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Here's the thing: If you have acne and/or acne scars—that is 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 tell you to, either). That said, you're allowed to want to avoid scarring and, if they bother you, you're allowed to want to 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.
While typically different types of acne scars will require different types of treatment, this option by Murad touts ingredients that work to address all kinds. A blend of silicones instantly fills in areas of uneven skin texture. Meanwhile, antioxidants and salicylic acid help even out tone and brighten any dark marks or discoloration. Use it twice daily, dabbing on a thin layer on wherever you have the most stubborn scarring.
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 help both keep pores clear and gently exfoliate away discoloration. Follow that with step two, a formula loaded with collagen-boosting retinol and antioxidant-rich resveratrol to further even out and smooth your complexion.
Panthenol is the provitamin—a precursor, or substance that the body can convert into a specific vitamin—for B5. It binds to and holds water effectively, moisturizing the skin and helping it maintain softness and elasticity.
Dr. Chang recommends this K-beauty staple, which uses four different centella asiatica-derived ingredients. Also known as tiger grass, centella asiatica is a plant-based ingredient that’s long been used for its effective wound healing and anti-inflammatory properties—both big pros when it comes to combating acne scars and helping to calm sensitive skin. Plus, it contains antioxidant-rich edelweiss extract and hydrating panthenol.
Another option that contains centella asiatica to calm inflamed skin and neutralize redness, Dr. Chang also likes this pick because it contains SPF 30, essential for helping to prevent any further skin discoloration or darkening. Don’t be freaked out by the green hue; it also works to immediately tone down redness, but quickly blends in with your skin tone.
According to Dr. Chang, in-office treatments are the gold standard for addressing deep, atrophic scars. That being said, using a topical retinoid can help stimulate collagen, a boon when it comes to treating this type of scarring. Enter this drugstore pick, which also has the added benefit of being 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.
Malic acid is a fruit-derived acid that’s naturally found in apples and pears. Like other AHAs, it exfoliates the top superficial layer of the skin, which in turn does everything from smooth out texture to fade discoloration to help unclog pores. Its molecule is larger than other acids and therefore gentler on the skin.
This powerful, non-clogging serum combines the brightening qualities of citric acid, malic acid, and lactic acid with the benefits of peptides that re-texturize and stimulate collagen production. The results? Skin that is supple and even in complexion. Comprised by board-certified dermatologist, Rose Ingleton, you can feel confident that this product will deliver up to the hype.
Breakouts can and do happen on the skin below your chin, which means that, you guessed it, so can the ensuing scars and marks. These pads are pre-soaked with a potent combo of 2% oil-dissolving salicylic acid (also great for knocking out any existing blemishes), along with 10% glycolic acid to fade discoloration. Not to mention that they’re super easy to swipe along your back, chest, or anywhere else you’re experiencing a body breakout.
“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. Dr. Chang also lauds this particular treatment for being non-comedogenic and containing soothing antioxidants.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient required for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of the body, including the skin, but we cannot produce it on our own. For the skin, it helps to boost collagen, lighten discoloration, and fight free radicals.
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. Anti-inflammatory zinc sulfate tones down redness, while vitamin C helps brighten. 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 a good bang for your buck.
A great choice for applying on wider areas of discolored scars, this easy-to-apply cream is another option that touts ultra-effective hydroquinone. Not to mention that it rings in at just a few dollars and contains nourishing vitamin E, too. FYI, skip it if you’re pregnant, since hydroquinone isn’t recommended for use during pregnancy.
This super fine paste is the holy grail of physical exfoliants. It sloughs away dead skin cells while also containing brightening ingredients like pumpkin enzymes and lemon powder. It also naturally fights acne and lightens the dark marks from old breakouts, resulting in clearer and smoother complexions.
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.
Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that works to exfoliate the skin. Its molecule is slightly larger than glycolic acid, meaning it works a bit slower and doesn't penetrate the skin's outermost layer as easily.
Like we said, using a retinoid can be a great way to help promote collagen production and subsequently smoother, more evenly-textured skin. (And score all of those proven anti-aging benefits as well.) This one gets our vote for the addition of lactic acid, an effective-yet-gentle exfoliating ingredient to address discoloration. It also has plenty of moisturizing ingredients, ideal for counteracting the potential for dryness that can often come when using a retinoid.
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, and works on all skin types and tones.
This rinse-off exfoliating treatment accelerates skin turnover so that you can get to clearer skin quicker. It's infused with glycolic acid to resurface, Vitamin C, licorice, and mulberry to brighten, and the anti-oxidizing powers of full spectrum CBD and adaptogenic mushrooms. Long story short, it gets the job done for brighter skin.
Whether or not you end up with acne scars is a result of several factors. Genetics play a role, and excess trauma also ups your likelihood of ending up with a scar; consider this yet another reason to adopt a hands-off approach and not pick or pop pimples.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. She frequently covers acne and acne treatments.
Dr. Y. Claire Chang is a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City. She has extensive experience in skin brightening treatments, including laser skin rejuvenation with an emphasis on treating pigmentation and acne scarring.