Acne Marks vs. Acne Scars

acne marks vs. acne scars

The saga of acne is familiar to many. But it’s the aftermath that often leaves us bewildered. Those lingering blemishes on your skin, what exactly they are? Are they acne marks or acne scars? In this blog, we’re embarking on a journey through the post-acne terrain to unveil the secrets of these skin enigmas. We’ll decipher the causes, characteristics, and, most importantly, the strategies to bid them a final farewell. To understand how acne marks vs. acne scars form and what to do to make them disappear, you have to understand what acne is and what its causes are.

person dealing with acne

What causes acne?

Acne is a common skin pathology that affects the hair follicles and is caused by excess sebum from the sebaceous glands (hyperseborrhea) and poor-quality sebum (dysseborrhea). Sebum is blocked under the surface as the skin thickens, giving rise to comedones. The bacteria responsible for acne, Cutibacterium acnes, develops due to accumulated sebum. 

When this inflammatory phase is reached, and acne worsens, closed comedones form, giving rise to painful red spots. The lesions, of varying severity, appear mainly on the face, chest, and back, from blackheads to very inflamed cysts. These lesions differ depending on the severity of the acne. Mild and moderate acne are usually the most common and have few pimples or lesions. The most significant lesions are generated when the person suffers from severe acne, and the skin is mostly covered by pimples, blackheads, and comedones that tend to become inflamed. This type of severe acne requires the consultation and intervention of a specialist. 

What is the difference between acne marks and acne scars?

The main difference between marks and scars is the time they take to disappear. Over time (sometimes months), acne marks fade and disappear naturally. In contrast, acne scars are permanent damage to the skin and will not disappear without proper topical treatment. 

Acne Marks:

acne marks

Acne marks, also known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), are flat, discolored spots left behind after an acne blemish heals. They can range in color from red, pink, or brown to even dark purple or black, depending on your skin tone.

Acne marks develop when inflammation triggers an overproduction of melanin which is the pigment responsible for skin and hair color. This excess melanin can accumulate in the healing blemish, resulting in a dark spot.


Acne marks are usually flat and smooth to the touch. They’re more about changes in pigmentation than changes in skin texture. Fortunately, they tend to fade gradually over time, but this can take weeks to months.

Acne Scars:

Scars form when an acne lesion penetrates deep into the skin and damages tissues. They result from damage to the skin’s collagen during the healing process, leading to a permanent change in skin texture. These acne scars can take different forms and require different types of treatment.

Atrophic or Depressed Acne Scars

They are the most common type of scar on the face characterized by being slightly sunken into the skin. They form when the body does not produce enough collagen as the wound heals. There are three types:

1. Boxcar or By Van Scars:

boxcar atrophic acne scar
Boxcar Atrophic Acne Scar

These wide, U-shaped scars have sharp edges. The shallower they are, the better they respond to skin rejuvenation treatments.

2. Ice Pick Scars:

Ice pick atrophic acne scars
Ice pick Atrophic Acne Scar

These are narrow, V-shaped acne scars that sometimes appear as small round or oval holes, more like a chickenpox scar. They are often difficult to treat because they penetrate the surface of the skin.

3. Rolling or Wavy Scars:

rolling atrophic acne scars
Rolling Acne Scars

These wide depressions usually have rounded edges and an irregular, wavy appearance.

Hypertrophic Acne Scars or Keloid:

They are pink with a domed roof that may or may not extend beyond the margins of the wound. They are especially common on the chest, upper back and earlobe after intense inflammatory acne (nodular-cystic). It is not uncommon for them to cause pain, itching and a feeling of tightness. In the facial area they are uncommon.

How To Treat Acne Marks vs. Acne Scars?

how to treat acne marks vs. acne scars

For Acne Marks:

Topical treatments, such as serums containing skincare ingredients like vitamin C, niacinamide, and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), can help fade acne marks. Sunscreen is also crucial for preventing further darkening of spots.

How Acne Scars be treated?

Before you start treating acne scars, it is important to keep in mind:

  • Acne must first be eliminated, as new outbreaks can create new scars. Additionally, some wound treatments are not compatible with acne medication.  
  • Skin tone can influence the type of treatment and its effectiveness. For example, deeper laser treatments can cause more scarring and pigmentation in darker skin types.
  • To make an appropriate decision, you should go to a dermatologist or health professional to determine the treatment to follow. 

To treat acne scars there is a wide variety of topical treatments and medications:

  • Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), often found in acne products, can make acne scars less visible. These mild acids act as exfoliants that remove the outer layer of the skin and any discoloration or roughness.
  • Lactic acid peels performed by dermatologists can lighten acne scars. and improve the texture, appearance, and pigmentation of your skin. It is possible to find peels, serums and lactic acid treatments in pharmacies.
  • Topical retinoids are another acne treatment that can reduce discoloration and make scars less visible. Its use is complemented with sun protection, since retinoids or retinols make the skin more sensitive to the sun. 
  • Salicylic acid clears pores, reduces inflammation and redness, and exfoliates the skin when applied topically. 
  • Dermabrasion is a type of surgical treatment in which healthcare professionals remove the top layer of skin.
  • Chemical peels applied at home or by a dermatologist feature a strong acid that removes the topmost layer of skin to reduce deeper scars. 
  • Laser treatment for removal of the top layer of skin, which usually heals more quickly than other resurfacing treatments.
  • Fillers (such as hyaluronic acid, polylactic acid, and body fat) are injected under the surface of the skin to fill and soften depressed scars. Most last between 6 and 18 months, but some are permanent.
  • Microneedling: The needles of a small roller or hand-held “pen” pierce the surface of the numb skin. As the skin heals, it produces collagen.

Understanding acne marks vs. acne scars is more than just skincare semantics; it’s the key to taking action. While marks often fade with the proper care, scars can be more stubborn and may require professional interventions.
Knowledge is power when it comes to your skin. Armed with this understanding, you can tackle post-acne imperfections head-on. Whether it’s fading marks or smoothing out scars, your journey to clear, healthy skin is within reach. So, face the mirror with confidence because you’ve got the knowledge to put those blemishes behind you!