What Causes Acne Scars (And How To Get Rid Of Them)

Written by Heidi Prather, MD, FAAD, Board Certified Dermatologist on April 14, 2016 9 Comments

acne scarring

It is not uncommon for people to struggle with acne well into their adult years. Even those individuals who are lucky enough to experience a dramatic decline in acne related symptoms over time may still be left with acne scarring, which can give the skin an irregular appearance.

What Are Acne Scars?

Acne scarring is the direct result of deep trauma to the skin related to acne. External factors, such as picking, can traumatize even small acne lesions and result in scarring.  Acne scars manifest as areas of pitted or raised skin and can occur on the face or body. Not to be confused with post acne erythema (redness) or hyperpigmentation (brown spots) which are flat, temporary changes related to inflammation that tend to resolve over time, acne scarring changes the overall texture of the skin and does not always improve with time.

Acne scars result from the body’s natural attempt to heal itself. Skin pores that become clogged with dead skin cells slowly fill with excess oil and can allow bacteria to grow. These pores (or follicles) can become engorged resulting in acne lesions (i.e. whiteheads or blackheads). When these lesions rupture, the material spilling out into the skin is irritating and cause inflammation which presents as redness, tenderness and sometimes thick white fluid that can be expressed from the acne lesion. To repair this issue, the skin will naturally form new collagen fibers. Raised acne scars occur when the skin overproduces collagen, while pitted acne scars result when not enough collagen is produced.

What Type of Acne Typically Causes Scarring?

There are many different types of acne, some of which are more prone to scarring than others. Whiteheads and blackheads rarely result in scarring. Inflammatory acne, such as acne cysts or nodules, is most likely to create long-term scarring as this type of acne affects deeper layers of the skin.

Am I More Likely To Get Acne Scars?

There are several variables that can make an individual more prone to developing acne scars.

  • Genetics: If you have family members with acne scarring, you are more likely to also experience the issue.
  • Non-Treatment: Individuals who do not treat their acne are more likely to scar.  It is best to get early treatment for acne in order to prevent scarring.
  • Picking and Touching: Picking at acne causes trauma to the skin that is more likely to result in scarring and prolong the healing process.  Some people are not aware that they are picking at their skin.

How Can I Treat My Acne Scars?

Acne scars can affect one’s self-esteem, confidence, and overall quality of life. The best first step is to treat any active acne lesions to prevent future scarring. However if you are already left with scarring, there are many effective treatments that can improve skin texture and reduce acne scarring.

Depending on the type and severity of the scarring, effective treatments to consider include:

  • Chemical Peels: An acid-based solution is applied topically to either the entire face or just in areas of pitted scarring to remove the outer layer of skin and stimulate collagen repair. Multiple sessions are necessary to optimize results. A series of chemical peels can leave the skin looking smoother and less scarred in appearance, as well as improve skin discoloration.
  • Dermal Fillers: Injectable hyaluronic acid (a natural sugar molecule that absorbs water and acts similar to a moisturizer), such as Belotero, Juvederm or Restylane, can be injected into depressions in the skin from acne scarring to help smooth out the skin texture.   Dermal fillers are temporary and often need multiple sessions to maximize scar repair.
  • Laser Resurfacing: A fractional laser delivers pixelated columns of laser heat in a controlled and predictable manner to either heat the skin (Fraxel Re:Store) or remove the skin (Fraxel Re:Pair or Active/Deep FX) to elicit scar remodeling. The number of recommended treatment and the amount of downtime involved with these lasers varies.  It is best to ask an expert about which laser would best fit your needs and lifestyle.

A consult with a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist will help determine how to customize these options for your acne scarring.


Heidi Prather, MD, FAAD

Heidi B. Prather, MD, FAAD is a board-certified dermatologist and fellowship-trained cosmetic and procedural dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology. She joins our practice after working with a prestigious cosmetic and dermatologic surgery center in Boston, MA. Dr. Prather brings these unique skills to Westlake Dermatology, along with her passion for using technology to enhance medical care.

9 Responses to “What Causes Acne Scars (And How To Get Rid Of Them)”

  1. Jennifer says:


    I’m located at Houston, TX. I was wondering if you can recommend a dermatologist here in Houston I can see.

    Thank you and God bless.

    • WD Staff WD Staff says:

      Hi Jennifer, thanks for reading our post! Unfortunately we don’t have any partners in the Houston area so we would not be qualified to give you a referral. However, you definitely want to select a provider who is Board Certified. We would recommend using Google to see what providers are nearby. Then checking out some reviews from previous patients as well as using this tool to make sure they are certified: http://www.certificationmatters.org/

      Hope that helps!

      WD Staff

  2. Harvey says:

    Great info! Chemical Peels works very well for acne scars. I’ve just recently treat my acne scars by using this. It is effective, it has removed some of the scars on my neck with regular usage. Thanks.

  3. Nebby says:

    Knowing what causes acne scars is a good way to prevent them.

  4. Herb says:

    Hi Nebby ,
    This was a wonderful information on this page about the types-of acne scars in summer season with the outstanding steps to eliminate the acne scars from the Sensitive skin of body in a seven days by using the hemp seed oil with the best moisturizer cream daily according to the required period of a time after the recommendations of a doctor and also follow the instructions of a doctor which help you to remove this kind of acne scars skin disease with the use of best skin moisturizer cream ,My suggestion is you must go to a doctor one time in a week for starting of proper treatment of eliminating acne scars with the applying of hemp seed oil appeared on the Sensitive skin of body in a summer season due to the effect of sun rays,keep it in your mind don’t work in the light of sun because the heat of sun with the dust particles in sun rays increase the acne scars and cracks with lines on the skin due to the demaged of upper skin layers cells after the working of some time you notice the color of skin become black and cracks with lines are increased on the Sensitive skin of a body this is also a effect of skin cancer . So take care of skin and avoid to work in a light of sun . you also use hibiscus face mask on the face if necessary to work in the light of sun and also use carrot in the food salad .

  5. Gerty Gift says:

    Thank you for mentioning that sometimes it can just be genetics. I’ve been wondering how I got my acne scars and how I can treat them. It’s good to know that it’s probably not something that I could have avoided due to my genetics.

  6. Woodrow says:

    Incredibly helpful post, I’ve always struggled with acne scars from my teens. I’m 34 and they are still visible. I’ll consider some of the options you’ve listed.

  7. Jessie says:

    How can I know if laser treatments can help with my scars? I have pretty severe acne scarring (at least I think so). I hate them and I’ve always wanted to get my scarring removed. Is it actually possible to completely remove acne scars?

    • WD Staff WD Staff says:

      Hi Jessie,

      Thanks for reading our post!

      The best way to know if laser treatments will work for your acne scarring is to come in for an in-person consultation. Please give us a call to set up an appointment.

      WD Staff

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