How to get rid of acne scars according to a top dermatologist

get rid of acne scars
How to get rid of acne scars (according to a derm)Getty Images

Breakouts are undeniably stress-inducing in their own right, but their byproduct 'acne scarring' can have just as much of an impact, as scars are often trickier to treat. Thankfully, there are several targeted products that when paired with a regimented routine can and will reduce scarring. We asked dermatologist Dr Kemi Fabusiwa everything you want to know about fading marks for good...

What causes acne scars?

This might seem like a bit of a 'duh' question but it's good to understand the mechanisms at play when scars form. "Acne causes inflammation," explains Dr Fabusiwa. "This inflammation damages the skin and leads to breaks in the moisture barrier. The skin attempts to heal over this damage by laying down connective tissue such as collagen fibres at the site of injury. It is this dysregulated healing process that leads to uneven skin and scarring. Unfortunately, acne scarring can take a long time to heal."

Different types of scars explained

"There are four types of acne scars," explains Dr Fabusiwa explains.

  1. Hypertrophic scars: these are raised as the scar forms too much connective tissue at the site of injury.

  2. Boxcar scars: well-defined deep depressions in the skin.

  3. Rolling scars: poorly defined deep depressions in the skin.

  4. Icepick scars: narrow impressions resembling an ice pick puncture.

Hyperpigmentation often occurs alongside acne scarring as melanocytes release excess melanin at the site of inflammation.

Why are some people more prone to scars than others?

The realisation that some people barely suffer from scarring is a hard pill to swallow. Unfortunately, it's got nothing to do with luck and everything to do with your genes. "Acne scarring often depends on our genetics. Individuals with deeper skin tones are at a higher risk of hyperpigmentation due to their larger melanocytes, which produce more melanin. If you have a predisposition to having acne, you are also more likely to scar."

How can you prevent acne scars from forming?

It is easier said than done. No spots means no scars, and if the solution to acne was simple, well, there would be no article. But, as with 99.9% of skincare concerns: "Prevention is much better than cure," stresses Dr Fabusiwa. "The best way to prevent acne scarring is to prevent the acne in the first place. To do this, one must have a diligent skincare routine that includes elements that focus on oil control and reducing inflammation."

What are the best products & ingredients for acne scars?

A combo of preventative and restorative products are necessary - so make sure you are adequately armed from the get go.


You don't need us to tell you, but Dr Fabusiwa is here to remind you again how important it is to wear suncream. "Daily SPF is imperative in preventing hyperpigmentation." Make sure your chosen protector is oil-free and ideally one formulated for blemish-prone skin so it doesn't cause new breakouts.

Vitamin C

Known for its base brightening, vitamin C is an integral part of any skincare regime but holds exceptional value for those struggling with scars. Not only does the antioxidant increase cell turnover, boosting the skin's regeneration process and diminishing hyperpigmentation, it supports collagen production which Dr Fabusiwa informs us "enhances wound healing." Two birds one stone. Potent serums with a higher percentage of vitamin C will yield the best results, so stick to those over 15%.


Is there anything retinol can't do? Put simply, no, not really. If you are unfamiliar with all the wondrous ways it can improve your complexion read this. If you cba, in a nutshell, you need it. Don't wait until the scars have already formed, if you are battling breakouts you should already be applying retinol regularly. "Retinol or vitamin A prevents acne and the scarring," says Dr Fabusiwa. It does this by increasing cell turnover, which in turn removes the buildup of dead skin and bacteria from pores. This process of exfoliation helps brighten your complexion and fade any darkened areas.

If your skin is not used to retinol you should start with a low percentage formula and slowly work your way up, checking in to see how your skin is doing as you go. Sensitivity and peeling is a normal part of the process, but if at any point you find it is becoming too much, take a break. On the other hand, if you are using a high strength formula and seeing little results it is worth speaking to a doctor. Often extreme acne and scarring will require a prescription-strength retinoid.

Exfoliating acids

Think of these as a less severe version of an in-salon chemical peel, which you can safely administer yourself in the comfort of your bathroom. Again, it makes sense to be using these during, after and even before blemishes rear their relentless head, so you might as well invest in one now.

AHA glycolic acid is considered the gold standard for intensive resurfacing, while BHA's are known for their superior blemish busting, making them better suited to oily, spot-prone complexions. When used daily, both can increase cell turnover, slough away the buildup of dead skin and refine your complexion. Often, you'll find formulas mix and match so you're getting the benefits of all three. If your skin is very sensitive we suggest sticking to lactic acid, as it is far gentler than the rest.

Professional treatments

Sometimes scarring is so severe it requires more extensive treatment. In this instance, you should turn to a professional to help heal your skin. “Some acne scarring needs more than just 'at home' skincare. You need to consider advanced treatments that can help to resurface and transform the skin. These include micro-needling and advanced peels."

"It is also best to seek professional help as early as possible. This might come in the form of your GP who can give you prescription-strength anti-acne medication or an aesthetician who can administer resurfacing treatments.” Dr Fabusiwa also adds that those with deeper skin tones should avoid microdermabrasion. “Whilst this does help to resurface the skin. It can also lead to excessive inflammation, which can exacerbate hyperpigmentation.”

Beauty Writer's Tip: Start a skin photo diary

"Though the thought may fill you with fear, I found keeping a photo diary of my skin one of the most useful steps in dealing with 10+ years of acne, hyperpigmentation and scarring on my mixed race skin.

"My mood influences how I see my skin so much, and memory also has a way of blurring the details. Taking pictures of each side of my face once every month or so — or on particularly good or bad days — I kept them in a folder in my phone photos. It gave me a clearer perspective of how my skin was changing, and was a really positive impact mentally seeing which scars had faded or improved, that I would never have remembered individually. It helped me see that yes, my skin was improving, without being clouded by emotions around my skin that day.

"It also helped me reflect with more clarity on how products were affecting the acne, and allowed me to spot patterns or reactions, and switch things out. I found it so effective being able to see my progress, but also uplifting; despite the days the pictures felt really painful to look at. It seems scary but I credit it with my now clear skin." - Cosmo beauty writer Elena Chabo.

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