Acne Scars & Dark Spots: What are the Differences?

The Difference Between Acne Scars and Dark Spots

By Ysabel Vitangcol on October 5, 2020

Breakouts are never good—but what makes them insufferable is the marks they tend to leave behind. Acne scars can seriously get in the way of going makeup-free with confidence, and during a time when we all want to be bare-faced, this is not a problem we want to have. In researching your solutions, though, you’ve probably come across two terms: “acne scars” and “dark spots.” These terms, while used in similar contexts, are actually completely different! Here’s what you need to know about the difference between acne scars and dark spots.

What are dark spots?

When you think of “dark spots,” think “pigmentation.” And pigmentation is what happens when your body produces melanin, AKA the pigment that gives skin is color. When your skin becomes inflamed due to a pimple, your body responds to the irritation by producing melanin. This is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or PIH. So, dark spots can be caused by mild to moderate acne breakouts…but the key difference is that acne isn’t the only cause. Pigmentation can result from excessive sun exposure, resulting in sun spots. It can also result from hormonal changes, stress, or pregnancy, resulting in melasma (dark splotches of skin). Dark spots are usually just flat—they only alter the color of your skin, not its texture.

What are acne scars?

Unlike dark spots, acne scars can run deep. They tend to alter your skin texture, because the things that caused them have damaged your skin on a more critical level. 

View this post on Instagram

[SAVE FOR IMPORTANT INFO] ‼️⚠️We all scar differently and they form for different reasons. Picking at our skin does heighten our chances of scarring BUT it isn’t the only reason why we scar, let’s just start with that before the keyboard trolls come pointing the finger at us for having these scars🙄😬. Acne scars fall into two main categories: those caused by a loss of tissue (atrophic scars), and those caused by an excess of tissue (hypertrophic scars). Within these categories, there are four main types of acne scars: 1️⃣Ice-pick scars/ pitted scars – deep, narrow, pitted scars (these develop after deep inflamed zits get infected, destroying our skin tissue) 2️⃣Boxcar scars – broad depressions with sharply defined edges (these develop when a breakout destroys collagen so the area is left without support) 3️⃣Rolling scars – broad depressions with a sloping edge (these develop when fibrous bands of tissue pull the epidermis) 4️⃣Hypertrophic / keloid scars – raised scars (these develop when there’s an overproduction of collagen; your skin doesn’t know that the wound has already healed so it continues to produce collagen) There are many ways to treat your acne scars (I’ll save this for another post) but know that you shouldn’t feel pressured to treat them just to be accepted. Also you can simultaneously embrace your skin while trying to improve it. It’s no one’s place to judge what you decide❤️ Thank you to my skin positivity babes @lew.mor @moniqueschreiber @mariah.x.o.x for allowing me to use their photos for this post. Hope you guys find this informative and please feel free to share because this brings more awareness. The more we talk about it, the more normalised acne scars are. Lots of love as always, xoxo Your gal, Liz ❤️❤️❤️ 🙈📸 Graphic designer: my handsome Italian bf 😜🤣 @andrea_gottardo_ ti amo 😌😘 #acnescars #skinpositivity #lasertreatment #fractionallaser #microneedling #derambrasion #laser #icepickscars #boxcarscars #rollingscars #hypertrophicscars #makeup #skinmap

A post shared by Liz Claire 😜 Sydney (@prettyprogress23) on

There are different types of acne scars. The good news is, you can usually tell what type you have just by looking at them.

Boxcar scars are depressed scars (meaning they sink deeper than the normal level of your skin) that usually form a boxy or rectangular shape, hence the name. They occur as a result of collagen loss or collagen underproduction, which explains why it seems like patches of skin have “gone missing.” 

At first, boxcar scars can look similar to ice pick scars. But ice pick scars, like the name, look like the skin has been damaged by an ice pick. They tend to be small but deep, like the holes left behind by a pin on a bulletin board. These result when a pimple is further infected by things like dirt and debris, resulting in the destruction of tissue. 

Rolling scars, on the other hand, don’t have the same defined edges as boxcar or ice pick scars. They tend to look like cellulite or orange peel. They occur when the epidermis (top layer of the skin) has been damaged.

Finally, hypertrophic scars or keloids are raised (meaning they are higher than the normal level of your skin). They occur when your body doesn’t realize the wound has already healed, so it continues to produce collagen. The overproduction of collagen results in the “extra skin.”

Luckily, acne scars and dark spots are treatable for the most part. Whether it’s laser resurfacing to bring back your skin texture, or serums and brightening treatments to fade dark spots, Belo has solutions for you. But you need to act fast—it’s always easier to treat acne scars and dark spots that have only recently appeared. The first step is, as always, a consultation!

To book an in-person appointment, call 8819-BELO or email

Want to chat before diving in? Click here to book an online consultation with a Belo MD. If you want to speak to the Beauty Expert herself, click here to book an online consultation with Dr. Vicki Belo.

Most Popular

Blog The Base WELLNESS

PCOS-Friendly Skincare Tips Amid Hormonal Imbalance

Blog SKIN The Base

Beyond Grooming Basics: What Men Need To Know About Skincare

Blog Skin care The Base

Affordable Beauty Hacks: How To Maximize Skincare on a Budget

Belo uses cookies to allow to ensure you get the best experience. By continuing to use this site, you consent to this policy. Learn more