The Top Acne Scar Treatments of 2023
Acne is one of the most common skin conditions in the United States, affecting as many as 50 million Americans every year, and when picking or scratching of active breakouts, inflammation, and lesions occur, acne breakouts can lead to acne scars. Acne scars can take on many forms, including atrophic or depressed scars, hypertrophic or raised scars, and pigmentation or dark spots on the skin, and they can remain visible on the top layer of the skin long after the initial breakout has gone away. This leaves many patients searching for a solution, but with so many acne scar treatments available, it can be so difficult to know: what are the top acne scar treatments of 2023? Luckily, expert, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Michele Green has the answer, with a wide range of treatment options available at her Upper East Side New York City dermatology office.
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment when it comes to getting rid of acne scars, rather the best treatment option depends on the type of acne scars on the skin, the presence of an active breakout of pimples, and a patient’s skin tone or skin texture. When you have your initial consultation with Dr. Green, she will make an examination of the treatment area and determine the treatment, or combination of treatments, that will best meet your needs. To treat atrophic scars, Dr. Green will often use chemical peels, laser resurfacing, microneedling, dermal fillers, or prescribe at-home serums and creams containing alpha hydroxy acid, lactic acid, topical retinoids, or salicylic acid. For hypertrophic scars, Dr. Green may use corticosteroid injections to flatten the raised scar, chemical peels for hyperpigmentation, intense pulsed light, or the V-Beam laser to address any redness that remains due to scarring. No matter the type of acne scar or skin type, Dr. Green has an effective treatment available to improve your skin with little to no downtime.
Internationally renowned, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Michele Green in NYC has been expertly treating some of the most discerning patients from around the globe for an array of skin conditions and cosmetic concerns for more than 25 years. Always on the cutting edge of medical and cosmetic dermatology, Dr. Green is up to date on the best new treatment options and techniques and is often one of the first in New York City to introduce newly approved procedures to her patients. Well known for high patient satisfaction, Dr. Green has consistently been voted one of the best dermatologists in New York City by such publications as New York Magazine, Super Doctors, and Castle Connolly.
What are acne scars?
Acne scars are a common occurrence following an acne breakout that gets inflamed or infected by bacteria that live on the skin’s surface and get trapped in the pores with dead skin cells and oil, known as sebum. When not taken care of right away, this inflammation can lead to permanent acne scarring. Picking or scratching at an active acne breakout can also lead to scarring, as picking at acne lesions can transfer bacteria from the hands onto the lesions and the surrounding skin, with the bacteria causing damage to the tissue. Acne scars can take on many different forms, ranging from depressed scars, which include ice pick scars, boxcar scars, rolling scars, raised scars, also known as hypertrophic scars, and hyperpigmentation of the skin. These scars can also appear on many areas of the body, wherever acne breakouts occur, including the face, back, chest, shoulders, and arms. For most patients, there is not one single treatment that will work to fully get rid of prevailing acne scars. Rather Dr. Green often recommends combining a series of treatments together for the best results.
What are the different types of acne scars?
There are two overarching types of acne scars: atrophic and hypertrophic scars, which are formed due to varying levels of collagen production during the healing process. Atrophic scars are scars that leave depressions on the surface of the skin, which form as a result of insufficient collagen production, and include three sub-types of depressed scars: ice pick scars, boxcar scars, and rolling scars. Icepick scars occur as a result of an infected breakout that occurs deep under the surface of the skin and is often small, deep, and narrow. Often due to the depth of the scar, it can be difficult to treat ice-pick scars. Boxcar scars are characterized by shallow, wide, oval, or circular depressions on the skin’s surface and respond well to skin resurfacing treatments, including fractional laser treatment, chemical peels, microdermabrasions, and microneedling. Rolling acne scars create a wavy appearance on the outer layer of skin and are often shallow and caused by fibrous bands under the surface of the skin pulling unevenly on the epidermis. Hypertrophic scars, on the other hand, are caused by an over-production of collagen during the healing process, leading to a raised appearance of the scar tissue. For hypertrophic scars, collagen-inducing treatments, such as microneedling, are not advised.
How do acne scars form?
