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Acne Marks vs. Acne Scars: Understanding the Difference and How to Address Them

What are acne marks and acne scars, why do they form and how can their appearance be improved?

Acne Marks vs. Acne Scars: What's the Difference?

The terms “acne marks” and “acne scars” are often used to describe the same thing but are actually distinct from one another, and each have their own implications. While both are completely natural and nothing to worry about, anyone seeking to address their appearance must recognise the difference between the two in order to find the most effective guidance.

So, when it comes to deducing between acne marks vs acne scars, what are the key differences?

woman using Nivea Cellular Luminous630 face cream

Differentiating between acne marks and acne scars

While acne marks and acne scars share similarities in appearance, the two are in fact very distinct from one another. 

Acne marks, often referred to as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) are skin discolorations that remain behind after an acne lesion has healed. They’re flat, often appear in red or brown, and are the result of increased melanin production in the skin. They form as part of the body’s natural response to inflammation and typically fade over time as the skin renews itself.

By contrast, acne scars - sometimes referred to as pimple scars - result from permanent changes to the skin’s texture and appearance. There are many different varieties, and each typically presents itself when the body begins healing after a severe acne sores. Unlike acne marks, which are flat and discoloured, acne scars have a rough texture and form visible dips in the skin’s surface.

Since they’re the result of changes to the skin’s Collagen structure it can be more challenging to reduce their appearance. This difficulty is also determined by the type of acne scar.

Types of acne scars

There are six distinct variations of acne scars. So, the first step in your acne-related skincare journey should involve correctly identifying the type that you have - but what exactly are they? 

  1. Rolling Scars: these are the result of fibrous bands below the skin’s surface, which put tension on the epidermis and create a wavy texture.

  2. Keloid Scars: unlike other acne scars which form a dip in the skin’s surface, keloid scars are often raised and can grow in size over time. They’re less common than other types of acne scars in this list and are more likely to appear in those with a genetic predisposition.

  3. Ice Pick Scars: extend into the dermis, creating a deeper, v-shaped recess in the skin. They can be described as looking like puncture marks in the skin.

  4. Boxcar Scars: characterised by well-defined edges, boxcar scars tend to be shallow depressions, but can extend deeper into the skin.

  5. Hypertrophic Scars: these are thicker areas of skin that form around the site of an injury or inflammation. Whereas other scar types form due to a change in the skin’s structure, the overproduction of Collagen during the healing process causes hypertrophic scarring.

  6. Pock Marks: have an uneven, pitted texture but can vary in depth. They’re typically wider than ice pick scars and are often the consequence of inflammatory acne.

Post-Acne Hyperpigmentation and Discoloration

Hyperpigmentation, the aftermath of acne breakouts, can play a significant role in the formation of red, brown, and dark spots on our skin. Through understanding this process we can demystify their appearance and learn how to potentially get rid of red marks left by spots.

woman using Nivea Cellular Luminous360 Anti-Spot

Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH):

After an acne lesion heals, it often leaves behind darker patches of skin. This is particularly common in individuals with deeper skin tones.

PIH, or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, occurs due to an overproduction of melanin, the pigment responsible for skin, hair, and eye colour. When acne causes inflammation, the body responds by increasing melanin production, resulting in discoloration and the development of those unwelcome spot marks.


Red Spots (Erythema):

Caused by the dilation of blood vessels near the skin's surface, red spots appear soon after a pimple heals. Although not true scars, they do contribute to the overall appearance of post-acne discoloration. Patience is key here, as these spots take time to fade away.


Brown and Dark Spots:

Similar to PIH, brown and dark spots are the result of excess melanin production. Inflamed skin triggers an overactivity of melanocytes, the cells responsible for producing melanin. This excess melanin accumulates, resulting in the formation of brown or dark spots. The intensity of the discoloration can vary, with brown spots being lighter whilst dark spots form a deeper hue.

Understanding how hyperpigmentation contributes to the formation of these spots allows us to take a more effective approach and work towards achieving a radiant and even skin tone. By using effective skincare products, targeted treatments, and diligent sun protection, we can help to minimise the appearance of those spots/acne marks.

Factors Influencing Healing and Fading of Acne Scars

The journey towards healing and fading of acne scars is a complex process, influenced by a variety of factors. From skin type to scar type, and even individual healing processes, each element plays a role in the timeline and effectiveness of scar resolution.

