Stop. Before you even think about picking at your pimples, consider the consequences. You know the cycle: a fresh pimple emerges, you pop it, it leaves a scar that you frequently pick at, and boom—now you have a dark spot. The more you repeat this cycle, the more damage you cause to your skin.
What are acne scars?
“Acne scars are the result of inflammation from acne blemishes,” board-certified dermatologist and Founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology, Dr. Corey L. Hartman, tells ELLE.com. “Acne scarring may be rolling (superficial, longer depression in the skin), ice pick (very small but deep), atrophic (very superficial but very thin), or hypertrophic (thick scars raised above the skin),” Dr. Elyse Love of GlamDerm Gramercy adds.
How can I remove acne scars?
Topical treatments (more on that below) are great temporary fixes, but Love advises seeing a professional to begin your journey of permanently removing of acne scars. “Treatment of rolling, ice pick, and atrophic scars require procedures that increase collagen production such as CO2 laser, fraxel, and/or microneedling with radiofrequency,” she explains. Meanwhile, hypertrophic scars require more attention: “Hypertrophic scars are classically treated with injections to soften the scars but laser treatments such as PDL, excel v, laser genesis, and CO2 laser can also be helpful.”
Can acne scars be permanently removed?
The bad news? “The results of scar treatments are permanent (pending the acne is under control),” Love says. It will also take several treatments to bring you closer to the clear, even-toned skin of your dreams. Not to be confused with hyperpigmentation, acne scars are the “textural changes that develop as a result of severely inflamed acne nodules and cysts that occur deep in the dermis,” Dr. Paul Nassif, a board-certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon of NassifMD Dermaceuticals, says.
What are the best products for acne scars?
When shopping for topical products to help treat your scars, Nassif says to check ingredient labels for exfoliating agents. “Look for a product with good concentrations of AHAs and BHAs like glycolic, salicylic, and lactic acid. A good retinol product would be a close second, to help boost skin cell turnover and collagen to help fill in the scarring,” he explains. Just be sure to always follow up with sunscreen.
Ahead, the 24 best products for treating acne scars.
CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser
According to Love, if you want prescription-grade results at an affordable drugstore price, CeraVe’s Acne Foaming Cleanser delivers. Formulated with benzoyl peroxide to attack active breakouts, this cleanser helps to control acne so you won’t risk breakouts turning to scars.
An important step in reducing the appearance of acne scars is sun protection. Apply Supergoop’s Unseen Sunscreen liberally to ensure your dark marks won’t get any darker.
Hydro-Stars Starter Pack
The minute you see a breakout forming, reach for your Starface pimple patches. Stopping stubborn breakouts right in their tracks, the patches are made of hydrocolloid, which aids in minimizing the look of pimples.
Retinol Skin Brightener 1%
Add retinol to your routine to help slough away dead skin and lighten the appearance of dark marks left behind from breakouts. ZO Skin Health offers different strengths to choose from for different skin types.
Niacinamide Dark Spot Corrector
Don’t underestimate the power of niacinamide. Formulated specifically for melanin-rich skin, this lightweight formula absorbs without leaving a sticky film and works to reduce the appearance of dark spots.
Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1% Topical Retinoid Acne Treatment
“For a prescription-strength retinoid in an over-the-counter gel, La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1% takes it up a notch. Previously only available as a prescription, this gel helps clear blackheads, whiteheads, acne blemishes, and clogged pores. Topical retinoids also help to treat textural irregularities and acne lesions that contribute to discoloration.” — Dr. Corey L. Hartman
Hyper Clear Brightening Clearing Vitamin C Serum
Vitamins C and E work together to combat hyperpigmentation. Plus, thanks to turmeric, fruit enzymes, kojic acid, and more, one pump helps to lighten scarring and brighten your complexion.
AlphaRet Overnight Cream
“A retinol alternative that also contains lactic acid. This nighttime serum is formulated in a moisturizing base that provides all of the benefits of retinol with virtually none of the irritation. It is a great option for those who have had difficulty tolerating other retinol [since it] exfoliates gently.” — Dr. Hartman
Detox Pads – Original: Complexion Perfecting Treatment Pads
“The pads provide daily, gentle exfoliation. They also keep the pores clear, help reverse past damage, and prevent new scarring, too.” — Dr. Paul Nassif
Acne Triple Clear Exfoliating Facial Scrub
“This is an exfoliating scrub formulated with salicylic acid to help increase cell turnover, resulting in reduced acne, scarring, and preventing future breakouts. I recommend using this two to three times a week and increasing usage as necessary.” — Dr. Nassif
Murad InvisiScar Resurfacing Treatment
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Blair Murphy says that the ingredients to look for in at-home acne scar treatments are exfoliators to encourage skin cell turnover thereby shedding off the hyperpigmentation. The formula should also have skin brighteners like those ingredients that prevent pigmentation.
