When a wound heals, it may eventually turn into a scar. Facial scars come in numerous forms and may be caused by injuries, acne, burns, or surgery. Since your face is constantly exposed to the environment, scars on this part of your body may have a harder time healing. Whereas you may be able to cover up or protect other areas of your body while a wound heals, your face is open to the elements for most of the day. It may not be possible to fully protect wounds on the face as they heal, and it may be difficult to keep treatments (e.g., ointments, creams) from rubbing away. The good news is that if you’re looking to treat facial scars, you have a lot of options to consider. Read through these popular methods, and discuss all of the benefits and risks with a dermatologist.

There’s something inherently a little daunting about the idea of getting laser treatments for a skin concern. But, as the landscape of acne scar treatments continues to evolve and expand, lasers remain at the forefront for good reason—even if the idea of them makes you think of something from Dexter’s Lab.

Still, lasers are far from the only option for treating acne scars. So, here’s what you need to know about laser and non-laser treatments for acne scars—and how to pick the best treatment option for your skin.

First off, what kind of scars do you have?

Acne scars come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and some people are more likely to develop some types rather than others, as SELF explained previously.

Your scars may be raised or depressed, widespread or minimal, deep or shallow. Raised scars, which includes keloids, are more likely to appear on the back or chest, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) explains. But people of color are more likely to develop raised scars in general, including on the face. Depressed scars, such as the more shallow boxcar and rolling scars as well as the deeper and narrower icepick scars, generally appear only on the face.

The type and severity of the scars you have generally determines which kind of treatment will be most effective for you. For instance, treatments that are designed to stimulate collagen, like microneedling, won’t do much good for those with raised scars that form as a result of an excess of collagen. And treatments that are meant to fill in the area left by depressed scarring won’t really help with raised scars. So, when talking to a dermatologist about your treatment options, the type of scarring you have is one of the first things they’ll want to examine.

For starters, lasers can be ablative or nonablative. Ablative ones create wounds that actually melt or otherwise destroy scar tissue and tighten up the collagen in the skin, while nonablative alternatives promote new collagen production by heating up the skin rather than causing an actual wound. Current thinking holds that ablative lasers are generally more effective for treating all kinds of scars because they’re such an aggressive form of treatment. But they are also undoubtedly harsher and riskier to use in patients of color because the wounds they create also create a greater likelihood of hyperpigmentation during the healing process. In turn, nonablative methods—which can still be incredibly effective—have become more popular.

Lasers can also differ in how they actually treat acne scars. For instance, they either work fractionally or nonfractionally. Nonfractionated lasers take a sort of “scorched earth” approach and affect the entire surface of the skin. Because of that more aggressive approach, they are generally considered to be more effective than fractional lasers. But they’re falling out of favor as gentler, safer and still effective treatments are developed, including different types of fractional treatments. Those fractional procedures treat the skin in a targeted grid, creating smaller “microcolumns of injury” while leaving some areas of the skin untouched, Neelam Vashi, M.D., associate professor of dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine and director of the Boston University Cosmetic and Laser Center, tells SELF. That triggers a healing response in the skin that generates new collagen and rebuilds the skin.

Fractional treatments (commonly known by the brand name Fraxel) can be ablative or nonablative, and even though nonablative options will be less invasive and allow for a quicker recovery time, neither are without their risks.

Laser treatments do usually come with some after-effects, including feelings of sensitivity, swelling, redness, oozing, and crusting, especially in the days immediately following the treatment, Hillary D. Johnson, M.D., Ph.D., FAAD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at the University of Iowa, tells SELF. These side effects are pretty standard across the board for all types of lasers, but may be more severe as your skin heals after more aggressive types of treatments.

After seven-to-10 days, the swelling should go down and you’ll be left looking and feeling like you have a bad sunburn, she says. So you’ll need to be extra careful about sun safety and cut back your skin-care routine to the bare minimum (definitely no exfoliating treatments) while your skin heals, which could take up to two months after treatment.

