Does Retin-A Really Work for Acne Scars?

Will Retin-A really improve the appearance of acne scars and discoloration?

Doctor Answers 11

Don't expect much from Retin A except if scars or wrinkles are extremely shallow

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The effect of Retin A is superficial, and the changes that are seen are primarily epidermal. Therefore the only scars that can be improved would be those that are extremely shallow. The depth of your acne scars must first be evaluated once determined the proper treatment depth can be performed. If the scars are deep then there are alternatives such as TCA peel, dermabrasion, laser resurfacing and subcision.

Atlanta Plastic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 20 reviews

Retin-A helps more with discoloration than scarring

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Retin A, by causing the cells of the epidermis to divide more rapidly, pushes out the pigment in the keratinocytes.This does help with what we call dyschromia, pigmentary discoloration. For this reason Retin A is often combined with hydroquinone.

Unfortunately, Retin A probably helps only with the most superficial of acne scars. Obviously, it is key when it comes to prevent them in the first place, but there is little in its action ( maybe its reputed ability to regenerate collagen) to diminish scarring.

Arnold R. Oppenheim, MD
Virginia Beach Dermatologist


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Thanks for your question.

Retin-A will definitely give your skin an improvement in texture as well as regulate your sebum production to prevent further outbreaks. 

In regards to scarring by increasing cell turn over the appearance of the scars will be reduced.

Kind Regards

Chien C. Kat, FRCS
Birmingham Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 100 reviews

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Retin A and Acne Scars: Improvement in quality of acne scars with retinoic acid

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Patients requesting improvement of acne scars are typically concerned about several things:

Improvement in pigmentation
Improved quality of surrounding skin on face
Improvement in contour irregularities and ice pick scars on the face

Retin A is an active exfoliator that speeds the skin cycle and increases deposition of collagen in the dermis. The retinoic acid will improve pigmentation by increasing cell turnover and speeding up the elimination of melanin in the dermis. It will also increase collagen and improve fine wrinkles and improve the overall quality of the skin. It does not, however, have an effect on deep contour irregularities and ice pick scars.

Raffy Karamanoukian, MD, FACS
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Retin-A is one part of improving the appearance of acne scars and discoloration

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Retin-A does two things for the skin. First, it increases cell turnover so dead skin cells are shed faster. This evens out skin tone and brightens the skin. Second, Retin-A stimulates collagen growth, which will even out the skin's texture to a small degree. '

It works well for superficial acne scars and discoloration, but for deeper scars that extend into the deep layer of skin called the dermis, other techniques like excision, laser, chemical peel, or dermabrasion are needed to get the best improvement.

Dana Goldberg, MD
Jupiter Plastic Surgeon
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Does Retin-A Really Work for Acne Scars?

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Retin-a (Tretinoin) works by increasing (stimulating) cell turnover and collagen production in the skin. If you think about it, retin-a works similar to a very light chemical peel: when applied topically, the retin-A increases the rate of cell turnover, thus increasing the skin’s own exfoliation process to remove dead cells while stimulating new skin cells faster, resulting in better skin texture and appearance. So yes, retin-a should work as a treatment for acne and can help minimize the appearance of acne scars.

Kenneth Bermudez, MD
San Francisco Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 16 reviews

Retin-A or tretinoin effective only as an adjunctive therapy for acne scarring

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Prescription-strength topical retinoid such as Retin-A has been shown to stimulate collagen, enhance textures of the skin over time. It can be helpful as an adjunctive therapy to laser resurfacing for acne scarring. However, as a monotherapy, the scar revisional benefit of topical retinoid for significant acne scarring is quite modest. The keys are strict daily sun protection as sun exposure takes away collagen, no smoking, and see a board-certified dermatologist to minimize new acne cysts.

William Ting, MD
Bay Area Dermatologic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 14 reviews

Retin A for colored acne scars

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Retin A can help for red or brown acne scars by increasing the rate of cell turnover. The rate of cell turnover is the time it takes for skin cells to develop, die and flake off. By increasing this rate, Retin A can help remove the pigment associated with acne scars by causing these colored cells to flake off more quickly than without it.

Retin A will not help for textured acne scars.

Harold J. Kaplan, MD
Los Angeles Facial Plastic Surgeon
4.4 out of 5 stars 7 reviews

...early scarring- possibly

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Yes, Renin A is a retinoid, and yes, studies have shown that topical vitamin A can improve early acne scars. Collagen remodelling with topical retinoids have been well known since the 80s. 
Moving forward to 2014- treatments such as RF (radiofrequency / eMatrix), RF Needling (eprime), CO2 fractional and fraxel are all better treatments. 


Dr Davin Lim
Brisbane, Australia

Retin-A for acne scarring

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Retin-A can provide some benefit for acne scarring, but the type of acne scarring you have (e.g. ice pick, rolled, box car etc) should be assessed by a skin expert (e.g. dermatologist or plastic surgeon) and then the best treatment can be suggested in light of your risk tolerance, budget etc.

Benjamin Barankin, MD, FRCPC
Toronto Dermatologic Surgeon

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.