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This just in: skin has texture.
We know this may come as a shock, thanks to the filtered world we find ourselves scrolling through.
If you’ve experienced acne, you know it usually leaves you with ghosts of pimples past — aka acne scars. For some, acne scars are nothing to shrug a shoulder at, but others may prefer to forget the pimples once popped. If that sounds like you, you may want to peep these celebrated (and vetted) products we sorted for you.
We spoke with a couple of board-certified derms, organized the best products into some helpful categories (including different skin types), and we kept different budgets in mind, too. Keep reading to see our list and learn more about dealing with acne scars.
Best acne scar treatments
- Best overall: Murad Invisiscar Resurfacing Treatment
- Best for red acne scars: EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46
- Best drugstore: Neutrogena Rapid Clear 2-in-1 Fight & Fade Toner
- Best for dark spots: Dermologica Age Bright Spot Fader
- Best for deep acne scars: Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment
- Best for sensitive skin: SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream
- Best natural: The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil
- Best for men: Brickell Clearing Scar Cream for Men
- Best overnight treatment: Allies of Skin Mandelic Pigmentation Corrector Night Serum
- Best serum: RoC RETINOL CORREXION Line Smoothing Night Serum Capsules
- Best vitamin C serum: Skinceuticals C E Ferulic
- Best for uneven texture: Skinceuticals Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight
- Best toner: Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
- Best treatment pads: Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
For our badass roster of acne scar products, we got advice from Dr. Alan J. Parks, a board-certified dermatologist in Columbus, Ohio, and Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, a board-certified dermatologist in NYC.
We chatted about acne scars in general, how to identify the type of scar you’re working with, and OFC we asked for their over-the-counter (OTC) product recommendations too (don’t worry, they’re not affiliated with these picks — just true fans).
We looked at skin types, scar types, active ingredients, product reviews, and brand reputations. We get into the nuts and bolts of it all later, so stay tuned for those details. Overall, we prioritized products with these ingredients (thanks to the direction from our derms):
|Ingredient||What it does|
|Retinol||This beloved skin care ingredient (a type of vitamin A) is known for big benefits, including smoothing scars, speeding up cell regeneration, and improving skin texture. Plus, according to a 2017 review, retinoids (the stronger and often prescription version of retinol) can also help lessen discoloration, making the look of scars less visible.|
|Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA)||These acids are magical exfoliants that clear away dead skin, revealing brighter skin and improved texture. There are a lot of them, but two faves include lactic acid (effective at improving hyperpigmentation and rough skin) and glycolic acid (proven to not only repair acne scars and reduce acne-related inflammation, but also fight acne itself).|
|Beta hydroxy acids (BHA)||Similar to AHAs — but they go a little deeper into your skin, making them especially good at treating acne. Salicylic acid is the most famous one and she’s pretty dang good at reducing post-acne hyperpigmentation.|
|Hyaluronic acid||This popular hydrating ingredient can do a lot of good things for your skin, but it’s also a fab ingredient for regenerating skin and stimulating collagen production. HA can also be injected directly into deeper acne scars by your derm.|
|Vitamin C||You know you love it in your morning OJ, but did you know that in skin care, vitamin C can help with a slew of skin troubles like sun damage, fine lines, under-eye bags and acne scars?|
|Niacinamide||Another celebrated acne-reducing ingredient, this one loves to help out with hyperpigmentation. A 2010 study of 101 women found that those who applied moisturizers that included niacinamide for 10 weeks saw better declines in hyperpigmentation compared to others who didn’t use niacinamide products.|
Keep in mind that for deeper scars, your derm can chat with you about more intense treatment options, like chemical peels, laser skin resurfacing, microdermabrasion, microneedling, hyaluronic acid injections, and more.
