Will Olive Oil Heal Your Acne Scars?

Updated June 06, 2014.

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com’s Medical Review Board.

I have a lot of dark spots, and even some pitted areas, on my skin because of acne.  I hate them!  A friend, who is really into natural treatments, told me massaging olive oil into my skin every day will get rid of it.  I did some research online, and a lot of different people say the same thing.  Does olive oil help heal acne scars?

Answer:

Acne can be so incredibly frustrating — not only the breakouts but what it does to your skin afterwards.  Lots of people feel like the dark spots, uneven skin tone, and scarring is even worse than the pimples themselves.

So, it’s only natural to want to get rid of those, and fast.  But, as wonderful as olive oil may be in other applications, it’s not a good treatment for acne scars.  It’s not a treatment for scars at all, really.

Olive oil has a long, rich history (if you’re so inclined, our About.com Archaeology Expert has written an account of the history of olive oil that’s quite interesting.)  It’s not only used as a food.  People have also applied it to their hair and skin for centuries.

As a folk remedy, olive oil is used as a skin moisturizer and hair oil.  It’s a common ingredient artisan soaps, lip balms, sugar scrubs, and bath oils.  It acts as a lubricant, giving the products nice “slip” and a smooth feel.     

But as lovely as that sounds, we have to be realistic about what olive oil can really do.  Applying olive oil to the skin won’t heal acne scars. 

Those dark spots left over as a pimple fades are called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.  It’s the skin’s normal, albeit aggravating, reaction to a wound (in this case, an inflamed pimple).  The discoloration can’t be faded simply by moisturizing with olive oil. 

But there are treatments you can use to help fade post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.  Over-the-counter products that contain glycolic acid or niacinamide can be helpful, especially for minor discoloration.  For deeper discoloration, prescription treatments like topical retinoids and azelaic acid are a better bet.

Depressed or pitted scars (sometimes called pockmarks) are, unfortunately, harder to get rid of than post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.  Olive oil will not do anything for pitted scars.  You won’t find any OTC creams or lotions that are effective for them either, despite claims by all those “scar treatment” creams.

Instead, you’ll want to talk to your dermatologist about what can be done about your scarring.  There are professional procedures that can smooth the skin and minimize scars.  Laser treatments are often used to treat acne scars.  Your dermatologist might also suggest dermal fillers to “plump up” the depressed area leaving the skin, albeit temporarily, more smooth and even.

These are just a few of the scar treatment options, but there are many more available (this article will give you a rundown of some of the most common: Your Scar Treatment Options.)  Talk with your dermatologist to get the scoop on which treatments would be the best fit for you.

There’s another reason you won’t want to rub olive oil onto your face: it can clog your pores.  Most sources list olive oil as mild to moderately comedogenic.  While you’re using it in the hopes of improving acne scars, you can actually be making your acne much worse.

Personally, I love natural remedies.  But just because something is natural doesn’t make it a better choice for your skin.  In this case, olive oil isn’t a good acne scar treatment.  You’ll get much better results, and be much happier, with a proven scar treatment.

Sources:

Cayce KA, Feldman SR, McMichael AJ. “Hyperpigmentation: a review of common treatment options.” Journal of Drugs in Dermatology (2004); 3(6):668-73.

Halder RM, Richards GM. “Topical agents used in the management of hyperpigmentation.” Skin Therapy Letter (2004); 9(6):1-3.

Kimball AB, Bissett DL, Robinson LR. “Topical formulation containing N-acetyl glucosamine and niacinamide reduces the appearance of hyperpigmented spots on human facial skin.” Presented at: the 64th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology, San Francisco, CA; March 3-7, 2006.

Lynde CB, Kraft JN, Lynde CW. “Topical Treatments for Melasma and Postinflammatory Hyperpigmentation.” Skin Therapy Lett. 2006;11(9):1-6.

Taylor SC, Burgess CM, Callender VD, Fu J, Rendon MI, Roberts WE, Shalita AR. “Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation: evolving combination treatment strategies” Cutis. 2006; 78(2 Suppl 2): 6-9.