Acne scars form as a result of inflammatory acne breakouts, in which bacteria get trapped deep under the skin, causing damage to the tissue. An active breakout occurs due to the clogging of the pores with dead skin cells and excess sebum, which is the oil on the skin that acts as a natural moisturizer. When the bacteria that live on the skin’s surface get trapped in the clogged pore, this infection can lead to permanent scarring. During the healing process, the body may produce less collagen than what is needed to fully heal the lesion, which leads to the appearance of atrophic scars, or the body may produce too much collagen, leading to the appearance of hypertrophic scars. If an inflammatory acne breakout is not treated immediately, the risk of scarring greatly increases. In addition to a wide range of treatments for acne scars and other keloid scars, Dr. Green also offers many treatment options for active acne breakouts.
Do acne scars go away on their own?
Acne scars can be unsightly, especially when featured prominently on a patient’s face, leading to feelings of self-consciousness. Unfortunately, these highly visible acne scars will not go away on their own, leading patients to wonder: what are the top treatment options available for acne scars? Furthermore, as we age and the skin starts to become looser, acne scars can start to become more visible over time. While the acne scars will not fade naturally over time, there are many cosmetic procedures that can be performed to reduce the appearance of acne scars, all of which are readily available at Dr. Green’s dermatology office. Acne scars that mark the surface of the skin can be greatly reduced in a few treatment sessions with little to no downtime and a low risk of any side effects.
What can be done to get rid of acne scars?
While acne scars will not disappear on their own, there are many non-invasive cosmetic procedures that can be performed to reduce the appearance of acne scars anywhere on the body. There are many over-the-counter creams and serums that may help scars to fade slightly, but in order to have the best results, it is best to seek treatment from a board-certified dermatologist, such as Dr. Green. To address depressed scars, skin resurfacing treatments, such as ablative or non-ablative laser treatments, chemical peels, and microdermabrasion, are highly effective, as are filler treatments and collagen-induction therapy (microneedling). Intense pulsed light and radiofrequency treatments can help to remove pigmentation and tighten the skin, respectively, to decrease the visibility of the scarring. Deep acne scarring might require minimally invasive treatment, such as subcision, or punch excision, where deep scars are removed using an incision and a skin graft. When you consult with Dr. Green, she will review all of the potential options to help you determine the treatment plan that works best for you.
What is the best treatment for acne scars, according to a dermatologist?
Dr. Green is highly adept at a wide range of acne scar treatments, providing patients with extremely high-quality care and taking each individual’s needs and goals into account when choosing their treatment plan. With many different types of acne scars and skin types, there is no one treatment that works best for every patient. Where ablative laser resurfacing may work well for patients with lighter skin, patients with darker skin tones are advised to avoid this treatment, as there is a higher risk of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation for patients with darker skin. There are many other options, including light chemical peels, dermal fillers, microneedling, and the Clear + Brilliant laser. So while there is no one treatment that is the “best,” Dr. Green is able to help her patients find the combination of treatments that are going to be best for them.
One versatile treatment that Dr. Green will often use for acne scar treatment is chemical peels, which can help with skin resurfacing and rejuvenation. There are many different kinds of chemical peels that fall under three large categories: light chemical peels for gentle resurfacing, medium-depth peels for more intense exfoliation, and deep chemical peels, which require more downtime. Within each category of chemical peel, there are different kinds of peels that contain a different active ingredient, which can be used to treat various skin conditions, including acne scars, uneven skin texture, fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and active acne breakouts.
Chemical peels work via the application of an acid solution on the skin’s surface, which causes a reaction on the surface of the skin. This reaction permeates to deeper layers of skin, with the depth of penetration depending on the type of chemical peel, in order to remove dead skin cells and other debris, encourage skin cell turnover, increase collagen and elastin production, reduce pore size, and correct hyperpigmentation. When the outer layer of dead skin is removed, the result is smoother, clearer, more evenly textured skin and a reduction in the appearance of acne scars. To address acne scars, Dr. Green will most frequently use 20-40% glycolic acid peels, 10-15% trichloroacetic acid peels (TCA peels), salicylic acid peels, lactic acid peels, or hydroxy acid peels, which can be used for all types of acne scars, but most frequently for atrophic scars. The TCA peel specifically is excellent for ice-pick scars. Dr. Green often recommends receiving several chemical treatments spaced four to six weeks apart for the best results.
