6 Ways to Erase Acne Scars (for Real)

OK, let’s clear something up: Those pesky pink or brown marks left over from a recent breakout are not technically acne scars. (They’re actually classified as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.) A true acne scar is any permanent indentation in your skin (typically the aftermath of larger, inflamed pimples). Both are annoying to deal with, we know, so we consulted the pros for help in smoothing them out.

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If You Have Hyperpigmentation, Try...

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). An easy place to start is by layering a glycolic or lactic acid serum under your moisturizer every night. Not only does it help slough off the top layer of dead skin, it also boosts cell turnover (so new ones come to the surface faster). In a nutshell: AHAs fade the appearance of any lingering marks faster.

Retinols. These work similarly to AHAs in that they exfoliate skin, but where they differ is retinols also induce collagen production (which is what keeps it plump and firm). So using a retinol product can help even out the overall tone and texture of your skin. Two important things to note when starting out: Limit use to every other day (as it is a strong ingredient that can be irritating at first) and don’t skimp on applying sunscreen (as it can make you more sensitive to the sun).

Hydroquinone (or other skin lighteners). Considered to be one of the most effective ways to lighten up spots, hydroquinone works by inhibiting melanin production (which gives skin its color). This is important because excess melanin is what causes those pesky spots to form in the first place. That said, hydroquinone is best suited for marks that are more brownish in color (those with red or pink spots are better treated using the aforementioned AHAs). And if you prefer a more natural alternative (as there are some who debate that the ingredient isn’t safe on skin), soy, kojic acid and licorice have all been shown to fade dark spots as well.

If You Have Acne Scars, Try...

Microneedling. You’ve heard us talk about microneedling before. And while we love the at-home roller for its skin brightening abilities, it doesn’t do much for deeper scars. In-office versions, however, use longer needles to go deeper within the skin (and sometimes dermatologists couple them with radiofrequency energy to really ramp up collagen production and cause the skin to plump back to its original state). All of this is to say that if you’re really trying to treat acne scars, professional help is your best (and safest) bet.

Lasers. For more stubborn marks or indentations, ask your dermatologists about lasers—which can treat both issues. Fraxel is one of the most commonly used options because the light penetrates the surface layers of your skin without damaging it. In doing so, it stimulates new collagen growth (which improves the overall texture and appearance of your skin) with minimal downtime. Most people need anywhere between two to four treatments to see full results.

Dermal fillers. If you have deeper pitted scars or indentations in your skin, dermal fillers (like Restylane or Belotero) can fill the depressed areas and make your overall complexion look and feel smoother. Also, depending on the level and type of scarring you have, your derm might recommend coupling the fillers with a laser treatment. Results typically last between six months to a year, at which point you would need to reassess whether or not you want or need more fillers injected.

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Jenny Jin

Beauty Director

Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...
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