Causes of Acne Scars and How to Prevent Them

Learn How You Get Acne Scars and How to Prevent Them

Woman popping pimple
Peter Dazeley/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

In general, scars on human skin result from a wound or injury. However unwelcome they may be, scars are part of the skin's normal healing process. Most superficial wounds heal without scarring. It's when the dermis is damaged that scars form on the skin.

The Cause of Acne Scarring

Acne scars are most often the product of an inflamed lesion, such as a papule, pustule, or cyst. Inflamed blemishes occur when the follicle, or pore, becomes engorged with excess oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria.

The pore swells, causing a break in the follicle wall. If the rupture occurs near the skin's surface, the lesion is usually minor and heals quickly. More serious lesions arise when there is a deep break in the follicle wall. The infected material spills out into the dermis and destroys healthy skin tissue.

To repair the damage done to the dermis, the skin forms new collagen fibers. Collagen is the fibrous protein that gives the skin its strength and flexibility. Unfortunately, the finished "repair job" never looks as smooth and flawless as before the injury.

Types of Acne Scars

As the wound heals, the body sometimes produces too much collagen, which creates a mass of raised tissue on the skin's surface. This type of scarring is called hypertrophic, or keloid, scarring.​

More commonly, acne causes atrophic, or depressed, scars. Atrophic scars develop when there is a loss of tissue. Ice pick and boxcar scars are two examples of atrophic scars.

Inflammation is the single greatest gauge of scar development. The greater the inflammation on the skin, the more likely scarring is to occur. Deep breakouts that take a long time to heal also increase the chance of scarring. Blackheads, whiteheads, and other non-inflamed blemishes typically don't cause scarring because these types of lesions don't injure skin tissue.

Often, what is taken to be an acne scar is not a true scar at all, but rather post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). This temporary discoloration of the skin will eventually fade on its own. Certain treatment medications, such as Retin-A, may speed fading time.

Acne Scar Prevention

To lessen the chance of scarring, try to reduce inflammatory breakouts as much as possible. So treat acne as soon as it develops. The best thing you can do is get acne under control quickly and effectively. This may mean you have to consult with a dermatologist to help get your acne under control.

Pass up the temptation to pick or squeeze a pimple. Doing so can force debris deeper into the dermis, spreading an infection to other tissue and worsening inflammation. Picking at scabs should also be avoided. A scab is the skin's natural "bandage" which protects the wound as it heals. Picking a scab off a wound before it is ready prolongs the healing process and increases chances of scarring.

Even with the most careful treatment, you may develop acne scars. There are procedures that can help minimize the appearance of scarring. If scarring is a concern of yours, don't hesitate to talk to your doctor. He or she can explain the treatment options available to you.

Continue Reading