Dermatologist-Reviewed Articles

How to Use Glycolic Acid & Other Treatments to Fade Acne Scars

woman exfoliating her face

Your adolescence may be just a memory, but some are left with physical scars from the acne of their youth. Acne scarring can have any of several causes. Some people’s skin is more susceptible to scarring, while those with severe acne are more likely to scar than others with mild acne. Fortunately, there are a number of treatments for acne scars, including dermabrasion, hyaluronic acid fillers, laser therapy and chemical peels.

Chemical Peels

An effective treatment for acne scarring, deep chemical peels are typically performed by a dermatologist. These peels often contain one or more of the following ingredients: phenol, trichloroacetic acid and alpha hydroxy acids, among many others. Because every person’s skin is different, the appropriate balance of chemicals is selected by your physician and then administered. The peels remove the top layers of skin, allowing new skin to regenerate, thereby reducing the appearance of acne scars.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA)

Alpha hydroxy acid may be used as the primary ingredient in a professionally administered chemical peel. You can also buy AHA products over the counter, though you’ll find that they’re less potent and therefore take longer to work. AHAs occur naturally, and include citric acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid and more. When AHAs are applied at a very high concentration, they remove the top layers of skin; including dead skin cells, to help create a smoother, firmer complexion.

Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA)

Beta hydroxy acid, also known as salicylic acid, is a common over-the-counter ingredient used to treat acne. It’s especially effective for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) versus pockmarks from old acne. BHAs minimize the appearance of hyperpigmentation and can expedite your skin’s healing process.

Retinoic Acid (RA)

Another acid used to treat PIH is retinoic acid, also commonly referred to as tretinoin. You can find this ingredient both in prescription medications and over-the-counter products. Like the other acids used to treat post-acne marks, it’s applied topically. Continued use can improve the appearance of acne scarring and reduce hyperpigmentation.


This article has been reviewed by board-certified dermatologist Dr. Emmy Graber.

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