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12 Treatments That Help Fade Even the Most Stubborn Acne Scars

The 11 Best Acne Scar Treatments in 2022

Let’s start with one thing: If you have acne or acne scars, that’s completely fine. It’s a myth that skin has to be smooth and clear to be glowy and beautiful. You don’t have to change anything about your skin (and we’re not going to tell you to, either!). That said, you’re allowed to want to avoid scarring, lift discoloration, and fade acne scars. No shame either way. If you’re interested in the latter, we can help.

It’s important to keep in mind that not all types of acne scars are the same, and treating them also requires different approaches. “Acne can leave multiple types of scars. These are generally categorized into acne blemishes, atrophic acne scars, and hypertrophic acne scars,” explains Dr. Y. Claire Chang, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist.

Acne blemishes are distinguished by a change in skin color; these can be either red marks or dark spots, the latter of which are referred to as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Atrophic scars, commonly referred to as ice pick scars, are caused due to a loss of collagen and elastin and show up as actual changes in the texture of the skin (think: crevices and pits). And finally, hypertrophic scars or keloids are caused by haphazard collagen production that occurs during the wound healing process and shows up as growths of excess skin.

No matter what type of scars you have, it’s worth seeing your dermatologist. Most people have multiple types of scarring, and, particularly for atrophic and hypertrophic scars, in-office treatments such as lasers and fillers are your best bet, Dr. Chang notes. That being said, there are effective at-home treatments you can seek out that are especially effective for those discolored acne scars and marks.

Below, the top acne scar treatments to try at home.

Murad InvisiScar Resurfacing Treatment

Courtesy of Sephora

Who else recommends it? Allure, ELLE, and Well+Good all picked the Murad InvisiScar Resurfacing Treatment.

What do buyers say? 600+ Sephora reviewers rated this product 4.1 stars or above.

While different types of acne scars typically require different types of treatment, this option by Murad touts ingredients that work to address all kinds. The formula, which includes a blend of silicones, antioxidants, and salicylic acid, is designed to fill in areas of uneven skin texture as well as help even out tone and brighten any dark marks or discoloration. Use it twice daily, dabbing on a thin layer wherever you have the most stubborn scarring.

Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid, silicones | Size: .5 oz | Dosage: Twice daily | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

roc retinol

According to Dr. Chang, in-office treatments are the gold standard for addressing deep, atrophic scars. That being said, using topical retinol can help stimulate collagen, a boon when it comes to treating this type of scarring. Enter this drugstore pick— which, according to the brand, has been clinically proven to reduce the look of fine lines and wrinkles in just 12 weeks. If you’re combatting the effects of adult acne and want an anti-aging boost as well, grab this one.

Active Ingredients: Retinol | Size: 1 oz | Dosage: Once daily | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream

Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel

Nordstrom

No matter whether your complexion is usually clear or you’re trying to combat active acne, using these pads (a long-time fan-favorite among beauty editors) can go a long way towards minimizing the likelihood of future scarring. The two-step system contains a potent blend of five different acids that helps keep pores clear and gently exfoliate away discoloration. Follow that with step two, a formula loaded with collagen-boosting retinol and antioxidant-rich resveratrol, which further evens out and smooths your complexion.

Active Ingredients: Alpha-hydroxy acids, beta-hydroxy acids | Size: 30 treatments | Dosage: Once daily | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

AlphaRet Overnight Cream

Courtesy of Chicago Skin Science.

Like we said, using a retinoid can be a great way to help promote collagen production and subsequently smoother, more even-textured skin. This one gets our vote for the addition of lactic acid; the formula is an effective-yet-gentle exfoliating solution that addresses discoloration. It also has plenty of moisturizing ingredients, which is ideal for counteracting the potential for dryness that can often come when using a retinoid. It’s also a top pick for Dr. Jeremy Fenton, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City: “It’s been formulated to be very tolerable even for more sensitive skin types,” he says, adding that retinoids are one of his favorite classes of ingredients for helping with acne scarring.

Active Ingredients: Retinoid, glycolic acid, lactic acid | Size: 1 oz | Dosage: Once daily | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment

Courtesy of Walmart

Sure, it may be called an acne treatment, but Fenton says it’s another great option for combating acne scars and dark marks. “Retinoids are one of the best exfoliators to help remove that pigment on the top layer, and they also help build collagen over time so you’re getting multiple benefits,” he says. “This is an over-the-counter retinoid that is as strong as many of the prescription-strength options,” he adds.

Active Ingredients: Adapalene | Size: .5 oz | Dosage: Once daily | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Ambi Skincare Fade Cream

Courtesy of Ambi

“Those with darker complexions may be more prone to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or brown blemishing after acne lesions heal,” says Dr. Chang. Enter this solution, which touts hydroquinone, a top spot fading ingredient (albeit a bit controversial). And it has a 2% concentration of hydroquinone at that—the maximum you can get over-the-counter. It’s a great choice for applying on wider areas of discolored scars, not to mention that it rings in at just a few dollars and contains vitamin E, too. FYI, skip it if you’re pregnant since hydroquinone isn’t recommended for use during pregnancy.