“Murad Invisiscar Resurfacing Treatment contains both! The beta hydroxy acid, salicylic acid, exfoliates to help clear old marks as well as prevent future breakouts. Centella asiatica (cica) decreases inflammation. Hydroxytyrosol and Vitamin C are antioxidants that lighten dark spots by directly and indirectly inhibiting tyrosinase activity which reduces the production of melanin. This serum also contains light diffusers and a “blurring powder” to improve the appearance of skin immediately. Use twice daily to improve the appearance of acne scars.” — Blair Murphy, MD
Alpha Beta® Universal Daily Peel
“True acne scarring is like a bad boyfriend—it needs attention from lots of different products and just when something seems to be working it can stop being as effective. I find that acne scarring does the best with a combination of procedures and skincare products, but two easily available products that can help are Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Daily Peel Pads and Differin Gel. These glycolic and salicylic acid-containing two-step peel pads are portable and help to exfoliate the skin. They can prevent future breakouts and help to lighten the dark spots that are often leftover even after you’ve kicked your acne. These are great for patients with active acne, dark spots, and dullness. Both of these can be irritating so starting slow and building up to two to four times a week (for the pads) or every other day to every day for Differin.” — Papri Sarkar, MD
Bliss Bright Idea Vitamin C + Tri-Peptide Collagen Protecting & Brightening Serum – 1 fl oz
“I consider vitamin C to be the gold standard when it comes to brightening and alleviating dark mark acne scars. Bliss Bright Idea Serum is an amazing formula with clinical-grade vitamin C (the most effective and non-irritating form of vitamin C) along with tri-peptide to fade dark marks, brighten and firm skin.” — Dendy Engelman, MD
Best for Acne-Prone Skin
SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF
“I also love SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF, which is rich in vitamin C and designed specifically for acne-prone skin.” — Dr. Engelman
Bio-Renew EGF Drops
“EGF (epidermal growth factor) is a game-changer for treating acne scars—both texture scars and dark marks. EGF triggers your cell’s receptors to produce more collagen (a function that naturally declines as we age) which helps fill in texture scars, making them disappear from the inside out. It also strengthens the skin barrier and evens out skin tone for healthier, better-looking skin overall. I recommend Glo Skin Beauty Bio-Renew EGF Drops, which contain 100 percent vegan EGF and a multi-peptide complex.” — Dr. Engelman
Gold Roll-CIT Microneedling Face Roller
“At-home micro-needling treatments can also help eliminate texture scars by creating micro-wounds that trigger controlled skin injury and healing. I recommend Environ Cosmetic Gold Roll-CIT.” — Dr. Engelman
Acne Treatment Gel
“Differin Gel an OTC retinoid, containing adapalene, is a great option as not only does it work to prevent breakouts, but it also treats acne and helps to improve scarring. It can [diminish] discoloration and textural changes that go along with acne scars by evening out the skin tone and boosting collagen production. [The gel] can be used once daily and it is often best to start just a few times per week and increase the frequency as tolerated. It can be used by all skin types and can be used while getting active breakouts and should continue to be used after breakouts subside to help reduce scarring and prevent new breakouts from forming.” — Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD
C E Ferulic
“I like skin brightening agents like glycolic acid cleanser, vitamin C, retinoids, and retinol that help target cellular turnover. For a cleanser, I like Glytone and for a serum try Skinceuticals C E Ferulic. This combination helps to lighten pigmented scars and helps smooth the skin texture. This combination is safe in all skin types.” — Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, MD
UV Clear Broad Spectrum SPF46 Facial Sunscreen
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“Sunscreen is a must especially for the red acne scars as this will help them fade more quickly. Elta MD Clear is mineral sunscreen, meaning it’s a physical blocker and reflects light off the skin. The particles are also nanoparticles meaning smaller than usual so they rub in clear rather than looking white on the skin like some other physical/mineral sunscreens.”— Caren Campbell, MD
Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
“The Ordinary Azelaic Acid 10% targets the brown spots and redness left behind from healing acne spots while also helping to clear whiteheads and blackheads. It works best for those who already have an acne regimen as an add-on treatment. [The treatment] helps post-inflammatory redness and hyperpigmentation resolve more quickly.” — Cindy Wassef, MD
Anthelios Ultra Light Face Sunscreen SPF 60
“Wearing an SPF like La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid every day will not only help prevent new discoloration, but keep your current scars from worsening over time.” — Anne Chapas, MD
CeraVe Hydrating Sunscreen Face Sheer Tint SPF 30
“Scarring and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation can darken with sun exposure and linger on the skin longer than needed. Therefore, a broad-spectrum sunscreen, most preferably a physical blocker like CeraVe Sun Protection SPF 30 Sunscreen Face Lotion, is strongly advised.” — Shereene Idriss, MD
Advanced Correcting Serum with IlluminotexTM
“The Visha Skincare Advanced Correcting Serum, which I formulated, contains retinol, vitamin C, vitamin E, ferulic acid, hyaluronic acid, and Illuminotex—a patented natural lightening agent tested to work equivalent to hydroquinone 4% – a prescription level dose. It works best for hyperpigmentation in all skin types and genders, and those that are still currently breaking out.” — Purvisha Patel, MD
“SkinCeuticals Purifying Cleanser encourages cell turnover without drying out the skin. The glycolic acid washes away dead skin cells on the top layer of the skin, leaving a very clean feel and improving acne blemishes.” — Y. Claire Chang, MD
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