- $ = under $15
- $$ = $30–$90
- $$$ = over $100
Best overall acne scar treatment
- Price: $$
- Standout ingredients: salicylic acid, vitamin C, tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E)
- Size: 0.5-ounce (oz.) bottle
- Pros: works well for many skin types
- Cons: may not be good for sensitive skin, has to be applied twice daily
Recommended by Parks, this pick has been clinically proven to shrink the appearance of scar size, depth, texture, and discoloration in 8 weeks. The company says this resurfacing cream can work on both new and old scars. It’s also supposed to work for anyyy skin type.
It contains two of our fave scar-reducing ingredients salicylic acid and vitamin C, but it also has vitamin E, which helps protect your skin from UV damage — a MUST if you’re trying to prevent scars from sticking around forever.
A hefty number of reviewers tout this baby as a miracle worker — namely with smoothing scars and reducing hyperpigmentation — saying they saw real improvement quickly, even though they feel the bottle is too small for the price point. It’s worth pointing out that one reviewer with black, sensitive skin says this product did not work for them and made them break out (it has fragrance, which can cause issues for sensitive skin).
This pick is also vegan, gluten-free, cruelty-free, and made without formaldehyde, phthalates, mineral oil, oxybenzone, and sulfates.
I LOVE THIS STUFF!
Because this lovely formula contains salicylic acid, I use it as my acne spot treatment too (even tho Murad doesn’t advertise it for that purpose). And it really works.
I slather this stuff on at the first sign of a pimple and I’ve noticed it reduce the lifetime of each breakout. The best (and most satisfying) part is that after the pimple flattens, this stuff helps peel the skin right off, revealing brighter and spot-free skin.
I would recommend using this stuff super sparingly. It can be tempting to put it alll over your face (or even a large radius around the actual pimple), but that’ll cause uncomfy peeling on surrounding skin that doesn’t really need it. Try to pinpoint application to JUST the pimple.
-Ruby Thompson, Market Editor
Best red acne scar treatment
- Price: $$
- Standout ingredients: niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E), and lactic acid
- Size: 1.7-oz bottle
- Pros: effective, serves multiple purposes
- Cons: kind of pricey
There’s a slew of reasons for that, but in this case, it matters because SPF can stop your scars from getting any darker, making them harder to get rid of altogether.
This lightweight sunscreen by EltaMD is a big hit with reviewers. The formula includes niacinamide, which is bomb at calming, soothing, and improving discoloration — and yes, that includes redness. It also has lactic acid to help exfoliate your skin and hyaluronic acid to keep things hydrated.
Best drugstore acne scar treatment
- Price: $
- Standout ingredients: salicylic acid and glycolic acid
- Size: 8-oz bottle
- Pros: affordable, contains AHAs and BHAs
- Cons: contains alcohol and fragrance
If you’re looking for an affordable treatment to help nix acne and fade marks, this one might do the trick.
To be fair, it does contain a couple of inactive ingredients we don’t love: alcohol (can be too drying) and fragrance (not great for those with sensitive skin) — so keep that in mind. But it also has salicylic acid *and* glycolic acid, which is an amazing combo for saying byeee to acne and exfoliating away dead skin cells.
Reviewers are really blown away with this pick, saying how impressed they are with its fading power and its ability to fight current acne too. But reviewers with sensitive skin really feel the heat.
Best for acne scars and dark spots
- Price: $$
- Standout ingredients: salicylic acid, niacinamide, malic acid, tocopherol (vitamin E), hexylresorcinol, glycerin
- Size: 0.5-oz tube
- Pros: works on signs of aging
- Cons: not for all scar types
It also contains hexylresorcinol, which has a proven track record for lightening dark spots and reducing hyperpigmentation, and hella hydrating glycerin to put the cherry on top.
If you’re looking for treatment for types of acne scarring aside from dark spots (like deep scars), you may want to keep looking though — this one really focuses on getting rid of dark spots.
It’s also cruelty-free and supposed to be a good choice for oily, combo, and normal skin types.
