When you’re dealing with a stubborn scar after your zit heals, your best bet is acne scar treatment. Post-acne dark spots and hyperpigmentation are, for the most part, out of your control, thanks to your genetics (and oftentimes, the sun). But, that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with them forever. While seeking treatment from a dermatologist will ensure a custom regimen for your skin, over-the-counter acne scar treatments can be just as effective as long as you know where to start.
To help you figure out what causes acne scars and the best acne scar treatments, we tapped Onyeka Obioha, MD, a board-certified dermatologist.
What causes acne scars
“Acne scars are a result of the injury the acne lesion created on the skin,” explains Dr. Obioha. The inflammation from the acne causes a loss of collagen in the skin, which results in scarring that’s characterized by depressions or pits in the skin, she adds. For people with melanin-rich skin, the inflammation can also trigger pigment production, causing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and for those with lighter complexions, it can result in residual redness and red acne scars.
How to treat acne scars
In order to treat acne scars, Dr. Obioha says you first have to treat any active breakouts and then prevent scarring with “effective skin care.”
Topical retinoids can help control future breakouts, in addition to stimulating collagen production to smooth the surface of your skin, says Dr. Obioha. Additionally, she recommends using antioxidants such as vitamin C to support the overall health and vibrancy of your skin. “Exfoliating AHA/BHA cleansers are also helpful,” she says.
In addition to using these products, Dr. Obioha recommends working with a dermatologist who understands your skin and can create a routine for you to follow that focuses on treating your particular type of scarring. You can also try treatments such as microneedling, laser resurfacing, and chemical peels to get rid of your acne scars, but make sure to speak to a dermatologist or esthetician first.
The best acne scar treatments
Shop below for the most effective acne scar treatments by type.
Best drugstore acne scar treatment
This is one of the best acne and acne scar treatments you can get your hands on, and you don’t have to worry about spending your entire paycheck on it. This gel helps prevent breakouts before they happen (it gets deep into your pores) and also prevents new acne from forming. Differin also promotes skin cell turnover which is a fancy way of saying it helps remove dead skin, in addition to reducing and preventing your risk of scarring and hyperpigmentation due to being formulated with adapalene, a retinoid-like compound.
Add this scar treatment to your evening routine if one of your skin-care goals is to get rid of acne scars for good. The retinol helps exfoliate your skin, which, as a result, helps get rid of post-acne marks, in addition to evening out the texture and tone of your skin.
This dark spot corrector helps renew your skin, brightening your skin tone, and reduces and prevents dark spots. This is another great dark spot corrector that uses retinol to reduce discoloration. It also helps combat fine lines and dullness.
The best acne scar creams
Acne scars won’t stand a chance if you’re using Topicals. We know it has serum in its name, but it looks and feels like a cream (in the best way possible), and most importantly, will reduce acne scars. It features ingredients like tranexamic acid and niacinamide, which help combat dark patches and marks and reduce discoloration. It’s also got azelaic acid, which works wonders by brightening skin and evens out skin texture.
This resurfacing cream does a little bit of everything, which is probably why it has over 31,000 “hearts” on Sephora’s website. It targets old and new acne scars and is supposed to minimize the scar size, depth, and hyperpigmentation in eight weeks. It’s also great for dark circles under the eyes and evening out the texture of your skin.
Acne scar brightening serums
This is my current favorite dark spot serum, and I’m already on my second bottle. What I love about this serum is how gentle it is. It’s scent-free, can be used daily in conjunction with other products like retinol, and it was created with melanin-rich skin in mind.
Dr. Obioha encourages her patients to use a vitamin C serum like the SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Serum to help brighten the skin.
This serum helps to fade dark spots while also brightening your complexion, giving you a radiant, luminous glow.
Another product Dr. Obioha recommends is this brightening vitamin C serum from VI Derm. This gel serum works on all skin types and will diminish the appearance of dark spots, promoting an even complexion.
This serum is formulated with seven actives (including vitamin C, vitamin B3, vitamin B6, and azelaic acid) to brighten skin and improve the appearance of acne spots and hyperpigmentation.
One way to prevent and reduce acne scars is by using products that have vitamin C in them. This serum has 10 percent l-ascorbic acid (the purest form of vitamin C) to brighten scars, along with three essential ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin B5 to provide hydration.
This retinol serum will refine the texture and improve the smoothness of your skin while also reducing post-acne marks.
Other products to treat acne scars
Dr. Obioha says that exfoliating AHA/BHA cleansers are also helpful in preventing and reducing acne scars, hyperpigmentation, and increasing cell turnover. SkinMedia is one of her go-tos, as it removes dead skin cells and impurities from the skin.
I’m typically not a fan of body washes but I absolutely love this new body wash from Kosas Sport. It’s gentle, features AHAs and enzymes to exfoliate the skin without leaving it feeling or looking dry, has a light, fresh scent, and helps reduce and prevent body acne and scars.
If you have body acne that tends to leave dark marks, try the Topicals Faded Brightening & Clearing Mist before applying your moisturizer. And don’t forget your sunscreen after!
Why you should wear sunscreen to prevent and reduce acne scars and hyperpigmentation
Creams and serums formulated specifically to target post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation will reduce your acne scars over time, but another simple way to help reduce scars is by wearing two fingers’ worth of sunscreen daily (SPF 30 or higher). Make sure that you reapply about every two hours.
Wearing sunscreen helps reduce hyperpigmentation because UV radiation increases melanin production, which tends to make the appearance of your dark spots worse, and the sunscreen will inhibit this production, Jenny Liu, MD, board-certified dermatologist, told Well+Good previously.
A good spot treatment, an antioxidant-rich serum, sunscreen, and a game plan from your derm will help you get rid of your acne scars in no time!
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