Acne Scars: Answers to Common Questions

If you are thinking about treatment for acne scars, you probably have questions. Many people want to know which treatment works best. Others want to find out what they can do at home to treat acne scars. Here you will find what many dermatologists tell their patients.

Should I get treatment for my acne scars?
This is a personal decision that only you can make. Some people feel that acne scars diminish their quality of life. Others can see the same type of scarring as not so bad.

Dermatologists generally recommend making an appointment to talk about treatment if you experience any of the following:


You frequently wish that you could just get rid of your acne scars


You feel that the scars limit your opportunities to date, to get a job or a promotion, or to do well at school


You feel more depressed or less self-confident than before you had acne and acne scarring


You get together with people less often because you feel so self-conscious about the scars

In deciding whether to treat acne scars, it is important to know a few facts about scar treatment. Probably the most important fact is that medical insurance generally does not cover treatment for acne scarring. You will have to pay for the treatment. Be sure to get an estimate for the total cost before starting treatment.

You also should know that scar treatment may require several treatment sessions and some downtime.

Having realistic expectations about the results also is important. While treatment can improve the appearance of your skin, restoring it to the way it looked before you had acne scarring may not be possible. A dermatologist can tell you what you can expect.

Can a dermatologist treat my acne scars if I still have acne?
To give you the best results, a dermatologist will first treat the acne and get it under control. If you have a tendency to develop acne scars, new acne breakouts can lead to new acne scars. This is why it is important to get the acne under control first.

If I am taking isotretinoin, can I get my scars treated?
Some studies suggest that treating acne scars while taking isotretinoin can make the scarring worse. Your dermatologist may ask you to wait at least 6 months after stopping isotretinoin. The wait time also will depend on the type of treatment recommended for your acne scars.

Why did I get acne scars?
Dermatologists have found that family history plays a big role in whether a person develops acne scars. The genes we inherit make some people more likely to scar. If you had severe acne, you also are more likely to develop acne scars.

While dermatologists know what increases a person’s risk of developing acne scars, it is not possible to predict who will develop acne scars. This is why dermatologists recommend early treatment for acne. This can help prevent acne from becoming severe. The less severe the acne, the less the risk of developing acne scars. This is especially important for people who have family members who had severe acne. Waiting to treat acne until it becomes severe can lead to extensive acne scarring.

Are the scar treatments available without a prescription effective?
While these products generally cannot get rid of acne scars, some scar creams and gels can help:

  • Diminish acne scars that are saucer-shaped and not very deep

  • Flatten raised scars a bit

  • Reduce the discolored skin that appeared when the acne cleared

Mild depressed acne scars often become less noticeable with use of products that contain glycolic acid, retinol, or vitamin C. These active ingredients help the body to produce new collagen, and collagen plumps up the skin. If spots of discolored skin (which are not scars) appeared after your acne cleared, a skin lightening cream may help. Certain dressing such as silicone bandages — or even just taping the skin — can help flatten raised scars.

Can I use an at-home microdermabrasion kit to treat my acne scars?
Before using any at-home product to improve the look of your skin, talk with your dermatologist. Safety can be a concern. With improper use, at-home products such as microdermabrasion and chemical peels can actually make the scars more noticeable. Sometimes an active ingredient in a product can cause an unexpected skin reaction.

And it is important that you not expect the same results that a dermatologist can deliver with these treatments. The active ingredients in at-home products are not as strong. Results will not be as dramatic or long-lasting.

What do dermatologists say is the best treatment for acne scars?
One single best treatment for acne scars does not exist. Acne scars come in different shapes and sizes. They develop on different parts of the body. Some scars are deep; others are shallow.

To treat these different scars, many treatments are available. For people with mild acne scarring, there are several options, including chemical peels, microdermabrasion, and laser skin resurfacing. Many dermatologists use laser skin resurfacing to improve the texture of the skin after scar removal surgery. A dermatologist can tell you which treatment or combination of treatments will be most effective for you.

Trust Your Dermatologist
Thanks to advances in medicine and technology, it is possible to remove or diminish the appearance of most acne scars. Dermatologists have the medical knowledge and training to tailor treatment to each person’s unique needs. If you want to know what treatment options can diminish your acne scars, be sure to see a dermatologist.

Jacob CI, Dover JS, Kaminer MS. “Acne scarring: a classification system and review of treatment options.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology July 2001; 45: 109-17.

Lee DH, Choi YS, Min SU et al. “Comparison of a 585-nm pulsed dye laser and a 1064-nm Nd:YAG laser for the treatment of acne scars: A randomized split-face clinical study.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology May 2009; 60: 801-7.

Rivera AE. “Acne scarring: a review and current treatment modalities.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology October 2008; 59: 659-76. 

Zurada JM, Kriegel D, Davis IC. “Topical treatments for hypertrophic scars.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology December 2006; 55: 1024-31.

All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology

Woman before treatment for acne scars

A single “best” treatment for acne scars does not exist. Best results come from tailoring treatment to the individual.

(Photo used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides)

© American Academy of Dermatology, 2011  All rights reserved.
Page last updated  9/17/09

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