How to Get Rid of Acne Scars


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At the risk of upsetting dermatologists everywhere, any time a pimple appears on my face, I pop it. Does it feel good? Absolutely. Is it good for me? No, and I know this because picking at those pesky little breakouts usually leads to acne scars that take forever to disappear. Why?

“As acne lesions clear, they often leave behind dark spots as a result of inflammation, which promotes increased pigment production, explains Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. “These dark spots can last for several months and are often more bothersome than the acne itself.”

But hope is not lost, especially when there’s a barrage of dermatologist-endorsed cleansers, serums, and treatments that reduce the appearance of scars and brighten your complexion over time. I polled a few skincare experts to figure out what products help to treat and prevent acne scars. And remember, just say no to picking and popping.

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1

The Best Cleansers For Stubborn Marks

Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser

Stubborn marks call for a powerful cleanser. “If you have acne, consider using a cleanser that contains salicylic acid,” says Dr. Zeichner. “Aveeno’s Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser delivers salicylic acid the skin without causing excessive dryness and helps remove excess oil and exfoliate dead cells from the surface of the skin to keep the pores clear.”

2

The Best Cleansers For Stubborn Marks

Purifying Cleanser

Refinity Skin Science
dermstore.com

$35.00

Dr. Y. Claire Chang, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at NYC’s Union Square Laser Dermatology, recommends SkinCeuticals’ Purifying Cleanser, which “encourages cell turnover without drying out the skin.” Plus, it’s formulated with glycolic acid “to wash away dead skin cells on the top layer of the skin, leaving a very clean feel and improving acne blemishing.” 

3

The Best Treatments for Stubborn Marks

Peter Thomas Roth Max Complexion Correction Pads

Peter Thomas Roth
ulta.com

$46.00

Salicylic acid and glycolic acid are the essential ingredients in these exfoliating pads. ” Salicylic acid works to treat current pimples and existing scars, by increasing skin-cell turnover and declogging pores,” says Dr. Change. ” Glycolic acid chemically exfoliates the skin to even skin tone and decrease blemishes.”

4

The Best Treatments for Stubborn Marks

AGE Bright Spot Fader

Dermalogica
sephora.com

$45.00

Dermalogica’s Age Bright Spot Fader is a multi-purpose treatment for acne. “Ideal for adults that are concerned about post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from breakouts, this two-in-one brightening spot treatment reduces the appearance of active breakouts and post-breakout marks,” explains Heather Hickman, the Senior Director of Education at Dermalogica. 

5

The Best Treatments for Stubborn Dark Spots

Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant

Dermalogica
ulta.com

$59.00

Dermalogica’s Microexfoliant is a best-seller for a reason. Hickman explains that it’s cult status is due to its “unique rice-based powder with papain and salicylic acid that exfoliates dull skin, and a botanical brightening complex with licorice and grapefruit that instantly leaves skin noticeably smoother and brighter.”

6

The Best Treatments for Stubborn Marks

Retinol Intense+

Chantecaille
nordstrom.com

$140.00

Don’t let the word “intense” listed on the front scare you away. While Chantecaille’s serum is formulated with a good amount of retinol, it also comes packed with vitamin C and green decaffeinated coffee to tackle hyperpigmentation head-on.

7

The Best Serums for Stubborn Dark Spots

Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum

“Topical treatments that contain retinoids, hydroquinone, and azelaic acid have all been proven to dramatically lighten dark marks,” says Dr. Chang. “The Murad Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum pairs hydroquinone with vitamin C and glycolic acid, two dark mark-fighting ingredients. Glycolic acid helps improve existing brown spots by increasing skin-cell turnover and chemically exfoliating the skin; vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can brighten the skin.”

8

The Best Serums for Stubborn Dark Spots

Vitamin C Serum

Lightbulb
ghostdemocracy.com

$34.00

To help fade dark spots faster, Dr. Z suggests reaching for Ghost Democracy’s Lightbulb Vitamin C serum that provides a strong dose of vitamin C to bring you one step closer to clear skin. 

9

The Best Spot Corrector for Stubborn Marks

Rapid Tone Repair Dark Spot Corrector

Neutrogena
ulta.com

$22.99

Packed with a high concentration of vitamin C and retinol, this dark spot corrector aims to instantly penetrate into the skin to brighten and fade dark marks. 

10

The Best Sunscreens for Prevention

La Roche Posay Anthelios 60 Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid

La Roche Posay
dermstore.com

$28.51

“Wearing SPF every day will not only help prevent new discoloration, but keep your current scars from worsening over time,” says Dr. Anne Chapas. 

