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Alpha Hydroxy Acid for Acne Scars

Alpha Hydroxy Acid for Acne Scars Alpha Hydroxy Acid for Acne Scars Alpha Hydroxy Acid for Acne Scars


The American Academy of Dermatologists, or AAD, reports that up to 50 million Americans, mostly teenagers, suffer from pimples each year. Luckily, most people's skin will clear without lasting reminders from their acne. But an unlucky few will wind up with mild, moderate or severe acne scars. Alpha hydroxy acid treatments can help reduce the appearance of some acne scars.

Scar Types

Dermatologists can't predict who might wind up with acne scars, but it's clear that genes play a role: people whose parents scarred after bouts with acne are more likely to develop scars too, according to the AAD. Scars fall into one of three categories. The most common type, depressed acne scars--frequently called "pock marks" or "ice pick scars"--look like pits or saucer-shaped depressions. Raised acne scars look like irregular bumps. Red skin "spots" or discoloration, while not technically scars, look like large dots on the skin. Alpha hydroxy acid products generally only treat depressed acne scars.

Treatment Types

Alpha hydroxy acid peels work by peeling off the top layer of skin, making scars less noticeable. Patients have a choice between at-home alpha hydroxy acid preparations and dermatologist-provided treatments. The products available for at-home use generally contain about 5 percent alpha hydroxy acid, according to the AAD. Dermatologists, meanwhile, have access to far stronger alpha hydroxy acid preparations. Stronger peels produce results faster, but can irritate the skin more.

Time Frame

Over-the-counter alpha hydroxy acid products will be most effective on light acne scarring, according to the AAD. You'll probably have to use the product continuously for several months before you notice a real difference in your scars. Because alpha hydroxy acid increases sensitivity to the sun, you'll need to make sure you wear a sunscreen the entire time. Physician-applied alpha hydroxy peels, meanwhile, can work rapidly. Some people need only one deep peel, while in other cases, dermatologists recommend a series of lighter peels.


Medical research backs the use of alpha hydroxy acid in treating depressed acne scars. In one study, published in 2007 in the journal "Dermatology," 145 patients applied a cream containing 6 percent acid daily for three months. The study concluded that the cream effectively prevented and treated acne scarring. Another study, this one published in 2000 in the "International Journal of Dermatology," compared daily use of acid-based cream to bi-weekly peels, and concluded that both procedures may be effective in treating different patients.


Dermatologist-provided alpha hydroxy peels--especially deep peels involving acid concentrations of up to 70 percent--can require recovery time and can irritate skin severely. However, these peels can be very effective in treating depressed acne scars quickly. New skin will appear within two weeks, and scars should appear less noticeable by then.

At-home alpha hydroxy acid products, meanwhile, will not provide a quick fix for acne scars, but will produce far less skin irritation and may be less expensive than a dermatologist-provided peel.

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