  1. Skin Type and Scar Type: Picture this: lighter skin tones tend to experience less noticeable hyperpigmentation, while deeper skin tones may experience lingering discoloration. Scar type also comes into play. Superficial scars, like post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, may fade away naturally over time, while deeper scars, such as ice pick or boxcar scars, take longer. 
    The healing process can also be affected by the location of the scar on your body. It's all about blood flow and the regeneration of skin cells - nature's own special effects.
  2. Individual Healing Processes: Everyone's body responds differently to scar healing and fading. It's like a unique story written in our genes, intertwined with our overall health and immune system function. Some may experience quicker resolution, while others require a little more time and intervention. It’s important to remember that everyone’s journey is as unique as their fingerprint.
  3. Duration of Scar Fading: Do acne scars vanish on their own? Well, some mild marks and superficial scars may naturally fade away over time, whereas more severe scars may require a greater level of intervention. 
    The duration of scar fading depends on various factors, such as scar type, depth, and treatment approach. Some scars may show improvement in just a few weeks, while others take months or even years to diminish. The key is to consistently follow your skincare routines and include recommended treatments to speed up the fading process.
    Understanding these factors sets the stage for realistic expectations in the scar healing and fading process. Remember, complete scar removal may not always be possible, but significant improvement in acne scars' appearance can be achieved with the right strategies and a diligent skincare regimen. If, after 12 months, you notice minimal improvement consult your dermatologist for further guidance.

Effective Treatment Options

When it comes to addressing acne marks and scars, there is a wide range of over-the-counter treatment options available to cater to different scar types and individual preferences.

Nivea DermaSkin Clear Night Exfoliator

Over-the-Counter Products

Several over-the-counter products containing scar-reducing ingredients can be seamlessly integrated into skincare routines to help reduce acne marks and scars:

  1. Salicylic Acid: As a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) with exfoliating properties, Salicylic Acid aids in unclogging pores, reducing inflammation, and potentially enhancing the overall appearance of scars.

  2. Niacinamide: Niacinamide helps regulate sebum production, reducing inflammation and enhancing the skin's barrier function.

  3. Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs): AHAs, such as Glycolic Acid, promote exfoliation, thereby helping to minimise the appearance of superficial scars and improve skin texture.

  4. Topical Retinoids: Derived from Vitamin A, Retinoids encourage cell turnover and Collagen production, which may contribute to the fading of scars over time.

  5. Vitamin C: As an antioxidant, Vitamin C brightens the skin, fades hyperpigmentation, and promotes Collagen synthesis, all of which may contribute to scar improvement.


While over-the-counter products can effectively address mild scars and marks, it's crucial to approach their usage with patience and consistency.

Natural Remedies for Acne Marks and Acne Scars

aloe vera

For those seeking holistic scar management, natural remedies offer potential benefits. While they may not produce immediate results, these remedies may help to gradually fade acne scars and marks naturally. Let's explore key ingredients and considerations for effective use.


  1. Aloe Vera: Known for soothing and healing properties, Aloe Vera can promote skin regeneration and reduce inflammation. Its gel-like consistency moisturises, aiding scar and mark fading. Aloe Vera can also improve overall skin health thanks to its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and skin-protecting properties.
  2. Rosehip Oil: Extracted from wild rose bush seeds, Rosehip Oil is rich in fatty acids and Vitamins. It can regenerate skin cells, boost Collagen production, and potentially help to reduce the appearance of scars. The oil's hydrating properties can enhance skin texture and elasticity.

Curating a skincare regimen and other preventative measures

Prevention serves as the primary step against the formation of acne scars and marks. By adopting a proactive approach and adhering to a consistent skincare regimen, it’s possible to minimise the risk of scarring and achieve a healthier, more radiant complexion.
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Addressing the symptoms of acne promptly may reduce the chances of scarring. Always avoid squeezing or picking at pimples as this can worsen inflammation, spread bacteria and increase the risk of scarring.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle which includes a balanced diet, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep, can contribute to overall skin health. Staying hydrated and minimising stress may also help prevent breakouts.

By integrating these preventative measures and skincare practices into your daily routine, you can create a shield of protection against acne scars and marks.


Remember, consistency is key – nurturing your skin with care and patience lays the foundation for a clearer and more resilient complexion.

A Comprehensive Skincare Regimen for Acne Marks:

A well-rounded skincare routine can play a crucial role in helping to prevent acne scars and marks while also maintaining overall skin health. Unsure where to start? Here’s a suggested regimen:
NIVEA Derma Skin Clear Wash Gel

1. Gentle Cleansing:

Start with a mild, non-comedogenic cleanser (containing ingredients that won't clog your pores) to remove dirt, oil, and makeup. Cleansing helps prevent clogged pores that can otherwise worsen symptoms of acne.

2. Exfoliation:

Regular exfoliation aids in the removal of dead skin cells, which can help to prevent pore blockages and promote an overall smoother complexion. Opt for a gentle exfoliant containing Salicylic Acid and/or Glycolic Acid to further refine the skin and reduce pore build-ups.

NIVEA Derma Skin Clear Chemical Exfoliator

3. Facial Serum:

Targeted treatments often contain higher concentrations of active ingredients to enhance their intended purpose. In the case of acne marks, it’s a good idea to use a serum that combines anti-hyperpigmentation ingredients with Salicylic Acid to achieve a more refined complexion.
The NIVEA Cellular Luminous630 Anti Dark-Spot Post-Acne Marks Serum utilises Salicylic Acid and NIVEA’s patented Luminous630 formula to lighten the appearance of PIH acne marks and leave skin feeling smoother, mattified and luminous.

