Find What Type of Acne Scars You Have,
and How to Treat of Them

Medically reviewed by Dr Jen Haley, Dermatologist on 19 April 2020

As everyone who has ever suffered from acne knows, getting over the active acne stage is just half the battle (arguably even the easier half). Once a spot or pimple has resolved, it often leaves a mark on the skin that can last a lot longer than the actual pimple itself.

 

These marks can be either temporary marks or more long-term scars. There are a number of different types of pimple marks and scars, and plenty of highly effective ways to treat them, so don’t despair. We’ll explore why these marks appear and why they might hang around longer than you’d like, and what your options are for treating them now, so read on.

 

While all pimples will leave you with a mark on your skin at least temporarily, not all marks are actually scars, and will generally fade over time.


Types of acne scars and marks (including post inflammatory erythema and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation)

When skin becomes inflamed from acne, it will often leave a residual mark when the acne resolves. Just as there are many different types of active acne, there also many different ways a pimple can leave a mark on our skin, and it’s important that we understand what causes these marks and what the treatment options are if we want to speed up the healing process. It’s also important to understand what not to do, as marks and scars on the skin can easily be made worse if you treat them wrong.

 

While all pimples will leave you with a mark on your skin at least temporarily, not all marks are actually scars, and will generally fade over time.

There are two main types of acne scars:

+ Atrophic scars form due to a loss of skin tissue.

 

Significant inflammation may result in a loss of collagen and leave an indentation or depressed scar when the acne heals. There are three kinds of atrophic scars:

 

  • Boxcar scars
  • Ice pick scars
  • Rolling scars

 

+ Hypertrophic and keloid scars form due to an excess of tissue.

 

As the skin tries to heal itself, it may produce too much collagen in the process and leave a raised, firm bump when the acne heals. Keloid scars are the most severe type of raised scar, because this type of scar can often expand much further than the original area of the wound. They are more common on the chest and back in people with skin of color.

 

Unless they are raised or indented, most marks that you see on your skin after a spot has started to clear up are most likely not actually scars, but rather what’s known as post inflammatory erythema or hyperpigmentation.

 

While light scarring, discolouration and overall skin texture can be improved with over the counter products and home treatment, severe atrophic and hypertrophic scars that have significantly altered the surface of the skin will need specialist treatment. If you suffer from severe deep or raised scarring (atrophic or hypertrophic), your dermatologist may recommend one of several minor procedures called punch excision, punch grafting, and punch elevation (each one appropriate for different types of deep scars that involve a significant loss of tissue), as well as dermal fillers and laser resurfacing.

 

Luckily, most acne marks and even some scars are much simpler to treat, and you can do this yourself at home with products that contain the right ingredients.

There are two main types of discoloured marks that acne and pimples can leave on the skin:

  1. Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH) is caused by a reaction in darker skin tones to inflammation caused by a spot or abrasion on the skin’s surface. In cases of hyperpigmentation, the skin produces excess melanin in response to the inflammation, which results in darker brown marks on the affected areas.


  2. Post Inflammatory Erythema (PIE) affects lighter skin tones, and this term describes the red, pink, and sometimes purple marks left behind after spots become inactive. This type of marking is particularly common in cases of cystic acne on lighter skin tones.

 

As most people who are trying to get rid of post-acne marks and light scarring also have some active acne, we recommend using an acne scar treatment regimen that uses several different products that can work together to prevent new spots from forming, heal active acne, reduce the chances of marks and scars developing, and fade existing marks.

 

You may experience more surface-level hyperpigmentation on the skin’s upper layer (known as the epidermis) or deeper hyperpigmentation on the lower layer (known as the dermis), and here at Mr Brains and Brawn we’d recommend slightly different skincare routines depending on how deep the discolouration is:

 

 

Mild acne scars, pimple marks, and normal levels of tanning tend to be responsible for mostly surface level pigmentation, while age spots, injuries (like burns and deep abrasions), birthmarks and melasma are usually deeper.

How do you get rid of acne scars and post inflammatory erythema?

While some pimple scars will naturally fade over time, other discolouration will stick around longer unless we give it a helping hand. Clinical trials have shown that several key ingredients can help significantly fade acne scars and accelerate the growth of new skin, making scars less noticeable and skin appear clearer and smoother.

 

Exfoliating cleansers, peels, and topical serums using ingredients proven to speed up the skin’s healing processes can all work together to improve texture and tone.

 

So, what should you look for in products if you want to get rid of pimple marks and acne scars as fast as possible? Below, we’ve shared the top performing ingredients used in the products that we supply here at Mr Brains and Brawn that have been clinically proven to speed up the healing of acne scars.