Best deep acne scar treatment
- Price: $$
- Standout ingredients: adapalene 0.1%
- Size: 1.6-oz tube
- Pros: budget-friendly, previously prescription-only
- Cons: not as effective as prescription options
Adapalene is an FDA-approved OTC retinoid — the big daddy version of retinol — that’s pretty fricken good at treating acne (hence the FDA approval). And studies show that pairing this ingredient with benzoyl peroxide can effectively reduce atrophic (deep) acne scars.
The only way to get adapalene and benzoyl peroxide together is with a prescription, but you can easily pair Differin with an OTC benzoyl peroxide like this one for similar effects.
Just remember that the version of adapalene you can get on Amazon isn’t as strong as the prescription version (0.01% vs. 0.03%), so it might take longer to see results.
Another a heads up — some people might see a “purge” period with an acne treatment like this, meaning acne might get worse before it gets better. But this one gets serious hype for a good reason, so it could be totally worth it.
If you’re interested in getting a stronger version of adapalene, check out telehealth services like Nurx.
Best acne scar treatment for sensitive skin
- Price: $$$
- Standout ingredients: niacinamide, lactic acid, glycolic acid, glycerin, squalane, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, panthenol (vitamin B5), bisabolol, tocopherol (vitamin E), green tea extract
- Size: 1-oz bottle
- Pros: gentle, yet effective
- Cons: pricey
This pricey pal of ours promises to work on boosting skin tone and texture with little-to-no irritation. It’s got alll kinds of ingredients to make this happen, so let’s dive in.
It uses glycolic and lactic acids, which means double duty exfoliation to target discoloration. (Psst… they work on lines and wrinkles too). But wait … double duty exfoliation doesn’t sound gentle??
Well it also contains three super soothers: panthenol (aka vitamin B5), bisabolol, and green tea extract:
- Panthenol prevents skin irritation and restores your skin barrier.
- Bisabolol is one of the active parts of chamomile known for its anti-inflammatory magic.
- Green tea extract is a potent antioxidant that soothes inflammation.
The formula also has a solid lineup of moisturizers (ceramides, squalane, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid) which all help battle any dryness that may pop up after use.
This one is also paraben-free, fragrance-free, dye-free, and cruelty-free.
Best natural acne scar treatment
- Price: $
- Standout ingredients: rosehip seed oil
- Size: 1-oz bottle
- Pros: natural source of vitamin C, affordable
- Cons: not great for sensitive skin
Guess what? Rosehip oil is a natural source of a mighty antioxidant that helps with hyperpigmentation and collagen production… we call her (drum roll please): vitamin C. So, if you’re one with nature and truly prefer a natural source of something like vitamin C for addressing your acne scars, you might be happy with this pick.
This budget-friendly option by The Ordinary is vegan, cruelty-free, and also free of:
- mineral oil
Reviewers are overall obsessed, although some point to a natural smell you might not love (although one reviewer mentions it fades quickly).
An important heads up: Those with skin sensitivity and allergies are less likely to vibe with rosehip oil, so a patch test is very much recommended here.
Best men’s acne scar treatment
- Price: $$
- Standout ingredients: tea tree oil, sodium ascorbyl phosphate (vitamin C), rosehip oil, aloe, panthenol (vitamin B5)
- Size: 2-oz container
- Pros: big container
- Cons: might be drying for some
So, we don’t necessarily think acne scars have a gender, but if products that say “for men” on them are your thing, then we’ve got you covered. This scar cream is marketed toward men, but it should work just fine for all skin types.
This cream doubles up on vitamin C thanks to sodium ascorbyl phosphate (a gentler form of vitamin C) *and* rosehip oil, which visibly reduces acne scars and spots from sun damage or any other skin abrasions. Tea tree essential oil also joins the party, which can help keep new breakouts from forming.
Reviewers (although there are only about 100 of them RN) are overall happy campers, saying they’ve noticed smoother-looking scars and reduced acne. Although one says the formula is too drying for their skin type.