There are several types of laser resurfacing treatments available at Dr. Green’s office that work wonders for reducing the appearance of acne scars. Two over-arching types of laser treatments include ablative laser treatments, which will remove the top layer of the skin and require more downtime following treatment, and non-ablative lasers, which use light or heat energy to stimulate the production of collagen without damaging the top layer of skin. Whenever possible, Dr. Green will employ the use of highly effective non-ablative lasers for skin resurfacing, which include the VBeam laser, Fraxel laser, and eMatrix laser for acne scar treatment.
VBeam Laser – The VBeam laser is a pulsed dye laser that reduces the appearance of acne scars, surgical scars, stretch marks, and keloids by targeting the discoloration and redness associated with scarring. The VBeam laser emits a wavelength of light that destroys the pigmentation found in the treatment area, causing the scar’s redness to fade. Also useful in addressing active acne breakouts, the VBeam laser will target the P. acnes bacteria responsible for inflammation to reduce the risk of infection and future acne scarring. Dr. Green recommends scheduling a series of five VBeam laser treatments spaced four to six weeks apart for the best results.
Fraxel Laser – The Fraxel laser is a non-ablative skin resurfacing treatment that addresses atrophic acne scars through the use of fractional resurfacing technology. The treatment can be used to treat acne scars, improve skin texture, eliminate hyperpigmentation and sunspots, and decrease the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. There are two wavelengths of light available on the Fraxel laser: 1927 to target pigmentation and 1550 to improve the appearance of acne scars, fine lines, and wrinkles. Both wavelengths of light can be used in one treatment session for even better results. In order to achieve the best effects, Dr. Green recommends scheduling five to six treatment sessions with the Fraxel laser spaced approximately four to six weeks apart.
eMatrix Laser – The eMatrix laser treats atrophic acne scars by stimulating the production of collagen and elastin for increased skin cell turnover and smoother, clearer skin. Unlike the regular Fraxel laser, which is best for patients with lighter skin, the eMatrix laser works well for patients of all skin types and requires no downtime with a low risk of developing any side effects. For most patients, five treatment sessions are ideal to achieve the best results, spaced four to six weeks apart.
Microneedling, which is also sometimes known as collagen induction therapy, works well to address the appearance of atrophic acne scars by boosting the body’s production of collagen to fill in depressions on the surface of the skin. The procedure works via the application of tiny, surgical-grade needles that pierce the skin, creating small micro-injuries which trigger the body’s natural healing response. As a result, collagen production increases, which repairs the skin at the treatment site, leading to smoother, clearer, more even-textured skin. When paired with platelet-rich plasma infusions, the effects of the treatment are even more apparent, and, in addition to reducing the appearance of acne scars, microneedling can help to shrink pore size, eliminate discoloration, improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and even out stretch marks. Since microneedling triggers the body’s natural healing process, the full results of the treatment may take several weeks to become fully visible. Unlike chemical peels, microneedling should not be used for patients currently experiencing an active acne breakout.
The skin rejuvenation benefits of a microneedling treatment can be further enhanced by adding platelet-rich plasma (PRP). PRP is a serum that contains a high concentration of epidermal growth factors, which can enhance the natural wound-healing process of the skin and provide even greater cosmetic effects. PRP is derived from a sample of the patient’s own blood. After the sample is collected, it is spun in the centrifuge to separate the red blood cells from the plasma. The plasma is then drawn into sterile syringes for use during the microneedling procedure. The handheld microneedling device creates micro-channels in the skin that enhance the absorbency of the PRP serum.
Another complementary enhancement for microneedling treatment is radiofrequency energy. The Vivace RF microneedling treatment is the latest generation of RF microneedling and is an innovative procedure that maximizes the amount of new collagen production in the skin by combining the effects of radiofrequency and microneedling. The microneedling aspect of the treatment induces the wound healing process by creating micro-injuries to the skin’s surface, leading to new collagen production. At the same time, the radiofrequency energy delivers heat application to the dermal layers of the skin, triggering new collagen production below the skin’s surface. Vivace Microneedling not only improves overall skin texture and skin tone but can also provide some skin tightening results for excellent pan-facial rejuvenation results.