Active Ingredients: Hydroquinone | Size: 2 oz | Dosage: Once daily | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No

Naturium Tranexamic Topical Acid 5%

“This product contains several ingredients that have been shown to suppress the production of pigment in the melanocyte, the cells that produce the pigment,” says Fenton of another one of his picks. (More specifically, it touts tranexamic acid, kojic acid, niacinamide, and licorice root.) “This is an example of a product that the sooner you put on acne the better, as it can help stop the dark spots from forming at all,” he says.

Active Ingredients: Tranexamic acid, kojic acid, niacinamide, licorice root | Size: 1 oz | Dosage: Once daily | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Dermologica Age Bright Spot Fader

Talk about multi-tasking. This pick gives you plenty of bang for your buck, acting as a two-for-one that both helps clear existing breakouts while simultaneously warding off the appearance of new ones. Credit a trio of salicylic acid, niacinamide, and hexylresorcinol, all of which work synergistically to treat pimples and prevent the tell-tale post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation that can occur after the fact.

Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid, niacinamide, hexylresorcinol | Size: .5 oz | Dosage: Twice daily | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

EltaMD UV Physical Broad-Spectrum SPF 41

Sunscreen may not be the first thing you think of when you think of an acne scar treatment, but trust us, it’s essential. Sun damage will not only make any discolored spots darker, but it also breaks down collagen, which is the last thing you want if you’re dealing with scars that have caused uneven texture and roughness. The bottom line: When you’re trying to eliminate scars, your daily dose of SPF is more important than ever. Dr. Chang recommends this tinted option: “It has a smooth, sheer application and can cover up existing blemishes,” she says.

Active Ingredients: Zinc oxide, titanium dioxide | Size: 3 oz | Dosage: Once daily | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Biodermis Pro-Sil Silicone Scar Stick

If you’re already dealing with hypertrophic or keloid scars, you’ll most likely need to see a dermatologist for the most effective treatment. Still, Dr. Chang says that using silicone topically can help prevent these types of scars from forming in the first place. Enter this easy-to-use, mess-free stick which you can quickly swipe on as needed. It also works on all skin types and tones,

Active Ingredients: Silicones | Size: 4.25 grams | Dosage: Several times daily | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Unknown

Shari Darden

Just a few drops of this pricey pick (which just happens to contain the highest levels of antioxidants of any of the brand’s products) pack a major punch. The formula, made with zinc sulfate and vitamin C, tones down redness and helps brighten the skin. But the benefits don’t stop there; along with working well on both current breakouts and scars, it can also help with everything from rosacea to bug bites. Talk about getting good bang for your buck.

Active Ingredients: Kojic acid, arbutin, zinc sulfate | Size: 1 oz | Dosage: Once daily | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Topicals Faded Brightening & Clearing Serum

Sephora

As the name suggests, this potent gel-like serum helps fade the look of acne scars, dark spots and patches, and other pigmentation issues—but what we love most is that it can help fight existing breakouts, too. Tranexamic acid and niacinamide work together to fight discoloration and promote an overall more even tone, while azelaic acid helps to brighten and improve skin texture while taking care of any pesky blemishes. Plus, it has the clinical results to back it up: In a four-week study, 96% of participants found that their skin looked more even, while 84% said their dark spots were less visible.

Active Ingredients: Tranexamic acid, niacinamide, azelaic acid | Size: 1.7 oz | Dosage: Once weekly, then 2-3 times per week | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Final Verdict

Treating scars is a complex task and one that largely depends on the type of scar you’re trying to treat. The Murad InvisiScar Resurfacing Treatment is our overall favorite pick, a rare formula that contains ingredients that can both treat textural and tone changes in the skin. Retinoids are another ingredient dermatologists suggest looking for (not to mention ones that offer several other benefits). Try the RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream,  Differin Adapalene 0.1% Acne Treatment, or SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream, all great retinoid-based options.

What to Look For in an Acne Scar Treatment

Brightening ingredients

Since discoloration is one of the tell-tale signs of the post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation associated with acne scarring, look for proven brightening ingredients such as retinoids, tranexamic acid, azelaic acid, and vitamin C. (Though with the caveat that the more intense ingredients should be used with caution if you have sensitive skin, more on that point to come.)

FAQ
  • What types of products best address acne scars?

    This depends largely on the type of acne scar, says Fenton, who points out that no topical product is going to yield a large improvement for pitted acne scars. He says over-the-counter products are better able to help fade the discoloration associated with acne, citing exfoliating formulas that contain ingredients such as retinoids and glycolic acid, and brightening formulas that contain ingredients such as hydroquinone, tranexamic acid, and vitamin C as good choices.

  • Are there any ingredients to avoid in acne scar treatments?

    If you have sensitive skin, steer clear of the retinoids and/or hydroquinones of the world, because they can potentially irritate your skin, cautions Fenton. If you do want to try them, start slowly, using one just a few times per week to make sure you can tolerate it.

  • How long does it take to see results from acne scar treatments?

    According to Fenton, this timeline can vary greatly from person to person. “Some people see dark spots fade in weeks, for others it can take months, but I usually say that you can expect at least some improvement within one month,” he says.

  • How often should you use acne scar treatments?

    This depends on the type of treatment you are using.  Most are designed to be used daily, however, if it is something that can be drying or irritating, you may only want to use it a few times per week.  For example, if your skin cannot tolerate it, a retinoid may be better used only two to three times per week,” says Fenton.

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