11

The Best Sunscreens for Prevention

CeraVe Sun Protection, SPF 30 Sunscreen Face Lotion

Too much sun exposure can darken the spots even more, so sunscreen will be your best friend. “Scarring and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation can darken with sun exposure and linger on the skin longer than needed,” Dr. Idriss adds. “Therefore, a broad spectrum sunscreen, most preferably a physical blocker, is strongly advised.”

12

The Best Sunscreens for Prevention

Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion with SPF 60

Neutrogena
walmart.com

$32.99

What’s not to love about this Neutrogena classic? It has SPF 60 (more protection for your skin), leaves no residue, works wonders for sensitive skin, and costs as much as a fresh-pressed green juice. 

13

The Best Sunscreens for Prevention

SkinCeuticals Protect Ultra Facial Defense SPF 50 Plus

SkinCeuticals
amazon.com

$52.86

Stop premature aging right in its tracks with the proper sun protection. SkinCeuticals Protect Ultra Facial Defense sunscreen is a lightweight, moisturizing cream perfect for the sweltering summer heat and brisk winter air. 

14

The Best Moisturizer for Prevention

Pond’s Clarant B3 Even Skin Tone Daily Facial Moisturizer with SPF 30 Sunscreen 1.7oz

This daily moisturizer delivers soft, supple skin for a more vibrant glow. It’s also packed with SPF 30 to prevent further discoloration from occurring. 

15

The Best Mask for Prevention

Neutrogena Rapid Clear Benzoyl Peroxide Leave-on Acne Face Mask

Neutrogena
walmart.com

$7.47

Spot-treating is a great preventative method for acne but Dr.  Zeichner suggests treating the entire face to avoid any future breakouts with Neutrogena’s Rapid Benzoyl Peroxide Leave-On Mask. 

16

The Best Serums for Brightening

Truth Serum

OLEHENRIKSEN
sephora.com

$50.00

When scouring the aisles for acne treatments, Dr. Idriss suggests looking for “brightening agents such as kojic acid, niacin, vitamin C, licorice root extract that help reduce the effects of pigmentation.”

17

The Best Serums for Brightening

Rapid D Tone Correcting Serum

Nia 24
dermstore.com

$57.40

Perfect for those melasma, Nia 24’s serum helps to diminish the appearance of brown marks and stimulates collagen production.

18

The Best Serums for Brightening

Post-Acne Spot Lightening Gel

Murad’s Post-Acne treatment is powered with hydoquinone, “a powerful skin-lightening ingredient used to reduce post-acne discoloration and dark spots,” explains Dr. Sperling . The gel also mixes in tea tree oil, which is known for treating everything from cuts and bites to soothing irritated skin. 

19

The Best Serums for Brightening

C E Ferulic

SkinCeuticals
dermstore.com

$107.89

“While a bit on the pricier side, SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic is a combination of  vitamin C, vitamin E, and ferulic acid,” Dr. Sperling explains. “This powerful blend of antioxidants is great for brightening the skin’s complexion and for treating dark spots and scarring.”

20

The Best Treatments for Brightening

Alpha Beta® Universal Daily Peel

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare
sephora.com

$17.00

My morning beauty routine begins with Dr. Dennis Gross’ Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel. Despite its name, your skin doesn’t actually peel but both pads work hard to even out skin tone, smooth the skin’s texture, brighten, and reverse damage without, well, damaging the skin.

21

The Best Treatments for Brightening

The Complete GLO, GloPRO® + Pack N’ Glo Microneedling Regeneration Set

BeautyBio
neimanmarcus.com

$329.00

This at-home microneedling treatment comes with a range of attachment heads that treat your face, lips, under eyes and body. Wrinkle, who? 

22

The Best Treatments for Brightening

Espada Blue Light Acne Treatment

Foreo
sephora.com

$149.00

Turn your bathroom into your own personal spa with Foreo’s Blue Light acne treatment. The blue light zap acne directly at the root and gets deep beneath the skin’s surface to prevent future breakouts.

23

The Best Treatments for Brightening

SpectraLite FaceWare Pro

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare
dermstore.com

$435.00

The price might cause you to turn away but it’s worth coughing up a few pennies. This mask kills bacteria that causes acne by using red and blue LED lights. The red light encourages natural production of collagen to target wrinkles and sun damage, while the blue light zaps bacteria to stop future breakouts.

24

Microneedling

Microneedling is another in-office service that helps to break up scarring and fade dark marks over time. Here is a comprehensive guide.

25

Chemical Peels

Chemical peels are known for balancing out your complexion and improving the skin’s texture. Dr. Idriss advises booking a chemical peel, in addition to your at-home treatments (though you should always consult with your derm first) because “exfoliating with chemical peels can help the aforementioned products penetrate better and work more effectively.”

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