Acne scars

Learn about symptoms and causes of acne scars, self help treatment options, medication and when to seek medical help.

What is Acne Scar?

During an acne outbreak, damage to the pores of the skin can sometimes result in scarring of the skin. The affected pores may swell and cause the cells in  the pore to break down and damage the skin. In some cases, this may lead to  scarring.

What are the possible causes of Acne Scar?

Acne breakouts, especially those involving pustules, nodules and cyst, may affect the deeper layers of the skin. During the outbreak, the pores can swell as pus and sebum accumulate. This causes the tissues in the pores to die and break down. Your  body will attempt to repair the damage to the pore by producing a substance known as collagen. If the healing process is disrupted, the body produces too little or too much collagen and a scar will form.  

Delays in treating acne may make it more likely for swelling (inflammation) and scarring to occur. Picking, squeezing or popping your acne may disrupt the healing process and increase the chances of more swelling (inflammation) and scarring.

What are the symptoms of Acne Scar?

There are various types of acne scars:

  • Atrophic scars – sunken scars that can be round or oval craters (called boxcar scars), small and deep (ice pick scars) or have a wavy and uneven appearance (rolling scars).
  • Hypertrophic and keloid scars – raised patches of scar tissue. 
  • Hyperpigmentation – dark spots or patches of skin caused by excess production of the pigment melanin and appear darker than usual. 

What can I do to treat Acne Scar?

Ensure that your acne outbreak has been treated before beginning treatment for acne scarring. Some types of treatment for acne may affect the treatment for acne scars. Delays in acne treatment can also lead to more severe scarring. Treatment will depend on the type of scarring. In some cases, your doctor or dermatologist will be better able to recommend the right scar treatment for you.

Acne scars can be treated using the following ways.

Over-the-counter acne scar treatments: 

These preparations may help to resolve hypertrophic or pigmentation scars. However, they are unlikely to resolve atrophic scars. There are many brands available in the market. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist for a recommendation specific to you. 

These may contain ingredients such as: 

  • Allium Cepa Bulb Extract
  • Alpha Hydroxy Acid
  • Lactic acid
  • Niacinamide
  • Vitamin C
  • Retinol
  • Salicylic acid
  • Silicone

Prescription only medications/treatments: These treatments are only provided following a doctor or dermatologist’s recommendation.

  • Topical creams/gels
  • Acid or chemical peels
  • Dermabrasion
  • Microneedling
  • Light therapy
  • Radiofrequency treatment
  • Pulsed dye laser
  • Cosmetic filler
  • Laser resurfacing

When do I need to see a doctor?

Mild scarring, such as hyperpigmentation, may resolve within 3 – 6 months of self-treatment. However, more severe scarring such as hypertrophic and atrophic scars are more effectively treated by consulting a dermatologist.

What else can I do to manage this condition?

For acne scarring, prevention is better than cure. Some methods to prevent acne scar formation include:

  • Avoid harsh scrubbing or skin peeling, which can lead to further inflammation and increase the risk of scarring. 
  • Do not pick, scratch, pop or squeeze your acne as this may cause further inflammation.
  • Treat all acne breakouts promptly.
  • Use non-comedogenic sunblock as sunlight can darken the skin, making scars more obvious.



This article is jointly developed by members of the National Medication Information workgroup. The workgroup consists of cluster partners (National Healthcare Group, National University Health System and SingHealth), community pharmacies (Guardian, Unity and Watsons) and Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore. The content does not reflect drug availability and supply information in pharmacies and healthcare institutions. You are advised to check with the respective institutions for such information.

The content above is solely for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. Always speak with your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or supplement, or adopting any treatment for a health problem.

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