Another effective method for treating atrophic acne scars is to use dermal fillers, which work to fill in the depressions that appear due to an insufficient amount of collagen present during the healing process. Dr. Green will often use dermal fillers to plump the skin at the affected area in order to minimize the appearance of the depressed scars. Dr. Green often recommends hyaluronic acid fillers such as those belonging to the Juvederm or Restylane family of dermal fillers or Sculptra, which is composed of a substance called poly-L-lactic acid. Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring substance in the skin that provides it with essential hydration and a supple, youthful appearance. When used to treat acne scars, hyaluronic acid fillers like Restylane and Juvederm can restore lost volume, which is essential for effectively treating depressed acne scars.
The hyaluronic acid filler lasts for up to one year, although it has been shown that the process of injecting HA dermal fillers works to stimulate collagen production in the skin, providing some even longer-lasting rejuvenation results. Sculptra, made of poly-L-lactic acid, works by inducing the production of new collagen in the treatment area after injection. Most patients with acne scars require a short series of three Sculptra treatment sessions to achieve their ideal results, and the cosmetic effects of Sculptra last for up to two years. When you consult with Dr. Michele Green at her private dermatology office in the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan, she will work with you to determine which dermal fillers are best suited to reducing your acne scars for natural-looking, long-lasting results.
In addition to filling in atrophic acne scars, dermal fillers can be used to restore lost volume, eliminate fine lines and wrinkles, plump the lips, and redefine the jawline. Dermal fillers are a non-permanent treatment, with most lasting up to a year, meaning that in order to maintain the results of the treatment, patients will need to schedule an annual touch-up appointment.
Topical skin care options
There are several topical treatment options that come in the form of creams and serums to help to reduce the appearance of acne scars at home. While many products are available over-the-counter, Dr. Green can prescribe stronger options that will have a more dramatic result and can recommend the best products for your skin. To treat active acne outbreaks and reduce the appearance of acne scars, Dr. Green may prescribe medical creams containing the active ingredients alpha hydroxy acid to remove dead skin cells and unclog pores, lactic acid to improve texture and pigmentation, retinoids to aid in skill cell turnover and reduce hyperpigmentation, and salicylic acid to exfoliate the skin.
Regarding skincare, Dr. Green’s proprietary MGSKINLABs has many options for keeping the skin smooth and clear and preventing acne breakouts and the appearance of acne scars. One recommendation that Dr. Green makes for overall skin health is to always wear sunscreen of at least SPF30 when going outside during peak hours of sunlight between 10 am and 2 pm. Wearing sunscreen can also reduce the contrast between the acne scar and the surrounding skin. In order to prevent future acne scarring, it is important to prevent acne breakouts and take care of blemishes as soon as they appear. When pimples appear on the skin’s surface, Dr. Green recommends using her proprietary Acne Spot Treatment with the active ingredient Benzoyl Peroxide, which helps to dry out the affected pore. As spot treatment can dry out the skin, Dr. Green recommends an oil-free moisturizer, such as her Ultimately Sheer Moisturizer. MGSKINLABs’ Vita-C-Serum can also be paired with topical retinoids to help gently even out skin texture and skin tone.
A more abrasive treatment for boxcar and rolling acne scars, dermabrasion, or microdermabrasion works to essentially “sand” the top layer of skin to boost collagen production and skin cell turnover. The microdermabrasion machine works to remove the top layer of skin to reveal smooth, healthy skin underneath and works well for the elimination of many types of scars, including acne scars, pox marks, surgery scars, and stretch marks. Due to the abrasive nature of the treatment, dermabrasion is best for patients with lighter skin tones, as patients with darker skin tones may experience adverse effects, such as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. The treatment should also be avoided for patients with an active acne breakout, as there is a risk of infection.
Subcision is a minimally invasive surgical procedure that works well to treat rolling atrophic scars. Rolling scars are caused when the fibrous bands under the skin pull unevenly, resulting in a rippling effect across the skin’s surface. Subcision involves the insertion of a sharp needle that breaks up the fibrous bands, releasing the tension under the skin. The procedure also promotes the production of new collagen as a healing response, leading to smooth, evenly textured skin. Several studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of subcision, suggesting that it can permanently improve the appearance of acne scars, and when recipients of the treatment were surveyed in a small study in 2005, 90% were satisfied with the improvement as a result of the procedure.
