Serious cases of acne can result in scarring, particularly when the acne is improperly treated. There are many types of acne scars and each scar responds differently to the treatments available. While it’s possible to treat mild scarring at home, proper treatment typically requires the help of a dermatologist, or in extreme cases, a plastic surgeon.
The price of treating acne scars runs the gamut from home treatments that cost as little as $10 a month, to clinical options like laser resurfacing that can cost as much as $3,000 per treatment.
At-Home Skin Care Products
Hyperpigmentation and irregularities in skin tone caused by acne scars can often be treated with over-the-counter bleaching products (like Hydroquinone) and sunscreen to limit contrast. Unless it causes irritation, you’ll need to use the product often. Even if used daily, it may take 6 months to see a difference.
This is the least invasive and cheapest option, but keep in mind that skin bleaching products can be irritating. Prices range from $10 to over $100.
Soft Tissue Fillers
Another option is the injection of hyaluronic acid, polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA), collagen, or fat under the skin, into the indentations made by atrophic scars.
Typically, providers have their preference for different fillers based on their experience and your specific condition. Results from this method are good, but are often temporary, lasting from 6 months to 2 years. It is less invasive than other methods, and usually costs between several hundred dollars to thousands.
Cosmetic laser resurfacing uses a laser to break up the molecular bonds of damaged skin cells, layer by layer, until a smoother, more uniform look is created. This technique can be more invasive than others, and some healthcare providers even consider it a surgery.
Recovery time varies, but is typically about two weeks, during which your new skin slowly appears as it heals from the procedure. Results are generally quite good, but burning, scarring, and skin discoloration have been reported in certain cases. Costs vary, but are usually around $1,000-$3,000 per session, and multiple sessions are usually required.
Other Energy-Based Options
Pulsed light sources and radiofrequency devices can also disrupt the scar tissue, making it less noticeable over time. Results from any of these devices tend to be subtle, and often need to be repeated.
Radiofrequency in combination with micro-needling is a newer approach to various atrophic acne scars that has variable results, depending on the device and provider administering the treatment. Professional costs are usually several hundred to several thousand dollars, with several visits often required. Home devices exist, but have less consistent or compelling results.
Used for variable depths of atrophic acne scars, your healthcare provider essentially removes the outer layer of skin with a high speed rotating brush. Surface scars are often completely removed, and deeper scars can become much less noticeable. These results can be long lasting, but you will likely need a few days to recover.
Temporary side effects may include redness, swelling, an acne flare-up, and infection. The average cost for this procedure varies between several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the depth of the procedure and the individual performing the procedure.
This option is essentially the same as the chemical peel option for treating the acne itself. Once applied to the skin, the chemical solution causes the skin to blister and peel for a few days. As this skin comes off, fresh, new skin replaces it, reducing the appearance of scars.
Side effects are common and are a result of the chemical irritant: redness, swelling, and peeling. Professionally applied peels range from about $200 to $900. Less effective, but also less expensive, OTC versions run along the $100 range.
Needling or Rolling
Acne scar microneedling can be done at home, but is more effective when performed by a professional. The needling device looks a bit like a razor, but with a small rolling tool covered in tiny needles at the end instead of a blade.
The device is rolled across the skin, over your scars. This action pricks the skin beneath the surface, causing minor trauma that your body will rush to repair with collagen, fixing your scars in the process. The treatment is slow, usually taking months, but with persistence results can be impressive.
Punch Excision Surgery
In extreme (and rare) cases, especially for the deepest scars, your doctor, dermatologist, or cosmetic surgeon may use a minor surgery called a “punch excision” to treat an acne scar. Individual acne scars are cut out, repairing the wound with either stitches or a skin graft.
Recovery time depends on the method performed and wound closure used. This method will likely still leave a scar, but it will be a lot smaller and less noticeable. Pricing depends on the extent of the scars.
Are acne scar treatments covered by health insurance?
Under most circumstances, no. Generally, scar treatment is considered a cosmetic procedure and is therefore not covered under most plans. With that said, it’s always best to call your provider and find out for sure from the source.
Acne itself often has a profoundly negative impact on a person’s feelings about themselves and their appearance, and it’s not hard to imagine how permanent scarring after acne can have an effect on a person’s life. Confidence suffers, anxiety increases, and unfortunately, the vicious cycle of added stress caused by acne can increase the amount of acne itself.