4. Hydration:

Keeping the skin adequately hydrated is essential for its natural healing processes. If possible, choose a non-comedogenic moisturiser suitable for your skin type to maintain optimal hydration levels.

5. Sunscreen:

Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 daily, even on cloudy days. Sun protection helps prevent post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and shields healing skin from UV-induced damage.

Prevention with NIVEA Derma Skin Clear

Prevention is the first and perhaps most important step to addressing acne marks and scars. It’s key to avoid picking or popping blemishes as this may worsen their appearance and lead to scarring.

One way to reduce the symptoms of acne is to use cleansing products that contain Niacinamide and Salicylic Acid - two ingredients that are capable of working deep into the pores to refine overall skin texture. You can find them in the NIVEA Derma Skin Clear range, which has been formulated specifically to reduce the symptoms of acne.

Acne Marks vs. Acne Scars - in summary

To achieve clear and radiant skin, it's important to understand the difference between acne marks and scars. Acne marks are temporary discolorations caused by inflammation, while acne scars are long-lasting textural changes from severe lesions. Hyperpigmentation, characterised by red, brown, and dark spots, can gradually fade over time. 

Factors like skin type, scar type, and healing capacity influence scar healing and fading, shaping treatment decisions. Dermatological procedures as well as natural remedies like aloe vera and Vitamin C, effectively address scars. Combining these methods with a customised skincare regimen can prevent scars, promote skin health, and achieve an even complexion.

Acne Marks vs. Acne Scars - Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: What's the difference between acne marks and acne scars?

A: Acne marks are temporary discolorations caused by inflammation, while acne scars are permanent textural changes resulting from severe lesions.

Q2: How do acne marks and scars develop?

A: Acne marks, or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), are skin discolorations that remain after acne lesions heal. Acne scars result from permanent changes to the skin's texture and appearance during the healing process.

Q3: What causes hyperpigmentation and discoloration after acne?

A: Hyperpigmentation occurs due to increased melanin production in response to inflammation. Red spots and discoloration are also caused by blood vessel dilation near the skin's surface.

Q4: Can acne marks and scars go away on their own?

A: Mild marks and superficial scars may naturally fade over time, but severe scars often require proactive management and treatments for significant improvement.

Q5: How long does it take for acne scars to fade naturally?

A: The duration varies based on scar type, depth, and individual healing capacity. Some scars may improve in weeks, while others may take months or years.

Q6: What factors influence the healing and fading of acne scars?

A: Skin type, scar type, and individual healing processes impact scar resolution. Genetic factors, overall health, and immune system function play a role.

Q7: Are there different types of acne scars, and how are they classified?

A: Yes, there are six main types, including rolling scars, keloid scars, ice pick scars, boxcar scars, hypertrophic scars, and pock marks.

Q8: What is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH)?

A: PIH refers to darker patches of skin that remain after an acne lesion heals, caused by overproduction of melanin due to inflammation.

Q9: How do red spots and discoloration occur after acne heals?

A: Red spots, or erythema, result from blood vessel dilation after a pimple heals. Brown and dark spots are due to excess melanin production in response to inflammation.

Q10: Can over-the-counter products effectively treat acne scars?

A: Over-the-counter products containing ingredients like Salicylic Acid, Retinoids, Vitamin C, and Niacinamide may help improve the appearance of mild scars and marks.

Q11: What are some natural remedies for fading acne scars?

A: Natural remedies like Aloe Vera, Vitamin C, and Rosehip Oil may contribute to scar fading over time.

Q12: Is Aloe Vera effective for reducing the appearance of scars?

A: Yes, Aloe Vera's soothing and healing properties can promote skin regeneration and reduce inflammation, aiding scar fading.

Q13: How does Vitamin C help in fading acne marks and scars?

A: Vitamin C, a potent antioxidant, can brighten skin, encourage Collagen production, and potentially help to fade hyperpigmentation.

Q14: What are the benefits of using Rosehip Oil for scar reduction?

A: Rosehip Oil's essential fatty acids and Vitamins may help to regenerate skin cells, boost Collagen, and improve scar appearance.

Q15: What's the importance of a proper skincare routine in preventing scars?

A: A comprehensive skincare regimen involving gentle cleansing, exfoliation, sunscreen, and hydration can help to prevent clogged pores and support healing.

Q16: How can I prevent acne scars and marks from forming in the first place?

A: Promptly treating acne lesions, refraining from picking at blemishes, and adopting a balanced lifestyle can help minimise the risk of scarring.

Q17: Is it safe to exfoliate the skin to prevent scars?

A: Yes, regular and gentle exfoliation may help prevent pore blockages and maintain smoother skin texture.

Q18: Can a healthy lifestyle and proper hydration contribute to scar prevention?

A: Yes, a balanced diet, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and hydration contribute to overall skin health, aiding in scar prevention and healing.