Long after you have won the battle against acne, you may be left with reminders in the form of scarring. Read on for everything that you need to know about the different types of acne scars and the treatments available to minimize their appearance.

Types of Acne Scars

To know how to treat acne scars in the most effective way, it is important to understand the different types of scars. The treatment options are dependent on both the type of scar and its severity. Here are five of the most common types of acne scars and how to treat them:

1. Ice Park Scars

Development: These type of scars get their name from the resemblance to a long ice pick. The scars develop as a result of infection or cyst. They can also take root after blemish becomes inflamed. As the skin tissue is destroyed, the scar begins to appear.

Treatment: Ice pick scars can be one of the most difficult skin conditions to treat. Punch excision or punch grafting have proven to be the most effective in minimizing the appearance of these types of imperfections. In these procedures, tools are used to cut out the scar and fill it back in with a graft of the skin. Although the procedures leave behind scarring of its own, it is generally less noticeable than the original ice pick scar.

2. Boxcar Scars

Development: These oval depressions are wider than the typical ice pick scars as they give the skin an uneven and pitted appearance. Boxcar scars form when inflamed skin reduces the level of collagen in the skin, destroying crucial rebuilding tissue.

Treatment: Like ice pick scars, boxcar scars can also be treated with punch procedures. A punch elevation differs from punch grafting in the way that the skin is leveled up to smooth out the surface area. Dermal fillers are also a popular way to treat this type of scar. These injectables lift up the depressed areas of the scar to make it evener. Although dermal fillers procedures do not deliver permanent results, their cost-effectiveness and ease make them the most common way to treat boxcar scars.

3. Rolling Scars

Development: Rolling scars are distinguished by the wavy depressions they leave across the skin. The loosely defined scars form when fibrous tissue pops up between the top layers of skin and the subcutaneous tissue located below the surface. The fiber bands then begin to pull the upper levels of skin, causing the rolling appearance marked by these scars.

Treatment: These scars respond best to subcision procedures. In this outpatient operation, a scalpel is used to cut the fibrous base of the tissue, making the skin appear smoother.

4. Hypertrophic and Keloid Scars

Development: Both of these types of scars are raised up off of the skin and are firm to the touch. Keloids are the more severe of the two. Hypertrophic scars are most likely to be found in men on the torso area and are usually the result of deep wounds. Both types develop when too much collagen is produced.

Treatment: Treating hypertrophic and keloid scars is an individual decision based on the severity of your specific scars and your personal preferences. Possible treatment options include cortisone creams, cryotherapy, silicone gels, laser treatments, or other types of injections. Because of the fear of worsening the keloid, it is important to exercise caution when treating the scars.

5. Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation:

Development: Left behind after a pimple has healed, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is characterized by colored flat marks on the skin. This discoloration takes hold when a rash or acne becomes inflamed. As a reaction to the inflammation, too much melanin is produced and a dark area is formed.

Treatment: Many types of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentations fade naturally on their own over time. To speed up this process, you can treat the area with a variety of products such as OTC treatments including alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or prescriptions containing topical retinoids or azelaic acid.

Do Acne Scars Go Away on Their Own?

Over time, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation will go away on its own. Other types of scars will most likely require some form of treatment to minimize the appearance.

How Long Does It Take for Acne Scars to Fade?

It is difficult to narrow down an exact range of time for acne scars to fade since everybody's skin reacts differently to skin inflammation. A general guideline is that most instances of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation should be expected to heal in three to 24 months. For other scars, treatment may be required for them to fade.

How to Get Rid of Acne Scars

Fortunately for those people who are bothered by acne scars, there are a variety of products on the market today that will minimize the appearance of these scars. The trick is finding the most effective product to fit your specific case of scarring. Here are seven key treatments to consider when searching for your ideal solution.

1. Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

AHAs are a leading ingredient in the battle to rid yourself of acne scars. The most popular of this group of AHAs is glycolic acid. These acids work by speeding up the body's natural exfoliation process. This process helps to slough away dead skin cells to leave a brighter and more even skin tone in their place. Products containing AHAs include cleansers that wash off or leave-on treatments such as gels and creams. You can find treatments that rely on AHAs at most drug stores or stronger products available through prescription only.

2. Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is most effective when aiming to treat post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. The ingredient works by blocking the production of melanin. By suppressing melanin, the skin tone will eventually begin to lighten. This treatment is available OTC using one to two percent strength or in prescription form with a strength of three to four percent. Combination creams that mix hydroquinone with additional lightening ingredients are more effective than hydroquinone alone. Complementary ingredients to look for include vitamin C, glycolic acid, tretinoin, and other retinoids. It is important to apply the hydroquinone creams to the affected areas only so that you do not inadvertently lighten other parts of the skin.

4. Topical Retinoids

Topical retinoids serve a two-fold purpose. Not only can they be used to clear acne, but they can also be used to fade the dark spots left behind by flare-ups. The retinoids are spread on the areas of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation to speed up the natural fading process of the discolorations left behind by acne. These retinoids will not be effective at treating pitted marks or depressed scars. Most topical retinoids are available by prescription only.

5. Azelaic Acid

Like topical retinoids, azelaic acid can be used to treat active acne and the scars it leaves in its wake. This acid treats hyperpigmentation by increasing the rate in which cells turn over while decreasing the associated inflammation. This product is available by prescription only and its use should be closely monitored.

6. Chemical Peels

More persistent hyperpigmentation can be treated through the use of chemical peels. During this process, the skin is exfoliated using a combination of alpha or beta hydroxy acids. As the old skin peels away, a new and fresher look is revealed. The peels are usually done in a series for maximum results. There are different levels of strength to choose from, depending on the severity of the scarring.

7. Punch Grafting

Punch grafting  is suited for depressed and ice pick scars. A punch tool is used to cut the scar from the skin. Although this procedure also leaves behind a scar, it is less severe than the previous acne scar. Skin can also be grafted from another area of the body to fill in the hole left behind by the procedure. The scars left behind by a punch grafting procedure can be resurfaced more easily than the original ice pick scar.

8. Laser Treatments

Laser treatments work by using an intense pulsed light to remove excess cells and resurface the skin for a smoother, less blemished appearance. These types of treatments fall into two categories, ablative and non-ablative. While ablative procedures remove the outer layers of skin, non-ablative treatments change the surface of the dermis without disrupting the surface of the skin.

When to See a Dermatologist

If none of the OTC treatments that you are trying are working, it may be time to consult with a professional. A dermatologist has the knowledge and tools to recommend the best treatments for your acne scars. Additionally, consult a dermatologist if your acne scars are hurting your self esteem.


Do you have to treat acne scars?

Treating acne scars is optional and the decision to treat the issue is personal. Most people decide to let the scars fade away with time and that is their prerogative. However, if the scars are lowering your self-esteem, there are many options to consider to reduce their appearance.

How can you prevent acne scars from developing?

Acne scars develop from acne. Thus, if you prevent acne, you also prevent acne scars from forming. To prevent acne, wash your face daily with a gentle drugstore facial cleanser. Follow up with an exfoliant containing either BHA, AHA acids. Lastly, for maximum protection against acne scars, apply sunscreen.

What is the difference between acne marks, and acne scars?

Acne scars exhibit a colorless and indented appearance while acne marks have a dark color and lay flat on the skin. Acne marks are more likely to fade with time, while most acne scars will be permanent. Because of their colorless characteristics, acne scars are less noticeable than acne marks. However, it is easier to hide an acne mark by using a concealer than it is to minimize the appearance of a true scar.

Do acne scars go away naturally?

Although scars will naturally fade over time, they will never permanently go away. Treatments can help to minimize the appearance of these acne scars more quickly if you do not want to wait for them to naturally fade.

Do home remedies work for acne scars?

While it may be tempting to try to treat acne scars at home, there are no proven methods to do this on your own. You are better off investing your time and money into treatments that have demonstrated success. Going the professional route will also minimize the chances that you suffer adverse reactions at home.

Can you make acne scars go away overnight?

Unfortunately, you cannot get rid of acne scars overnight. However, there are various OTC products on the market that can help to speed up the natural fading process of acne scars. For best results, look for products containing AHAs, azelaic acid, hydroquinone, or topical retinoids.

Do Acne Scars Go Away: Summary

  • There are various types of acne scars and treatments
  • Most acne scars can go away on their own (without use of treatment)
  • Some types of acne scars require professional treatments
  • Acne scars can take 3 to 24 months to fade
  • Acne scar treatments include: AHAs, hydroquinone, topical retinoids, azelaic acid, chemical peels, punch grafting, and lasers