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.
Best Overall: 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
Best Budget: RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream
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
Best Preventative: Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
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
Best Retinoid: SkinBetter AlphaRet Overnight Cream 30ml
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
Runner-Up, Best Retinoid: 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
Best for Dark Skin: Ambi Fade Cream for Normal Skin
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
Best for Dark Spots: 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