Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/22/2022
Pockmarked skin: whether you’re old or young, regardless of race or gender, pockmarks can be a painful reminder of a time when your skin was dealing with bigger issues — like acne, ugh — that have left their mark.
Most of us wonder if there’s any hope. Can pockmarked skin be treated? Can we make those crater-like scars and dark spots go away?
The short answer? Yes. With the right treatments.
Pockmarks are a non-medical term for skin infections like acne and chickenpox that can cause sores and later leave scars in the form of a depression or a raised bump on your skin.
While chickenpox and other infections can cause pockmarks, it’s fair to say that the majority of people have them due to different kinds of acne.
And when inflammatory acne pops, you can sometimes see your skin adding either too much or too little collagen during the healing process.
Too much collagen can result in a raised, bump-like scar. Too little collagen, however, results in small, divot-like acne scars — sometimes called scarring acne — and also referred to as pockmarks.
As mentioned above, pockmarks are typically the result of inflammatory skin infections, and while the virus behind chickenpox and staph infections can sometimes be the culprit, more often than not, they’re the result of acne.
But all inflammatory acne doesn’t scar. There are certain things that can increase your risk of scarring.
The first among these risk factors? Genetics. If someone in your family had pockmarks, you have a chance of getting them yourself due to skin infections.
Treatment is also an important part of the scarring scenario. Pockmarks can result when people fail to seek treatment for cystic acne and other forms of scarring acne before it’s too late.
Another factor that can increase your chances of being left with pockmarks: popping those pimples.
Pre-vaccine chickenpox kids may remember well that they were cautioned not to pick at their spots, lest a scar might form.
The same is true for acne. If you squeeze, pick or poke those spots, you might cause further damage — which could, in turn, make the healing process more difficult and the final result of healing less photogenic than you’d prefer.
Pockmarks can be treated in one of two ways: You can either have them removed or resurfaced surgically, or you can do so with a variety of chemicals that, over time, may promote the smoothing of your skin and the reduction of scars.
Since many treatments can be expensive (or worse, invasive or come with serious risks) it’s best to consider whether treatment at the surgical or clinical level is really necessary.
If you’re unsure how best to treat your pockmarks, you should consult a healthcare professional who will give you guidance on your options.
They may point you toward one of the following treatments:
Perhaps the scariest-sounding name on this list, electrodesiccation is actually not that scary of a procedure. Electric probes are used to heat and kill specific areas of the skin tissue, which in some situations stimulates new skin cells to return with a reduced scar appearance.
If you have a few pockmarks, it may be easiest to consider outright surgical options. In this case, the procedure will “lift” the scar, making it look less prominent and, over time, further reduce its visibility.
Widespread scarring may respond best to a broader brush. Resurfacing is a great option for many not-so-deep scars and may include procedures like laser skin resurfacing, chemical peels, dermabrasion and microdermabrasion.
Another way to address sparse, individual pockmarks is with fillers, which typically consist of collagen, fat from your own body or something else.
Fillers can be permanent, but a word to the wise: many are not, and must be re-done between six and 18 months after the first session.
One of the newer options for people who wish to treat a larger number of scars is skin tightening.
Unlike a face lift, where the skin is essentially cut smaller and stretched to fit a larger space, tightening is done with tools like radiofrequency. This method requires multiple treatments, but may do wonders for depressed acne scars and pockmarks in general.
Removing acne scars naturally is a popular request, and it can be done (at least in theory) over time.
A big caveat is how you define “naturally” and whether that includes more aggressive procedures.
For instance, a variety of natural oils like olive oil, coconut oil, sunflower seed oil and rosehip oil generally have beneficial properties for skin health, and may help specific problems like inflammatory response control and even scar reduction.
But these claims should be taken with a grain of another natural ingredient: salt.
There’s insufficient data demonstrating how something like olive oil is best and most effectively used for skin health, for example.
Instead, you may find more reliable and proven benefits in certain naturally occurring compounds like salicylic acid and vitamin A-derived retinoids.
Salicylic acid can also reduce the appearance of scars as a result of its regular use as an exfoliating product. By stripping away the top layer of cells, you’re effectively resurfacing your skin at a slower pace, which can decrease visual scars over time.
Retinoids, meanwhile, do something similar. They promote the new cellular growth that’s waiting to take over for your dry, dead skin cells.
Pockmarks are a normal part of life for many people, and the reality is that many people with them (including you) are beautiful. But how you look and how you feel can be two very different things.
If pockmarks are making you self-conscious, it may be time to treat them. Your best bet is to start with a consultation with a healthcare professional.
Your skin, like everyone else’s, is unique, and your treatment for those signs of scarring may be different from what worked for friends, family and other people in your life.
In the meantime, remember that your face is beautiful.