The 17 Best Products for Acne Scars in 2023

Creams, gels, and retinoids that help even texture and brighten dark marks.

woman with acne scars
(Image credit: Hulldude30/Getty)

Acne scars aren’t one-size-fits-all. But, whether you’re dealing with pesky red or dark marks or more permanent changes in texture, using one of the best products for acne scars can help fade and reduce their appearance. To be clear, applying a gel, spot treatment, or serum isn’t going to magically give you crystal-clear, flawless skin overnight—that’s a bit unrealistic. That said, incorporating resurfacing formulas, retinoids, and other dermatologist-recommended acne scar treatments can make a huge difference. 

Addressing current scars isn’t the only thing to keep top of mind, though. You must ensure that you’re a) addressing any active acne on the skin and b.) doing your best not to make matters worse during treatment. “Larger, deeper breakouts lead to more potential scarring,” explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick. “Avoid picking at the skin, as the more irritation and inflammation that develops, the more likely the acne is to scar.” 

Here, Dr. Garshick, along with board-certified dermatologist and Facet medical director Dr. Peter Young, break down what causes acne scars, how to treat them, and give their recommendations on the best products for acne scars. 

What Causes Acne Scars?

While some pimples will come and go, others will come—and leave a permanent mark in their wake. The likelihood that acne will scar boils down to a handful of factors according to Dr. Young. He explains that inflammatory acne that’s red, swollen, and painful, along with cystic acne, is more likely to scar. What’s more, you can have a genetic predisposition to scarring. “The tendency towards acne scarring often runs in families,” he says. “Having a first degree relative with a history of acne scarring is a risk factor.” 

Popping, squeezing, or picking at pimples can also make scarring more likely, so do your best to keep your hands clean—and off of your face. 

Are There Different Types of Acne Scars?

As a rule of thumb, an acne scar is a mark left behind after a pimple goes away. But, the world of acne scars is a bit more nuanced. “Acne scars can appear as red or brown discoloration or as a change in skin texture, with the skin appearing indented or raised,” Dr. Garshick explains. 

The type of scar you develop is tightly linked to your skin type and the type of breakout you experience the most. “Individuals with darker skin types are more likely to develop hyperpigmentation, while those with fair skin may notice more red blemishes. Larger, deeper breakouts also lead to more potential scarring.” 

What to Look For

Prevention is key (don’t pick, please!), but if you already have an acne scar there are a couple skincare ingredients that can make a visible difference. You’ll want to start using a retinoid, acids, antioxidants, and, of course, sunscreen. “Retinoids are the most effective topical medications to help improve the appearance of acne scars. Retinol and adapalene are available over the counter, whereas tretinoin requires a prescription,” Dr. Young says. Dr. Garshick adds that retinoids are ideal for those who want to even out skin texture. “They work to regulate skin cell turnover, which in turn helps to even skin tone and boost collagen production to improve the textural changes.” 

In a similar vein, exfoliants, like glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid, and salicylic acid, can “work to eliminate dead cells” and “improve both texture and tone,” according to Garshick. While antioxidants, like vitamin C, won’t do much for indented or raised scars, they can help brighten discoloration

Then there’s sunscreen—perhaps the most useful product in treating acne scars that are hyperpigmented. “With sun exposure, scars have the potential to darken which can make them more noticeable,” warns Dr. Garshick. “While those with acne are often hesitant to apply different products to their skin for fear of worsening breakouts, it is important for those with acne to remember to apply sunscreen and should look for one that is non-comedogenic and won’t clog the pores.”  

The Best Products for Acne Scars

Meet the Dermatologists

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Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD

Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD is a leading board-certified dermatologist serving patients throughout Manhattan, New York at MDCS Dermatology: Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery, as well as an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Cornell - New York Presbyterian Medical Center. Dr. Garshick provides a wide variety of cosmetic and medical procedures and services including treatments for acne, eczema, hyperhidrosis, moles, psoriasis, rosacea, signs of aging, skin cancer, skin tags, vitiligo, and wrinkles. She completed her undergraduate education at Emory University and attended medical school at Tufts University School of Medicine, where she graduated with Research Honors and Alpha Omega Alpha. As a medical student, Dr. Garshick was awarded the prestigious Doris Duke Clinical Research Fellowship at Harvard Medical School, during which she performed dermatology clinical trials and research at Massachusetts General Hospital. She was also awarded the American Medical Women’s Association Glasgow-Rubin Academic Achievement Award for graduating in the top of her class and the William Dameshek Award for Research Excellence. Dr. Garshick’s post-graduate training in dermatology began with an internship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She completed her dermatology residency at Cornell’s New York Presbyterian Hospital, where she served as Chief Resident in Dermatology. Dr. Garshick has numerous publications in scientific journals and book chapters, including a chapter on the treatment of acne, and has presented at national meetings. She specializes in general medical dermatology, including adults and pediatrics, and cosmetic dermatology, including neurotoxins, fillers, chemical peels, and lasers. Dr. Garshick is also involved in teaching the dermatology residents at Cornell, leading discussions reviewing the latest dermatology literature. She is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery and the Women’s Dermatologic Society, as well as an Assistant Clinical Professor.

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Dr. Peter Young

Dr. Peter Young is a board-certified dermatologist practicing in Massachusetts. Prior to moving to Massachusetts in 2000, he served as a physician in the U.S. Army for nine years. After receiving his medical degree from Albany Medical College in Albany, New York, he completed his dermatology residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. He then served as Chief of Dermatology at Fort Bragg in North Carolina prior to moving to Massachusetts.In addition to publishing medical articles on various topics, he's been invited to speak at national medical meetings on teledermatology. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society.