In addition to the down time, laser treatments are notoriously expensive. They can cost anywhere from $900 to $1600 per treatment, depending on the type of laser, and are generally not covered by insurance. Also, treating acne scars with lasers can require several appointments, and the amount of time it takes to complete treatment will vary from patient to patient, Dr. Vashi says. Luckily, she adds that “each laser treatment will make [the scars] somewhat better.”

So you could start to notice positive changes in your skin after a month, Dr. Johnson says, but you may also need to wait up to six months to see the final results.

Sometimes dermatologists will suggest a laser in addition to other acne scar treatments.

When you’re considering a treatment plan, it’s always important to ask your derm about all of your options to make sure you know what else is out there. And even if you decide on a laser treatment, it’s likely that your doctor will bolster their laser treatments with other, non-laser procedures. It’s actually pretty rare that a treatment plan for acne scars will consist of just one method—it’s more likely to feature some combination of treatments that each address a different type of acne scar, Dr. Johnson says. And Dr. Vashi echoes the importance of a multimodal approach: “There are very few patients I do one thing for.”

Even if that sounds complicated (or, for the laser-shy among us, just plain bad), Dr. Johnson says this tends to yield the best, most visible results, which is your dermatologist’s number-one goal. So don’t be surprised if your derm does, ultimately, recommend including some laser treatments as part of a larger plan.

Still not down for lasers? Here are some other acne scar treatments.

Chemical treatments

All chemical peels work via the same basic process: Apply a concentrated chemical substance to the skin, which essentially destroys the outer later of skin to remove damage and kickstart the body’s repair process.

Chemical peels can be an effective way to manage acne itself and, when done safely, they can also make subtle changes to very shallow scars, Dr. Vashi says. Light- to medium-depth peels containing an alpha- or beta-hydroxy-acid (such as glycolic acid or salicylic acid) will exfoliate the skin and reduce hyperpigmentation, she says. That can make the skin’s overall pigment and texture look more even.

One type of chemical procedure—which involves the use of trichloroacetic acid (TCA)—has been found to be particularly effective in treating deeper, narrower scars known as “icepick scars.” These tend to be so deep that lasers and needles can’t penetrate far enough to reach their base, so, a tiny dose of TCA is dabbed into the scar to help close it up. But this type of treatment usually takes multiple sessions, lasting up to six months, to see improvements, Dr. Johnson says.

It should be noted that, although most chemical peel options are superficial enough that they won’t increase the risk of hyperpigmentation for people with darker skin, procedures involving TCA might be an exception.

Best for: Treating acne itself and the shallowest scars. To get deeper into the skin, look into TCA treatments, which are especially useful for deep icepick scars.


Before you totally discount laser acne-scar treatments, here’s how they work.

Like basically all other treatment options, lasers cannot completely remove your acne scars. They can only help reduce the appearance of scars and improve your skin’s texture. But still, lasers offer a straightforward, effective way to make a variety of different types of acne scars less noticeable—including raised and depressed scars. And there are actually several different types of laser treatments, with some working more gently than others.


Dermabrasion is one of the most effective and most popular methods for treating facial scars. Unlike microdermabrasion kits you can buy at the drugstore, dermabrasion is performed by a dermatologist. They use a wire brush or a wheel to exfoliate the top layer of skin on your face.

Some of the complications of dermabrasion include:

  • infection
  • darkening of the skin
  • redness and swelling
  • uneven skin tone


  • Many people see a 50 percent reduction in their scars.


  • Dermabrasion can be very uncomfortable.
  • It’s not a good choice for people with sensitive skin
  • It’s not a good choice for people with autoimmune disorders.

Chemical peels

Chemical peels contain mild acids that are applied in a single layer on the skin. As a result, the upper layer of skin (epidermis) exfoliates and rolls off, exposing a new layer of skin.

There are three types of chemical peel:

  • Deep peel: This peel uses phenol and is the most common type used for scars because it gets deeper into the skin.
  • Superficial peel: This peel has milder effects and might improve discoloration associated with minor scars.
  • Medium peel: While also used for discoloration, the glycolic acid in this peel is most often used for antiaging treatments.