Best overnight acne scar treatment
- Price: $$
- Standout ingredients: mandelic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, bakuchiol, and peptides
- Size: 1-oz bottle
- Pros: loaded with all the right ingredients
- Cons: pricey
Parks recommends this overnight serum, highlighting the formula’s all-star ingredient lineup. This pick, according to Parks, treats stubborn stuff like enlarged pores, melasma, blackheads, hyperpigmentation, breakouts, and uneven texture.
That’s thanks to *two* AHAs (mandelic and lactic acids) partnering up with salicylic acid and niacinamide to clear acne and wipe away dead skin cells. Another cool addition is bakuchiol, which is an all-natural ingredient that has the exact same benefits of retinol (like improving fine lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, and UV-induced damage) without the drawbacks of it (like being harsh on the skin).
Reviewers are overall happy, noticing a nice result with hyperpigmentation, while others say they didn’t notice it working for them.
Best retinol acne treatment
- Price: $$
- Standout ingredients: retinol, ceramides
- Size: 30 capsules per 0.35-oz jar
- Pros: anti-aging benefits, relatively inexpensive
- Cons: only gives you a 30-day supply
OMG how fun. These little capsules are filled with a nighttime retinol serum. Capsules are cool because they’re already exactly measured out for you — no slathering on too much or too little of your product.
Thanks to retinol, these capsules go to work on fine lines and wrinkles — but they also address acne and acne scars, since that’s what retinol is famous for doing, after all. The addition of ceramides gives you a boost of hydration.
These are also noncomedogenic (won’t clog your pores) and fragrance-free.
Best vitamin C acne scar treatment
- Price: $$$
- Standout ingredients: L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C), tocopherol (vitamin E), ferulic acid, glycerin
- Size: 1-oz bottle
- Pros: good for sensitive skin types
- Cons: pricey
Recommended by Frank, this high end (and we know, it’s costly) vitamin C serum is the one if you’re looking to lighten up brown spots while also hoping to brighten up all over (because that’s what vitamin C lives for).
It’s a super high quality formula that works well for dry, normal, combo, and sensitive skin types.
It’s made with 15 percent pure vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid), 1 percent vitamin E, and 0.5 percent ferulic acid, a combo that’s proven to boost protection from environmental damage caused by free radicals (the stuff known for bringing on early signs of aging). This combo also helps keep the formula stable, since vitamin C is pretty infamous for oxidizing and losing its power.
Most reviewers say it’s worth the hype, with one calling it the holy grail and a smaller number of reviewers saying they didn’t see a difference in their skin.
The brand says that once this serum is absorbed, it stays working for a minimum of 72 hours (we can’t relate).
Best acne scar treatment for uneven texture
- Price: $$
- Standout ingredients: glycolic acid, salicylic acid, tocopherol (vitamin E)
- Size: 1.7-oz bottle
- Pros: good for rough texture
- Cons: pricey
This is a good option for people just starting out on their acne scar healing journey — but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective AF.
It’s a pretty simple formula, too. It contains 10 percent glycolic acid, which makes it *the one* if you’re looking to smooth up rough skin, visibly reduce large pores, and zap away dark spots. The brand says it’s good for dry, normal, oily, and combo skin types. It’s also free of dyes and fragrances, which we appreciate.
Best liquid acne scar treatment
- Price: $$
- Standout ingredients: salicylic acid, green tea
- Size: 4-oz bottle
- Pros: simple formula, effective
- Cons: liquid products don’t last as long
Frank also recommends this liquid exfoliant and with such impressive reviews, we can see why.
This one from Paula’s Choice is formulated to help clear and shrink enlarged pores, smooth wrinkles, and overall brighten up and even out skin tone. It contains salicylic acid to clear up acne and exfoliate and green tea to help calm any inflammation. And because it’s a toner, it’s super lightweight and absorbs quickly.
The only issue is that some people feel like they’re wasting a lot of product when applying, since a lot of the liquid gets absorbed into whatever you use to apply it.