 

The benefits of AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid — Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, Mandelic Acid) and BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid - Salicylic Acid)

AHA and BHA are both clinically proven to be effective for all types of acne scars. Both ingredients are not only useful in treating and preventing acne, but in combination, they also help increase skin cell turnover, dislodge dead skin cells, reduce redness and swelling and reduce the appearance of acne scars over time.

 

Alpha Hydroxy Acid exfoliates, evens out imperfections & boosts moisture in the skin. It penetrates deeply into skin over time, encouraging skin to renew faster in different layers.

EXFOLIATING CLEANSER

Mangosteen, L-Mandelic Acid, Lactic Acid, Salicylic Acid
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BALANCE MOISTURISER

Pre/Pro-biotics, Niacinamide, Glycolic Acid, Beta-Glucan & Cinnamon Extract
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POWERFUL PEEL

Glycolic Acid 10% Salicylic Acid 2%
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The benefits of Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid, Tetra Ascorbate and Ascorbyl Glucoside)

Vitamin C may improve acne scars by increasing the synthesis of collagen, a protein responsible for your skin’s structure and vital for rebuilding healthy skin. As a result, this vitamin may accelerate the healing of acne wounds.

 

Topical Vitamin C may also reduce hyperpigmentation by reducing the production of melanin, and brightens skin by lightening dark spots and improving overall skin tone. Studies show Vitamin C is also effective in preventing UV-induced skin pigmentation because of Vitamin C's ability to neutralise free radicals.

LIGHTENING & HYDRATING

Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate
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CORRECTING DARK SPOTS

Vitamin C, Glycolic Acid
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RESURFACING

Vitamin C, Salicylic Acid, Centella Asiatica
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The benefits of Niacinamide (Vitamin B3)

Niacinamide has anti-inflammatory properties; since acne is an inflammatory condition, that causes most of the scarring and discolouration, the calming benefits of Niacinamide may be helpful for speeding up the skin’s healing and preventing permanent scars and pigmentation. Niacinamide can also reduce the overall inflammatory response and reduce sebum production, resulting in fewer new pimples and breakouts overall.

 

Niacinamide is uniquely compatible with many products in your skin care routine, including those that contain Retinol, Peptides, Hyaluronic Acid, AHAs, BHA, and all types of antioxidants.

 

Read more about the benefits of Niacinamide here.

BEGINNER

Niacinamide and Zinc
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EXTRA CLARITY

Niacinamide, Zinc PCA, Crystalide Peptides, Hyaluronic Acid
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The benefits of Vitamin A (Retinol, Retinoid, Retinal)

Topical Retinol should be considered for stubborn atrophic or depressed acne scars, e.g. boxcar, ice pick or rolling scars. Retinol is known for its skin clearing and smoothing benefit as it optimizes skin cell regeneration and improves discolouration.


If you are new to Retinol, start with a lower strength product every second day and slowly increase to daily application. Read our tips for getting started with Retinol treatments, here.

 

Please note: Retinol can cause your skin to be more sensitive initially and you must wear a sunscreen before sun exposure.

 

Read our tips for making your post inflammatory hyperpigmentation treatment even more effective, here.

 

BEGINNER

Retinol 0.2%
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EXPERIENCED USER

Retinal 0.06%
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SENSITIVE SKIN

Retinol, Retinoid, Time-released Retinol
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Depending on the severity and type of the post-acne scar or mark, it can take anywhere between 2 months to 2 years to see improvements naturally over time without any intervention.

How long does it take for pimple marks to fade?

Depending on the severity and type of the post-acne scar or mark, it can take anywhere between 2 months to 2 years to see improvements naturally over time without any intervention. With the help of topical treatments and products like our acne scar treatment set, though, that process can be sped up significantly, and you can hope to see improvements on your skin tone and texture after 4-6 weeks.

 

It’s important to prevent infection in order to heal scars as quickly as possible, so if you have a wound or area of open acne, make sure to keep changing the dressings to keep it clean and apply an anti-bacterial salve or balm regularly.

How can you prevent acne scars?

As tempting as it is to pick at acne and scabs on your face, it’s really important to let the skin heal. When you remove a scab, whether that’s on a wound or a pimple that’s healing after a rupture, you’re increasing the likelihood that you’ll get a mark or even a scar on that area of your skin.

 

It’s also very important to make sure any areas of skin that are experiencing discolouration, whether light patches and marks caused by too little melanin or dark patches from excess melanin, are protected with a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a strong SPF factor, as sun damage can increase discolouration and make it harder to even out skin tone in the long term.

 

Check out our range of acne scar treatments here, and our options for lightening hyperpigmentation here.

 

Not sure what type of product would work best for your skin?

 

Speak to our skincare specialist via the online chat function on our website.