Atrophic scars are depressed, sunken areas of skin resulting from damage or loss of underlying collagen, elastin or fat. They are often caused by skin conditions such as acne, chickenpox, infections, and other inflammatory diseases, as well as surgery or trauma. Non-clinical causes include aging, which weakens skin structure, genetic predisposition, excessive sun exposure, and poor nutrition, particularly deficiencies in vitamins necessary for skin health. Smoking, which harms collagen and elastin, can also lead to atrophic scars.


Atrophic scars are a type of scarring that results in a depressed or sunken appearance of the skin, due to underlying damage or loss of collagen, elastin or fat tissues. These scars are characterized by thin, flat, and depressed areas that sit below the surrounding skin. They are often caused by skin conditions such as acne, chickenpox, or other inflammatory diseases, but can also be due to surgery or trauma.

Clinical Causes

  1. Acne Vulgaris: This is the most common cause of atrophic scars. Inflammatory acne lesions, such as nodules, papules, and pustules, can cause atrophic scars when they damage the collagen in the skin.
  2. Chickenpox: Atrophic scarring can occur from chickenpox, especially if the lesions are picked or scratched excessively.
  3. Infections: Certain bacterial, fungal, or viral skin infections may result in atrophic scarring.
  4. Inflammatory Diseases: Conditions like lichen planus, discoid lupus, and sarcoidosis can result in atrophic scars due to their inflammatory nature.
  5. Surgery or Trauma: Any form of skin trauma, including surgical incisions or injuries, can lead to atrophic scarring if there is significant damage to the dermis.

Non-Clinical Causes

  1. Age: With advancing age, the skin loses collagen and becomes more susceptible to atrophic scarring.
  2. Genetic Predisposition: Some individuals may be genetically more prone to atrophic scarring.
  3. Sun Exposure: Chronic exposure to the sun can damage the collagen in the skin, which can lead to atrophic scars.
  4. Poor Nutrition: Nutritional deficiencies, particularly of vitamins C and A, which are essential for skin health and collagen production, can contribute to atrophic scarring.
  5. Smoking: Smoking can damage collagen and elastin, leading to premature aging of the skin and increasing the risk of atrophic scars.



Atrophic scars are usually characterized by a few common symptoms. These include:

  1. Depressed Appearance: Atrophic scars are often identifiable by their indented or sunken appearance. They can be round, oval, or linear in shape.
  2. Texture: The skin in and around the scar may feel and look different from the surrounding skin. It may be smoother, tougher, or softer.
  3. Color: These scars can be more pink, red, or darker in color when they are new but may fade to a lighter or even white color over time.
  4. Size: They can vary greatly in size, depending on the extent and depth of the initial damage.
  5. Sensation: Some people may experience itching, discomfort, or pain in the scar area, though this is not always the case.


A dermatologist usually diagnoses atrophic scars based on a physical examination of the skin and a review of the patient’s medical history.

  1. Physical Examination: The dermatologist will visually inspect and palpate the scar to determine its type, size, depth, and location.
  2. Medical History: This includes understanding past skin conditions, injuries, surgeries, medications, and any treatments already attempted for the scar.

In some cases, a skin biopsy may be performed if there is uncertainty about the diagnosis or to rule out other skin conditions. Imaging techniques like dermoscopy, ultrasonography, or laser scanning microscopy can also be used for a more detailed analysis.

Prognosis and Impact


The prognosis for atrophic scars is generally good, but it varies depending on the depth and extent of the scars, their cause, the individual’s skin type, and the treatment modalities used.

While atrophic scars are permanent, they can become less noticeable over time. Various treatments can also help reduce their appearance. These include medical therapies like topical retinoids, microdermabrasion, laser therapy, filler injections, and surgical methods.

However, it’s important to note that treatment results can vary greatly from person to person, and no treatment can completely erase a scar. The aim is typically to make the scar less noticeable and improve its texture and color.


The impact of atrophic scars is not just physical but can also affect a person’s mental and emotional well-being.

  1. Physical Impact: Atrophic scars can alter the smoothness and evenness of the skin, which may affect a person’s physical appearance. Depending on their location, they can also interfere with the normal functioning of the skin.
  2. Psychological Impact: Atrophic scars, especially those caused by acne, can have significant psychological effects, including low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. The impact is often greater if the scars are on the face or other highly visible areas.
  3. Social Impact: The altered appearance caused by scars can affect interpersonal interactions and social confidence, especially in severe cases.

