concentrations. It is best to speak with a doctor before trying AHAs. They can help identify the best strength to use.

Lactic acid

Lactic acid is a type of AHA. It can act as a gentle peel to pull away dead skin cells. It may help reduce the appearance of scars and smooth the skin.

One review recalls a small study in which seven people with icepick scars had treatment with a product that was 92% lactic acid. There was an improvement of over 75% in one person, 51–75% in three people, 26–50% in two people, and 1–25% in one person.

Lactic acid may also help lighten dark scar tissue, although it can cause hyperpigmentation. Before using products containing lactic acid to treat acne scarring, testing them on a small skin patch is best.

Many products for acne contain lactic acid. It is also present in diluted apple cider vinegar, which makes for a more natural, cost-effective treatment.

Some medical treatments may help reduce acne scars.

A dermatologist can recommend a suitable procedure or combination of therapies depending on a person’s skin type and the extent of the scarring.

Options include:

Chemical peels

A dermatologist can recommend a peel suitable for a person’s skin type, acne severity, and scarring.

The authors of a 2017 review on treatments for acne scarring note a study that found that six of 10 participants using a specific type of chemical peel called trichloroacetic acid (TCA) had at least a 70% improvement in their acne scarring.

Other chemical peels may be less effective. For instance, 25% of those who used glycolic acid did not see any reduction in the appearance of scars.

People may need to try different peels to determine which works for them.

Injections

Injections of corticosteroids may help soften and flatten raised acne scar tissue if a person has hypertrophic or keloid scars.

The treatment typically consists of a series of injections. A dermatologist can administer these injections in their office once every few weeks and monitor the results.

Dermal filler

Sometimes, dermatologists may recommend soft tissue fillers to treat atrophic acne scars. They may be particularly helpful for rolling and boxcar scars.

Options include:

  • collagen-based products
  • polymethylmethacrylate
  • hyaluronic acid
  • polyacrylamide
  • poly-L-lactic acid
  • silicon

Depending on the filler, a person may need to repeat the treatment after some months. Hyaluronic fillers, for example, last around 3 months, but silicon and polyacrylamide may never need replacing.

Fillers can have adverse effects, but these will depend on the filler. Always discuss the pros and cons with a doctor before opting for treatment.

Microneedling

Microneedling is inserting tiny needles into the skin surrounding the scar to stimulate the body to make more collagen. This collagen may reduce the appearance of atrophic acne scars by smoothing out the skin.

In a 2017 review, microneedling improved 31–62% in the appearance of atrophic or indented acne scars.

A 2019 study found that microneedling combined with collagen gel was significantly more effective than microneedling alone.

However, microneedling can cause side effects. Many people experience redness, pain, and inflammation after the treatment. However, these effects subside over time.

Laser treatment

Laser treatment resurfaces the skin without the use of chemicals or scrubs. It removes the uppermost layer of skin to reveal the younger skin cells underneath, which can help reduce the appearance of scarring.

It can help reduce the appearance and texture of raised scars. Treatment with a pulsed dye laser can also help reduce the color of hyperpigmented scars.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, intense pulsed light treatment may be a better option for people with pale skin.

Laser treatment is not suitable for everyone. This will depend on the type of acne scarring and the person’s skin type. The treatment may also cause a reaction in some people, especially those with sensitive skin.

Surgery

If other treatments do not help, surgery can remove raised acne scars. However, surgery alone may not solve the problem, and a doctor may recommend further treatment.

Electrodesiccation

Used alongside other treatments, this may help reduce the edges of boxcar acne scars, making the skin appear flatter and less indented. A doctor will use electric probes to heat the skin and kill the tissues that cause the edges around the scars.

Many people use natural remedies to help clear up acne scars. However, the science behind them is unclear. Some may cause further irritation or other problems, so people should use them cautiously.

Home remedies that people have traditionally used to treat acne scars include:

  • black seed oil, which may help even out skin pigmentation
  • rosehip oil, which helps reduce discoloration in postsurgical scars
  • honey, which may help wound healing and reduce future scarring
  • aloe vera, which, combined with manuka honey, may promote scar-free healing of wounds

What are some more home remedies for acne?

How can I prevent acne scars?

It is not always possible to prevent acne or scarring, but people with acne can take measures to reduce the risk.

These include seeking treatment while acne is present and avoiding picking, popping, or touching acne, which may lead to infections and a higher chance of scarring.

How can I remove acne scars and discoloration?

Depending on the type and extent of scarring, various ways exist to remove or reduce acne scars. Fillers, for example, can help indented or atrophic acne scars. Laser treatment may reduce hyperpigmentation and flatten raised scars.

A dermatologist can help decide on a suitable option, depending on the person’s skin type and the extent and type of scarring.

Can treatment remove scars permanently?

Treatment can often help remove scars, but scars tend to fade with time. The effectiveness of the treatment will depend partly on the type and extent of scarring and the person’s skin type.

Treatment can be costly and time-consuming, and it is worth thinking carefully and talking with a dermatologist about what to expect.

Acne scars can be an unwanted reminder of acne and may reduce self-esteem in some people. However, treatment can often reduce their appearance.

Many people have success using one or more home remedies. In cases of stubborn scarring, medical treatments at a dermatologist’s office can also help remove acne scars.

Always work with a qualified dermatologist when seeking help for acne scars, as some treatments can have adverse effects if used incorrectly.