You’re not alone if you want to know how to prevent acne scars. Most people who struggle with having acne-prone skin dream of the day when their breakouts are a thing of the past and dread the scars that can often follow severe acne.

Thankfully, there are several things you can do to help prevent acne scars from forming in the first place.

A photo showing a woman with acne scarring on her face

What are Acne Scars?

Acne scars are the result of pimples, pustules, nodules, and/or cysts that damage the tissue beneath the skin. Understanding the types of scarring you might get can help you know how to prevent acne scars from setting in. Hyperpigmentation can also occur with scarring, but acne scars usually are classified as atrophic or hypertrophic.

Atrophic acne scars

Atrophic scars have a pitted or depressed appearance compared to the surrounding skin. This type of scarring happens when there’s a lack of collagen during the healing process in the area where the acne occurs. Atrophic acne scars are common and typically appear on the face. The 3 types of atrophic acne scars are:

  • Ice pick scars: deep, narrow, V-shaped scars which may look like a hole in the skin.
  • Ice Boxcar scars: wide, U-shaped scars that range in depth with sharp edges.
  • Ice Rolling scars: wide scars with an irregular, wave-like appearance and undefined edges.

Image showing types of acne scars

Hypertrophic acne scars

Hypertrophic scars are the opposite of atrophic scars. Hypertrophic scars are raised compared to the surrounding skin due to an excess of collagen when they formed. This type of acne scarring is often seen on the back and chest. Keloids are a type of hypertrophic scar that grows larger than the area of the damaged skin.


Hyperpigmentation is when some areas of skin become darker than the surrounding area. Although it often appears with acne scarring, hyperpigmentation is not a scar. Hyperpigmentation ranges in color and can often fade over time.

Surprising Causes of Acne Scars

A photo showing a woman with acne scars and blemishes on her cheek

Damage to the deeper layers of the skin is what causes acne scars, but not all pimples turn into scars. Why? Here are some things that can increase the risk of acne scars:

  • Your genes (“runs in the family”)
  • Not treating acne, letting it get severe
  • Treating acne incorrectly (picking, popping)
  • Hormonal changes can make scars and skin hyperpigmented.
  • Certain medications
  • Other skin conditions like eczema

How to Prevent Acne Scars: 10 Doctor-Approved Solutions

Although there is no way to guarantee that acne scars won’t form, there are certain steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of getting them. Here’s what the experts say about how to prevent acne scars:

1. Wear sunscreen

Best for: Protecting your skin against harmful UV rays that can damage and age the skin, reducing hyperpigmentation, and preventing acne breakouts.

Why it works: Sunscreen contains ingredients that act as a barrier to reflect or absorb UV rays. This protects the skin from damage and helps prevent the darkening of acne scars.

When to use: It doesn’t have to be sunny outside for the sun to damage your skin, so it’s best to use sunscreen religiously whenever you go outside. Non-comedogenic, oil-free, and fragrance-free sunscreen is a must for acne-prone skin and be sure to use SPF 30.

Avoid if: Your skin won’t be exposed to the sun (for example at night or if you’re inside the house). It’s not that it is bad
but that you don’t need it.

2. Avoid popping pimples

Why it’s important: Squeezing pimples can inflict further damage on your already traumatized skin which could cause more pronounced acne scarring. It also releases oil and bacteria which can clog up surrounding pores leading to more widespread acne.

How it reduces scarring: Resisting the urge to pop your pimples gives your skin time to heal which may lessen the chance of scarring.

Exceptions: In some circumstances, you can extract a blackhead or whitehead — but never squeeze/pop inflamed acne (pustule).

3. Ask your doctor about starting tretinoin

Image of Tretinoin cream pack and tube

Best for: Healing active acne and lightening darker patches and spots.

Why it works: Tretinoin helps to treat acne by promoting cell turnover, which in turn may reduce the severity of acne scars or even prevent them altogether by preventing acne. It comes in the form of a topical gel or cream but it’s only available by prescription.

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When to use: If you have severe acne or if you’ve had no luck with over-the-counter treatments. Tretinoin can make your skin more susceptible to sun damage, so use it at night before bed.

Avoid if: You use products containing benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and other acids as these can reduce tretinoin’s effectiveness if used at the exact same time of day. It’s ok to use benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid in the morning and tretinoin at night; Just NOT at the same exact time of day.

4. Try chemical peels

Best for: Improving the appearance of mild scarring from chronic acne.