Treatment Options

  1. Topical treatments: These can include retinoids, which can stimulate new collagen production; and exfoliants, which can help to improve the texture of the skin.
  2. Dermal fillers: Injectable fillers, such as hyaluronic acid, can be used to raise the level of the skin in the scarred area to the level of the surrounding skin. These treatments are temporary and will need to be repeated.
  3. Microneedling: Also known as collagen induction therapy, this involves creating tiny punctures in the skin using very fine needles. The body’s natural healing process stimulates collagen and elastin production in the treated area, which can improve the appearance of atrophic scars over time.
  4. Laser therapy: Different types of laser therapy can be used to either stimulate new collagen production or to remove the top layer of skin, promoting the growth of new, healthier skin.
  5. Subcision: This surgical technique involves the use of a needle to break up the scar tissue beneath the skin. This allows the skin to rise up to the level of the surrounding skin and can be especially effective for deeper atrophic scars.
  6. Chemical peels: These involve the application of a chemical solution to remove the top layer of skin, promoting the growth of new, smoother skin.
  7. Punch excision and grafting: This surgical procedure involves removing (excising) the scarred area and then repairing the wound with stitches or a skin graft. This technique is typically used for deep scars.
  8. Radiofrequency (RF) treatment: This non-invasive treatment uses radiofrequency to stimulate collagen production, improving the skin’s tone and texture.

Risks and Side Effects

  1. Topical treatments: Side effects can include skin irritation, redness, dryness, and a stinging sensation. There’s also a risk of skin discoloration.
  2. Dermal fillers: Potential side effects include temporary redness, swelling, and bruising at the injection site. There’s a small risk of infection, filler migration, or allergic reactions. Over time, the body naturally absorbs fillers, so repeat treatments are necessary to maintain the results.
  3. Microneedling: Side effects often include skin redness and inflammation immediately following treatment. There’s a risk of skin infection if the equipment isn’t sterilized properly, and a slight chance of skin discoloration.
  4. Laser therapy: Side effects may include redness, swelling, and, rarely, blistering or bruising. There’s a risk of infection, hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation, and scarring.
  5. Subcision: Risks include temporary bruising, swelling, and pain. There’s a small risk of infection, hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation, and further scarring. In some cases, a small bump may form above the treated area.
  6. Chemical peels: Side effects can include temporary redness, dryness, and peeling or scaling. There’s a risk of infection, scarring, and discoloration. Deep peels carry more risks, including heart, kidney, or liver damage.
  7. Punch excision and grafting: Risks include infection, bleeding, and further scarring. If a skin graft is used, there’s a risk that the grafted skin won’t look like the surrounding skin.
  8. Radiofrequency (RF) treatment: Common side effects include temporary redness, swelling, and discomfort. There’s a small risk of burns if the treatment isn’t performed correctly, as well as the potential for temporary or permanent changes in skin color.

FAQ Section

Atrophic scars are a type of scar that appear depressed or sunken, often as a result of losing skin-supporting structures such as collagen and fat. They are typically caused by conditions like acne or chickenpox, or injuries that damage the skin.

Unlike hypertrophic scars or keloids that are raised, atrophic scars are indented or sunken in appearance. This is due to the damage or loss of skin’s supporting structures such as collagen, elastin, or fat.

Atrophic scars are often caused by skin conditions like severe acne or chickenpox, which damage or inflame the skin. They can also result from injuries, surgeries, or certain skin infections. Non-clinical factors like aging, excessive sun exposure, poor nutrition, and smoking can also contribute to their development.

While not all atrophic scars can be prevented, especially those resulting from diseases or injuries, good skincare routines and prompt treatment of skin conditions can reduce the likelihood of their formation. Protecting skin from sun damage, maintaining a healthy diet, and avoiding smoking can also help.

Treatment options for atrophic scars include topical treatments, dermal fillers, microneedling, laser therapy, subcision, chemical peels, punch excision, and radiofrequency treatments. The best treatment for any individual depends on the extent and location of the scars, the individual’s overall health, and their personal preferences.

While all treatments carry potential risks and side effects, most treatments for atrophic scars are considered safe when performed by experienced practitioners. Side effects can range from temporary redness and swelling to more serious complications like infection, discoloration, or further scarring. It’s essential to discuss these risks with a healthcare provider or dermatologist before starting treatment.

While treatments can significantly improve the appearance of atrophic scars, it’s important to note that no treatment can completely erase a scar. The goal of treatment is to make the scar less noticeable and improve its texture and color.

Atrophic scars, especially when they’re located on visible areas like the face, can have a significant impact on a person’s self-esteem and confidence. In some cases, they can lead to anxiety, depression, or social withdrawal. Addressing these psychological aspects is a crucial part of the overall treatment approach.

Yes, if you have atrophic scars that concern you, it’s recommended to consult a dermatologist. They can diagnose the condition, discuss potential treatments, and provide guidance on managing both the physical and psychological impacts of these scars.