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


Post acne marks, or macules, are commonly referred to as “acne scars." Real acne scars, however, are the indentations or protrusions left behind by acne.

Here is a picture of my left cheek that shows the difference between acne scars and acne marks (as well as my large pores):

Acne Scars vs. Marks

Acne scars vs. Acne marks

As you can see, my acne scars are colorless but indented, and my acne marks are dark but flat. Acne scars are noticeable under direct lighting and they are difficult to cover up because it's hard to find something that will "fill" them in. Acne marks are flat and can be concealed with makeup, though it's not always possible to find a good skin color match.

Of the two, acne marks are more noticeable on bare skin, simply because they are darker. Acne scars are not as obvious unless you stare closely, stand under poor lighting, or have lots of really deep scarring. One is more a skin color issue and the other is more a skin texture issue. Which one is worse to have? Definitely acne scars.

Acne scars tend to give skin that pitted "orange peel" look and unfortunately, they are usually permanent. Topical creams and lotions do very little to treat acne scars, so don't be fooled by any such claims. Acne scars never go away 100%, but their appearance can be minimized by invasive facial procedures, such as laser or dermabrasion. Getting silicone microdroplet injections can also help improve the appearance indented scars. Keep in mind that results vary and even really aggressive and expensive acne scar treatments do not have guaranteed results.

Acne marks, on the other hand, are flat red or brown dots left behind by pimples. They tend to give skin a blotchy, albeit, flat look. Acne marks fade on their own, but it can take a very, very long time. This kind of post-acne hyperpigmentation is better to have than acne scars because they at least respond to treatments and eventually fade. (To learn how to fade acne marks, check here.)

Some people are more prone to scarring, while others (especially those with fair skin) are more prone to hyperpigmentation. I have Asian skin, so I very easily get dark marks. The smallest and most short-lived pimple will leave a mark on my skin and that's just the way it has always been. I am not as prone to getting acne scars, but I do have acne scars on my cheeks from cysts and other deep pimples (which are usually responsible for scars like ice pick scars).

People forget that you still have to deal with the aftermath of acne, even after you clear your skin. My skin has been clear for a few years now, but it took a long time for my skin tone to even out. My red marks eventually faded but my scarring looks exactly the same. That's why I say it's better to have acne marks than acne scars because even with time, acne scars will not go away.

It's not like you really have a choice, but you can minimize the chance of scarring by not popping any pimples. However, even if you are really good about that, sometimes your skin will still scar and there's not much you can do about it. Whether you will get acne scars or acne marks just depends on your skin. Even though there are no guarantees for never getting a scar from a pimple, you can decrease the chances of that happening by not picking at spots and learning how to treat acne the right way.

Last updated: September 17, 2012

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