Best acne scar treatment pads
- Price: $$$
- Standout ingredients: glycolic acid, citric acid, lactic acid, malic acid, salicylic acid, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), retinol, tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E), glycerin
- Size: 30 treatments per container
- Pros: easy application
- Cons: not great for sensitive skin types, pricey
Cruelty-free and pumping with AHAs and salicylic acid, these little pads go to town on dull, uneven skin texture annnnd work toward preventing the chances of future scarring.
The formula contains a mix of five different acids for clearing out those pores while gently exfoliating. It’s also a baddie when it comes to reducing sings of aging like dark circles, fine lines, and wrinkles.
These pads are a two-step deal: the first step is where you get hit with the five acids. The second is where you get a dose of retinol, moisturizing ingredients, and antioxidants.
Basically, these things go pretty hard. They’re a hit with reviewers, but it looks like they’re a bit too intense for sensitive skin types.
OK, so how on earth do you make a choice between one scar treatment and another?! We got you.
Go easy, tiger
Parks says to look for products that don’t contain too many active ingredients. “You’ll want a product that focuses on whatever ingredient you’re looking for, like a retinol cream or salicylic acid cleanser.”
He also says to avoid harsh scrubs and highly concentrated products when you’re first starting out to give your skin some time to adjust.
Figure out what kind of acne scars you have
Frank says the color and age of your scars come into play too. So it’s important to figure out the type of acne scars you’re working with and your skin type.
Parks gave us a crash course in acne scar types. Here’s what you need to know:
These are flat, shallow “depressions” that sit beneath the surrounding skin. This type heals below the top layer of skin. These guys are usually thanks to severe cystic acne.
Glycolic acid and salicylic acid are your go-to ingredients here, Parks says, because they help to renew the top layer of skin quicker for fresh, smooth skin.
Usually pretty wide, these box-like depressions typically have some sharply defined edges. Widespread acne all over the face is usually the culprit. These can be difficult to heal, Parks says, and may require treatment from your dermatologist.
Buuuuut the good news here, according to Parks, is that most superficial boxcar scars might see relief from ingredients like retinol and salicylic acid.
Ice pick scars
Here we have smaller, narrower indentations that point down into the skin’s surface, usually posted up on our cheeks (the ones on your face, ppl).
Unfortunately, Parks explains, this type of scar won’t heal with topical ingredients, so you should talk with your dermatologist about treatments for these scars if you can.
These ones look like slightly raised bumps on the skin. Parks say they happen when your body tries to heal the pimple after inflammation, but it produces too many cells that cause this bumpy mound.
For keloids, he says to look for ingredients like retinol to renew and heal the skin.
This happens when skin is damaged by severe acne, or if you’ve picked at your acne (we know it’s tough to resist). But again, in all cases, Parks says your skin will return to its natural color over time with proper sun protection.
The most important product here then? Sunscreen, to avoid further pigmentation and damage to the skin. You’ll also want to look for ingredients like vitamin C and retinol.
Skin types and sensitivities
Parks reminds us that any skin type can have acne scars — but typically it’s oily or combination skin that sees the most breakouts.
“This means that you can likely use stronger active ingredients without irritating your skin, like retinol or chemical exfoliants,” he says.
If you know you have more sensitive skin, if you’ve had a skin procedure recently, or your skin feels irritated or inflamed by any treatment, Parks says stop what you’re using and reconsider your skin care routine.
“Ingredients like retinol, hydroquinone, and chemical exfoliants can be irritating for sensitive skin, so it may be worth starting them in small concentrations once or twice a week, or talking with your derm about other treatment options.”
While previously available over-the-counter (OTC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changed the status of hydroquinone in 2021 and it is now only available as a prescription.
Here’s the need-to-know for when and how to best use acne scar treatments.
When to apply treatments
Frank says that most of the active ingredients used to treat acne scars cause sun sensitivity, which can make scars worse. That means it’s best to apply them at night: “Use a thin layer, starting every other night, and increase with tolerance,” he says.
