How To Remove Acne Scars

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Jill Daniels, Freelance Medical Writer

Jill Daniels is a freelance health writer based in New York City. She spent several years writing for WebMD, including their Weight Loss Clinic and Fertility Center programs. Jill has also written/reported for publications including InStyle, People and Women's Own. She received a degree in journalism for Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.


August 22 2008

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Living through acne as a teenager – and sometimes living through it again as an adult – can be frustrating and upsetting. And dealing with the scars that acne often leaves behind can seem just downright unfair! While acne scarring is a very real problem for many people, there is a silver lining: many treatment options exist to help you get rid of acne scars.

The type of acne scars treatment you select should depend on several things including the type of scarring you have, what you are hoping to accomplish with the treatment, what type of skin you have, and the cost.

Your decision to seek treatment should also depend on factors such as:

  • How you feel about the acne scars. Do they emotionally or psychologically affect your everyday life, your relationships or your self-esteem?
  • Are they scars you feel you can live with and wait for them to fade somewhat over time?
  • How severe are the scars? Are they disfiguring?

Keep in mind that treatments to get rid of acne scars can help improve the look of your skin, but they will likely not restore your skin to the way it was before you had acne. You should seek a dermatologist's expert opinion to help you decide if acne scar removal is a good option for you and which treatment is the best one for your skin and your situation. Sometimes the best results require a combination of several different acne scars removal treatments.

Types of Acne Scars

You may not know it, but there is a classification system that exists for acne scars. Scars can fall into categories including: icepick, boxcar and rolling. Icepick scars are sharp and narrow and typically quite deep. Boxcar scars are oval or round depressions that have sharp vertical edges. These scars can be shallow or deep. Rolling scars occur when bands of tissue develop between the surface of the skin and the tissue beneath; when the bands pull at the skin it produces a rolling or wavy appearance

Acne Scars Treatment

In most cases your acne will need to be well under control before you undergo scar treatment. Below are many of the options available to help you get rid of acne scars – or at least diminish them:

Laser Treatment – There are several types of lasers that can be used and various laser treatments available to help reduce and eliminate scars.

Ablative Skin Resurfacing can be performed in the doctor's office and involves smoothing the skin by removing the damaged top layer of skin and tightening the middle layer. The time required for the procedure ranges from a few minutes to about an hour and requires local anesthesia. From 3 to 10 days is typically needed for the skin to heal completely, depending on how much of the top layer of skin is removed.

Nonablative Laser Therapy works at a deeper level than laser skin resurfacing. Because the top layer of tissue is not affected with this treatment, recovery time is generally shorter, but this therapy can be very expensive.

Dermabrasion – Often thought to be the most effective treatment to get rid of acne scars, dermabrasion uses a high-speed rotating wire brush or spinning diamond instrument to wear down surface skin and alter the contour of acne scars. As the skin heals, a smoother, new layer will replace the eliminated skin. Healing from dermabrasion can be lengthy, taking between 10 days and 3 weeks.  While dermabrasion does not work for all types of scars, it can be very effective in smoothing superficial scars and can be helpful in reducing the depth of deeper scars. During dermabrasion the skin is typically frozen and anesthetized; local anesthesia may be used.

It should be kept in mind that just as dermabrasion is not effective on all types of scars (it can make ice-pick scars more visible), it also is not the best option for all skin colors. In darker-skinned people the procedure may create changes in pigmentation that can require additional treatment.

Microdermabrasion – A cousin of dermabrasion, this superficial technique uses exfoliating crystals and a high-powered vacuum to remove the very surface cells of the skin and "polish" the skin. Microdermabrasion often requires multiple treatments and is best used on people who have minimal scarring. There is very little to no downtime involved with this procedure.

Chemical Peel – As with ablative laser resurfacing, a chemical peel removes the top layer of skin. This treatment can be performed in the doctor's office and may help improve the surface appearance of scarred skin by allowing new, regenerated skin to appear. It is best for very mild acne scarring. Multiple sessions are often required for optimal results.

Subcision – This procedure is used to help break the fibrous bands of scar tissue that exist and create tension between the skin's epidermis and deeper structures. During this procedure a sharp instrument like a tiny scalpel or needle is used to undermine the acne scar and help induce the formation of new collagen.

Punch Excision –A "cookie cutter" punch tool is matched to the size of the scar and is used to excise the scar. The skin edges are then sutured together or repaired with a small skin graft. The newly produced scar usually fades with time and may not be as noticeable. (If the scar is still noticeable, it is now much easier to lighten with some of the other acne scar-removing options available. Punch procedures are typically performed under local anesthesia.

Topical Medications – Retin A, glycolic acid, alpha hydroxy acid or other topical treatments can be used to remove some of the surface layers of skin and may help improve skin texture. They can be particularly helpful as an adjunct to laser treatment.

Fillers – Dermal fillers and soft tissue fillers such as collagen and a person's own fat can be injected in small quantities into the skin to elevate depressed acne scars. The problem with this type of treatment, however, is that it may not be permanent and you have to continually inject the same area to maintain the results.

Please Remember…
Following any type of acne scar treatment, how you care for your skin postoperatively is extremely important in determining the final results. Remember, very often acne scar removal produces new, vulnerable skin and it should be treated with extra care.