To enhance and prolong the cosmetic effects of subcision for depressed acne scars, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Michele Green often recommends that patients combine the procedure with dermal fillers. While subcision is a beneficial acne scar treatment option on its own, patients can achieve an overall smoother skin texture and visible reduction in acne scars when the treatment is performed in conjunction with dermal fillers. Dermal fillers help restore lost volume to depressed acne scars, which is essential for improving skin texture. It has also been shown that dermal fillers play some role in stimulating new collagen production in the treatment area, which can provide long-lasting improvement. There are a number of popular dermal fillers that can be paired with subcison for acne scars, including Juvederm, Restylane, and Sculptra injections. When you consult with Dr. Green at her private dermatology office in the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan, she will physically assess the treatment area, the types of acne scars present, and your skin type to determine which dermal filler is best suited to your acne scar treatment.
Corticosteroid injections involve the injection of the steroid cortisone directly into hypertrophic or keloid scars in order to flatten the scar and reduce its size. These injections help to decrease the body’s inflammatory response as well as the redness found in the scar. When used occasionally, the risk of developing significant side effects is low.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How do you get rid of acne scars?
There are many methods available to get rid of acne scars, and often, the best way to get rid of acne scarring is to combine various treatments for more dramatic results. When you have your initial consultation with Dr. Green, she will examine the treatment area and take into account the type of scar found, whether you are currently experiencing active acne breakouts, and your skin tone and texture to recommend the treatment plan that will work best for you.
How long does it take for acne scars to go away?
Acne scars do not go away naturally on their own, and for that reason, it is important to seek cosmetic treatments in order to eliminate acne scars. The amount of time it takes for the scars to fade depends on the treatment method. For chemical peels, you will start to see the results of the treatment after several weeks, laser treatments need to be repeated several times before you will see the best effects of the treatment, and microneedling triggers the body’s own healing response, so the effects of the treatment typically become visible 4-6 months post-treatment. When Dr. Green has determined your treatment plan, she will be able to provide you with a clearer sense of when you will see the effects of the treatment.
Is Vitamin C good for acne scars?
Vitamin C serum is a great skincare product that can be used to help reduce unwanted skin discoloration and boost collagen production. Dr. Green often recommends pairing MGSKINLABs’ proprietary Vita-C-Serum with topical retinoids to help improve skin tone and reduce redness associated with acne scars. As an antioxidant, it has additional positive effects, such as neutralizing the effects of free radicals and moisturizing and revitalizing the skin.
Where is the best place to start my acne scar treatment today?
Acne scars can be a frustrating reminder of an old breakout and, for many who struggle with them, can cause feelings of self-consciousness. With so many treatment options available for acne scars, it can feel overwhelming to try and figure out which combination is best suited to you, your skin type, and the types of acne scars you have. That is why it is best to seek acne scar treatment from an expert, board-certified dermatologist, such as New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Michele Green. At Dr. Green’s office, she offers all of the best treatment options for acne scars of 2023, including laser resurfacing treatments like the Fraxel laser resurfacing treatment, VBeam laser, and eMatrix laser, a wide variety of chemical peels, dermal fillers, microneedling, subcision, corticosteroid injections, and microdermabrasion.
Dr. Michele Green in New York City is an internationally renowned, board-certified cosmetic dermatologist with over two and a half decades of experience providing her patients from around the world with the best non-invasive treatment options available, including for acne and acne scars. Dr. Green takes a holistic approach to rejuvenation treatment and embraces a ‘less is more’ philosophy, customizing the acne scar treatment plans of each of her patients to incorporate the in-office procedures and specially formulated skincare products to address your specific concerns and achieve your ideal cosmetic goals. For her dedication to her patients and expertise, she is consistently identified as one of New York City’s best dermatologists by Castle Connolly, New York Magazine, and Super Doctors. Schedule your consultation with Dr. Green today to learn more about treating your acne scars with the latest non-invasive cosmetic treatment options by calling the NYC office at 212-535-3088 or contacting us online.