Why it works: Chemical peels use various types of acid to remove the top layer of skin prompting smoother and more even-toned skin to emerge. This could help minimize the appearance of acne scars and it may be particularly beneficial for atrophic (pitted) scars.

When to use: Superficial and medium peels can be done at home but deep peels must always be done by a professional. Deep peels are often not suitable for darker skin tones because they have a tendency to lighten skin.

Avoid if: You won’t be able to avoid the sun after your peel (this is because of increased susceptibility to UV light) or if you have active breakouts.

5. Get personalized acne treatments with Pandia Health

Best for: Cutting out the long process of trial and error and getting expert, doctor-advised treatment without any delay.

Why it works: At Pandia Health, we know that no two people, nor acne cases are the same. That’s why we offer personalized treatments and advice to help you prevent acne and thus acne scars. Our expert doctors work with you to identify, prescribe, and deliver the most effective treatment for your acne, whether you have insurance or not.

By signing up for acne treatment from Pandia Health, you’ll get:

  • Expert acne treatment advice from board-certified doctors.
  • Acne medication delivered straight to your doorstep for FREE, with goodies like Hi-Chews, stickers, or teas included!
  • Automatic refills and delivery.
  • And much more!

Learn more about how it works and get started with Pandia Health today!

6. Consider using lactic acid

Best for: All types of acne scars.

Why it works: Lactic acid is an exfoliating alpha-hydroxy acid that can smoothen the skin’s surface. It’s found in some creams and lotions where it helps shed dead skin cells, and in chemical peels where it can have a more dramatic effect.

When to use: Most people can use products containing low concentrations of lactic acid on a daily basis.

Avoid if: You have rosacea or highly sensitive skin as lactic acid may have an adverse effect and make scarring and redness worse.

7. Use scrubs or apply serums with alpha-hydroxy acids

Best for: preventing acne.

Why it works: Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) work to exfoliate the skin, allowing for faster cell turnover. Scrubs and serums containing AHA are beneficial for people with acne-prone skin because they help prevent pores from getting clogged. This can reduce the amount of future acne scarring.

When to use: It’s best to use exfoliators and serums with AHA three times a week at night.

Avoid if: You have rosacea or sensitive skin.

A photo of a woman applying an acne treatment to her face

Best for: preventing acne.

Why it works: Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) work to exfoliate the skin, allowing for faster cell turnover. Scrubs and serums containing AHA are beneficial for people with acne-prone skin because they help prevent pores from getting clogged. This can reduce the amount of future acne scarring.

When to use: It’s best to use exfoliators and serums with AHA three times a week at night.

Avoid if: You have rosacea or sensitive skin.

8. Ask your doctor about trying salicylic acid

Best for: Improving acne scarring on most skin types.

Why it works: Salicylic acid is one of the best agents for skin peels. Its ability to deep clean pores led to it becoming a popular ingredient in many acne treatments. Concentrations of 30% applied in multiple sessions over a period of time have been found to treat acne scars. Salicylic acid is suitable for darker skin as it’s less likely to affect pigmentation.

When to use: Some over-the-counter products containing salicylic acid are safe to use every day, whereas it’s usually best to leave at least two weeks between salicylic acid peels.

Avoid if: You experience any irritation when using products containing salicylic acid.

9. Incorporate adapalene gel into your routine

Best for: Reducing the appearance of atrophic acne scars.

Why it works: A recent study found that daily use of Adapalene 0.3% gel delivered promising results in the improvement of atrophic acne scars. The study found that Adapalene can help restore reduced levels of collagen that are lost when atrophic scars form.

When to use: Adapalene is available as a topical gel that can usually be used every night on clean skin.

Avoid if: You’re pregnant because of the risk of birth defects, though many have used retinoids during pregnancy and have not had babies with a birth defect.

Take Control of Your Acne Scarring with Pandia Health

We know that you’ve got more important things to do than worry about how to prevent acne scars! At Pandia Health, our board-certified doctors provide tailored advice and prescriptions right from the comfort of your home. All you have to do is sign up for an account, set up a telehealth appointment with one of our certified doctors, get the right acne treatment prescribed, and get it delivered to your home for free. Get started with Pandia Health today so we can help you learn how to prevent acne scars and get you back to feeling confident in your skin — asap!

Pandia Health is dedicated to providing accurate, reliable women’s health knowledge. Check us out on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and our other social channels for more information about acne treatments, women’s health, and lifestyle habits.

Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes and is NOT a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider before starting or changing acne treatment.