In terms of when to use them in your skin care routine, Frank says active ingredients should always be put on first, after cleansing and always followed by a moisturizer. (But again, if you have particularly sensitive skin, you can also put acne scar treatments on after your moisturizer.)
But when to apply treatments also depends on the type of product you’re using:
- Stand alone acne scar treatments. “A stand-alone acne treatment is best applied as a serum step, meaning that it should be applied after cleanser and toner and before moisturizer and oils,” Parks tells us.
- Moisturizers. If you’re using an all-over moisturizer that has scar-fighting active ingredients, he says to apply after any serums and before any oils.
Frank also suggests cleansing your face the next morning to get rid of any residual product before being exposed to sunlight. And remember to use SPF, friends!
Ingredients to avoid
“Be careful about mixing your ingredients,” Parks adds. “You want to steer away from using AHAs or BHAs in the same night as retinol to prevent your skin from getting irritated.”
Another heads up: Vitamin C is basically rendered ineffective if you use AHAs, BHAs, or niacinamide at the same time. Bummer. As a solve, try using vitamin C in the morning with SPF and keep AHAs, BHAs, and niacinamide for your nighttime routine.
Patch test, pls (!!!)
Speaking of irritation, it’s sooo crucial you perform a patch test before going ham with any new-to-you product. It’s easy peasy, just squirt a little of the product on the back of your wrist and wait.
Do you see any signs of redness or irritation? You’re looking for signs that this product isn’t trying to eff you up. This is not only helpful for avoiding allergic reactions, but it’s a good test if you have skin sensitivities too.
Are there any home remedies for acne scars?
Parks tells us that more intense, deeper scars can be tough to remedy at home. But for hyperpigmentation, he says you can try things like rosehip seed oil and aloe vera to help heal the skin, but this isn’t guaranteed to help.
Frank warns that some at-home devices like self-microneedling kits can cause more problems than they solve and even cause infections. So, if you want to get your microneedle on, get a pro to do it, hun.
When should I see a doc about acne scars?
According to Parks, if you’re struggling with severe or cystic acne, see your derm as soon as you can. He says this may be able to help you find solutions for acne and prevent scars in the future. “You can see your doc at any point,” he says, “but see them if your skin is especially irritated or inflamed.”
How do acne scars form?
Parks explains that when your pores become clogged with dirt, excess oil, dead skin, and bacteria, it creates a pimple. These guys become more and more inflamed (sometimes thanks to you picking your face), which causes a break in the follicle wall.
Shallow scars, he says, will usually fade after some time, but they may leave a discolored mark in the meantime. “For pimples that occur deeper in the skin, like cystic acne, the bacteria within the pore can spread into surrounding areas when the pimple is inflamed, leading to deeper scars that are more difficult to get rid of,” he says.
Can I prevent acne scars?
Frank tells us the best way to prevent acne scars is to prevent acne altogether. “Whether you’re using topicals or oral antibiotics, it’s important to prevent acne altogether, as people scar and heal differently. Also, do not pick or squeeze active acne lesions.” Got it? Good.
If you choose to test out some OTC products for your acne scars, there are plenty of options.
Be sure to do a patch test before you spread it all over your face, and remember to keep your scar and skin type in mind when you’re shopping, looking for active ingredients that jibe well with your face.
The best way to prevent scarring is by treating acne as soon as you can. If one is available to you, talk with a derm about the best options for you.
Our process and why you should trust us
We consulted with two dermatologists to get tips for choosing the best acne scar treatments for different skin types and concerns. We used those tips to pick the products above.
Before writing about those products, we put them all through a thorough vetting process that checks for unsupported health claims (like “This acne scar treatment gets rid of scars in one use!”), shady business practices, and lawsuits concerning a company’s products. We also checked that the main ingredients in each product are evidence-based and actually do what the company says they do.
After wrapping up our recommendations and tips, we sent this entire article to a third medical professional specializing in dermatology (in this case, Cynthia Cobb, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC, FAANP) for review.
So basically, you can feel good knowing that we put in WORK to get you these recommendations.