What’s worse than a breakout? The unwanted parting gift it leaves behind, aka acne scars. The truth is that acne scars are super common for anyone who deals with breakouts. “A study showed that one third of acne patients experience scarring,” says Michelle Henry, MD, clinical instructor in dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College. So…you’re not alone.
Scars show up as acne erythema—or red marks— in lighter-skinned patients, and as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation—or brown marks—in darker skin tones, says Y. Claire Chang, MD, a dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in NYC. In some cases, skin texture can become permanently uneven and pitted.
All scarring stinks, but there are different types based on their appearance. The depth, width, and duration of an acne cyst will determine the type of scar. There are two types of acne scars, explains Ken Howe, MD, a dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology. First, there’s hypertrophic acne scarring, where the scar tissue grows in lumps or bumps and creates keloid scarring. The second type is called atrophic acne scarring, which is when the scarred skin has been thinned out, resulting in holes, dips, or depressions.
If you want to get a little more technical, there are a few subtypes of of atrophic acne scarring, including the below.
- Ice pick: These are deep, sharply demarcated pits but narrow scars. They look as if an ice pick literally damaged the skin.
- Boxcar scar: Sunken scars that have sharp square edges.
- Rolling scar: Sunken scars with smooth or wavy edges.
- Hypertrophic scar: Raised scars, especially around the edges.
Before you dive into how to get rid of acne scars (don’t worry—your complete guide is coming!), you need know why they happen.
What causes acne scarring?
“Pimples cause a lot of inflammation in the skin, and the way many skin types respond to inflammation and injury is to release color from cells,” says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC. “You can see this happen with insect bites, cuts, and yes, pimples.”
The good news: Red and brown acne scars will likely heal on their own, although it may take several months for them to improve, says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner MD. But in case you needed another reminder not to pick your pimples, messing with them can lead to worse discoloration and an increased risk of scarring, Dr. Chang adds.
While deeper, pitted scars don’t really respond to OTC treatments (you’ll need to go to see a derm for laser resurfacing, chemical peels, or other treatments), there are certain at-home ingredients that can get rid of brown and red acne scars a little faster. So next time you’re dealing with a post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation on your face, try one of these treatments for acne scars (and keep them from getting worse):
Factors That Determine If You’re More Prone To Acne Scarring:
According to Dr. Howe, those with a family history of acne scarring are more likely to develop acne scars. Although he notes that some patients with neither family history nor severe acne deal with acne scars.
Oily skin is most prone to breakouts and acne than combination or dryer skin types, according to Marisa Martino, esthetician and co-owner of SKINNEY Medspa. “Acne is caused when an overproduction of oil clogs your pore which causes bacteria to begin to exasperate and create sebum and puss underneath your skin,” she says.
Darker Skin Tones:
“Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is more common in darker skin types that have more pigment potential,” says Dr. King. Give your melanin some extra TLC with skincare products specially formulated to target hyperpigmentation in deeper skin tones, such as Dr. Barbara Sturm’s Darker Skin Tones collection.