Options for Severe Acne Scars

Photo of a young woman with acne scars
Although they are discouraging, acne scars can be treated.

For even the least vain among us, it's hard not to be depressed by severe acne scars. While there are a lot of remedies that can help, many scars will never fade completely. However, there is much that can be done to improve their appearance so that they are hardly noticeable.

What Causes Severe Acne Scars?

The most obvious answer is "severe acne." Inflamed cysts, the sort that take on a volcanic shape and don't rise to a head for several days, will almost always leave a scar, even if you take every precaution and don't touch your skin. The cyst is too stressful on the delicate facial skin to not leave at least a brown mark, if not the deep indentation that is the bane of so many people's lives.

Some people will find that even moderate or light acne can leave a scar. Unfortunately, their skin is so sensitive that any slight disruption will mark the skin. These people must be especially careful about how they deal with their acne so as to try and avoid heavy scarring.

Severe acne scars can also be caused by the hard-to-resist squeezing of active pimples. When the pimples are painful and at a head, it seems as though a good squeeze will empty the zit quickly and begin healing. Unfortunately, while you may release some liquid, you can cause further damage below the skin, creating more acne and deeper scars. By the time you're done breaking out, you're left with pock marks that can last for years, if not forever.

Methods of Treating Severe Acne Scars

There are several types of acne scars. The ones that are the most noticeable and hard to treat are called depressed fibrotic scars. These are the deep scars that look as though the skin was gouged and are similar to scars left by chicken pox.

Treatment begins in consultation with a dermatologist, who will first want to guarantee that the acne itself is under control. Once that is accomplished, several possibilities are available. It's best to start with less invasive procedures and see if they have any effect before trying something more radical.

You might first begin with simple massage of the affected area with a healing oil like camellia or emu oil. Swedish Bitters, composed of aloe and several other natural healers, has been shown to have some effect on raising and lightening scars. Stimulation and deep massage with healing properties can encourage recently damaged skin to heal faster and more completely. The use of camellia, emu or Swedish Bitters has been said to even improve the look of old scars.

Peels to Treat Scars

Light treatments such as lactic and glycolic acid peels can go a long way towards improving severe acne scars. The glycolic peels are more effective, but for skin that scars easily, it is better to try the gentler lactic acid peels first and gauge the skin's response before moving up to glycolics. These can brighten the complexion and tighten pores, which makes scars less noticeable, as well as raise the skin of the scar itself.

You can also get a full chemical peel, which removes the top layer of skin, so that the healthier, unaffected skin is what's now exposed. It's ideal to get a recommendation for a cosmetic surgeon or dermatologist who performs the peels. Even the mildest peel will leave the skin red and tender for as much as several days. You should also schedule your peel for winter, because your skin will be more sensitive to the sun.

Dermabrasion and Excision

Ice-pick scars can be treated with a combination of dermabrasion, which reaches deeper than a chemical peel, and what's called a "punch" excision of the scar tissue. This is a minor surgery that can create a smooth surface on the skin.

If you've suffered much tissue loss, another surgery to consider is soft-tissue augmentation, which injects fat into the scars.


While still a new treatment, lasers are observed to tighten collagen and raise depressed scars. They don't work for everyone and the treatment is expensive, but definitely worth trying.

Ultimately, as upsetting as severe scars can be, there's no reason they have to affect your life or your real beauty.

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Options for Severe Acne Scars