Although it would be nice to look in the mirror and have it tell me that I’m the fairest one of all, certain insecurities of mine—ahem, acne scars—beg to differ. That being said, I know there’s nothing wrong with acne scars, in fact, women have been embracing these so-called “flaws” rather than feeling ashamed by them.

Still, for those of you who are interested, or maybe just a little bit curious, I’ve done the research and checked in with top skincare professionals on all there is to know about how to treat acne scars. While there are preventative measures we can take to keep acne scars from forming—like washing our faces daily, controlling oil buildup in our pores, and not picking at blemishes once they appear—the most effective tool for diminishing and even vanishing acne scars from skin’s surface may be a chemical peel.
It’s gentle on the skin but tough on scars. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about using chemical peels to treat acne scars.

What Is a Chemical Peel?

According to NYC plastic surgeon Melissa Doft, MD, chemical peels are a strong form of chemical exfoliation in which “an acid solution” does away with dead skin and pore-clogging impurities on contact. Doft says that they “cause a controlled injury to surface skin cells.” It sounds a lot scarier than it is, but remember these injuries are on a cellular level (kind of like microneedling). “The strength of the peeling solution will determine the level of injury to your skin,” Doft says. “After the skin is injured, it will peel off and new cells will replace the old ones. Stronger peels will cause a deeper injury and thus require more downtime to heal.” Since brand new cells replace the old, expect the skin to look more even, glowy, and fresh.

Benefits of a Chemical Peel

If trying to decide whether a chemical peel is right for you, consider the benefits, which, according to Jennifer MacGregor, a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City, are many:

  • Brightens pigment
  • Smooths skin
  • Evens skin tone
  • Unclogs pores
  • Reduces acne
  • Improves the penetration and efficacy of your other skincare products

Not too shabby if you ask us. She adds, “If you use a peeling agent regularly for four to six weeks or more (or opt for a stronger peel), you can also smooth texture by building new and healthier collagen and elastin and even boost skin’s own internal hyaluronic acid, which gives it that plump, luminous quality.”

As for the pros of peels if you have acne-prone skin, “The improvement in comedonal acne—the type where pores are blocked and skin is oily—is significant and there can be a mild improvement in texture for shallow-depth boxcar scars over time,” says MacGregor. She continues, “More aggressive peeling can improve acne scars significantly, but these have fallen out of favor due to the recovery profile as it compares to laser and energy devices (the latter having a better ratio of improvement to downtime). Occasionally, we place a stronger peeling agent just into the center deeper scars, which is a spot treatment often called the cross method.”

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