Clearing Up Embarrassing Acne Scars

See how advances in acne therapy and dermatologic surgery have paved the way to prevent and erase acne scarring.

Posted on | By Audrey Kunin, MD
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Put An End to Adult Acne (5:39)

Years after outgrowing acne, the aftermath of acne scars persists. Advances in acne therapy and dermatologic surgery have made it unnecessary for acne patients, both current and past to endure acne scarring.

An Ounce of Prevention

Prevention may sound like a glib answer to how to handle acne scars. But since an estimated 10 million Americans become scarred to some extent by acne each year, intervention is by far the best solution.

Who will develop acne scars and how severe will scarring be? Short of a crystal ball, much of that is left to chance. What we do know is that genetics play a definite role in the likelihood of acne severity and consequent scar formation. Also, the severity of preteen acne lesions is linked to a more severe form of scarring later in adolescence or adulthood.

LEARN MORE: 9 Skin Sins to Avoid

Because 95 percent of acne patients will develop scarring to some degree, the earlier the treatment appropriate for the severity of the outbreak is initiated, the better the odds are that scar formation will be mild. Delaying acne therapy by three or more years is likely to increase one's risk of more significant acne scarring.

For the lucky majority, acne scarring is a minor annoyance, obvious to the one affected yet difficult for others to see. For some, however, acne scarring can cause devastating long-term emotional suffering. Teens may deal with depression, become withdrawn and lose self-confidence. (In fact, acne scarring has been cited as a risk factor for male suicide.)

Newer acne therapies make it needless for anyone to suffer from severe acne or develop scarring. Early medical intervention is key to preventing unnecessary disfigurement. While this doesn't mean that everyone suffering a solitary blemish or minor premenstrual flare-up should rush to schedule an appointment with a dermatologist, I can't stress enough that acne unresponsive to over-the-counter therapies should be evaluated by a specialist.

WATCH: Adult Acne Treatment Options

PIH: The Great Fake Out

I lost count long ago of the number of acne patients returning for their initial 6 to 8 week follow-up concerned about their new acne scars, when, in actuality, there wasn't a scar in site. What they were really noticing was color change. This post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is not an acne scar. It is the normal remnant of the skin's inflammatory process.

Article written by Audrey Kunin, MD
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