You ran to your medicine cabinet, grabbed your go-to treatment, tamed that sudden breakout, and thought it was finally time to relax. But not so fast—the acne might be gone, but now you have to deal with the scars it left behind.
One of the most annoying things about having acne is that it can leave scars that linger long after you’ve treated your breakout. Luckily, acne scars are treatable too, and with the right choices, you can make them less likely to happen again.
To understand why acne sometimes leaves a scar, you need to know why acne happens in the first place. Acne develops when one of the many pores your skin uses to release oil and sweat gets clogged up by dead skin, oils, or bacteria. Sometimes, the acne pore swells up and breaks down, spilling their unsavory contents into nearby tissue. But that’s not actually what causes the scar—it’s your body’s response.
When your skin gets damaged, your body tries to fix it by creating more collagen (the stuff that makes skin strong and healthy). If it doesn’t make collagen fast enough, you might lose tissue, which is what happens when a bygone blemish leaves behind a small indentation. But making too much collagen causes the opposite problem: a raised scar instead of a pit.
Acne doesn’t always leave a scar, but most people with acne experience some scarring—as high as 95%!
As we mentioned earlier, there are two main types of acne scars—depending on how much collagen your body makes, they can be raised or indented. Raised scars can be hypertrophic (these may be red at first, but usually become flat and pale) or keloidal (firm, smooth, and typically large), but indented acne scars are much more frequent.
The scientific name for those pit-like indents is atrophic scarring. There are three types of atrophic acne scars:
You might be wondering..
We know the most important question for you when it comes to acne scars is probably “Do they ever go away?” While mild acne scars can clear up on their own, atrophic acne scars don’t just disappear if you wait long enough (and neither do keloids). On the bright side, there are plenty of effective treatments you can use to make scars less noticeable or even eliminate them completely.
There are many science-backed ways to reduce the appearance of scars, but they generally fall into a few buckets:
If you have stubborn scars, a dermatologist might recommend that you try a combination of these treatments, or something else entirely. Already tried all of these things and starting to lose hope?
There are plenty of more precise treatment options for tricky scars, like subcision (this is when—brace yourself—a needle gets inserted into your skin from multiple directions), punch excision (the scar gets cut out and replaced with a graft), fat transplants, and even experimental treatments like stem cell therapy.
How do you prevent acne you already have from leaving a scar? “Avoid picking or squeezing your acne,” says Facet Medical Director Dr. Peter Young, “since these actions can lead to scarring.”
But when it comes to acne scars, the old adage holds up: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In other words, the best way to prevent acne scars is with good skincare, which is what helps you avoid acne in the first place.
Article Reviewed By
Dr. Peter Young, MD, Facet Medical Director and Board-Certified Dermatologist
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