Deep peels are so intense that, according to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, they can take up to three weeks to heal. Your face will be bandaged, and the dressings need to be changed several times a day. You may also need to take antiviral medications to prevent illness.

Chemical peels are popular skin treatments, so they are widely available. However, for scar treatment, you should only get a peel from a board-certified dermatologist.


  • Chemical peels are widely available.
  • They may treat other skin problems besides scars, such as age spots and wrinkles.
  • They can result in smoother, younger-looking skin.


  • Chemical peels can leave skin more sensitive to the sun, which can lead to burns and scarring.
  • They may irritate sensitive skin, especially if you have a history of eczema.
  • They may worsen symptoms of rosacea and psoriasis.
  • They’re not recommended for pregnant and nursing women.
  • They don’t work as well on people who have darker skin.

Laser resurfacing

Laser resurfacing has the same goal as chemical peels and dermabrasion: to remove the top layer of skin. Unlike acids and tools, laser resurfacing uses high-powered laser beams for skin removal.

There are two types: erbium and carbon dioxide laser resurfacing. While erbium is the safest method for the face, carbon dioxide appears to be the most effective in treating scars. Once you leave the doctor’s office, you will need to keep the area bandaged until it completely heals.


  • Laser resurfacing has a faster healing time (3 to 10 days) than other treatments.


  • It’s not a good choice for people still experiencing acne breakouts.
  • It’s not as effective on people with darker skin tones.
  • It can cause infections, scarring, and changes in skin pigmentations.

Exploring plastic surgery

Plastic surgery is another treatment option. Unlike the procedures listed earlier, surgery is a more invasive process in which the scar tissue is surgically removed or altered with a scalpel. Depending on your goals and the severity of the scar, your doctor may remove the scar or the epidermis or even move the scar to minimize its appearance. Unlike the other treatment options, you may need to see a plastic surgeon instead of a dermatologist for this procedure. Always look for a board-certified surgeon with a proven record of success with plastic surgery for facial scars.


  • Plastic surgery usually has a better outcome than any other treatment. There are also several different treatments available for scars.


  • Its high cost can keep it from being an option for most people. More complicated procedures also have a higher risk of causing infections and leaving scars.

Home remedies

Home remedies are considered a more affordable and less invasive way to treat facial scars. Many of these remedies are already available in your pantry or medicine cabinet. The following are some options:

  • Petroleum jelly: Its hydrating effects may prevent scars from getting worse.
  • Bleaching kits: These are sold over the counter.
  • Honey: It may help reduce redness and infections.


  • Home remedies are the most affordable options.
  • They are also more widely available because they can be purchased at drugstores.


  • There is no guarantee that home remedies will effectively treat facial scars, and little research has been done to confirm their efficacy.
  • There’s also the risk of allergic reactions of the skin.

Minimizing and preventing scars

Treating skin wounds can help minimize or even prevent scars from occurring in the first place. If you have a wound or cut on your face, make sure you keep it clean. Applying petroleum jelly or Vaseline to the wound can help keep it moist and prevent scab formation. It is not necessary to apply topical antibiotics, like Neosporin, because simply washing the wound with mild soap and water is sufficient.

Wearing sunscreen can help minimize the appearance of scars once they have healed. By applying sunscreen to your face every day, you can prevent a scar from turning brown or red from sun exposure. In some cases, sunscreen can even help scars fade. Make sure to use SPF 30 or higher.


Numerous treatments are available for facial scars, but the ultimate choice depends on your budget, risks, and the type of scar you have. It’s important to work closely with your dermatologist to determine the best option for you. It’s also important to bear in mind that most scars are permanent. Though a given treatment might significantly reduce a scar’s appearance, it may not remove the scar entirely.

Once a wound has turned into a scar, it’s not likely to worsen. If the area begins to itch, turn red, or grow, see your doctor right away