Ugh, acne scars. Even if you’ve found a regimen to keep pimples at bay, past breakouts have a way of hanging around — in the form of scarring. At best, those reminders of old blemishes add an unwanted texture to your skin. At worst, acne scars can take a toll on self-esteem and confidence.
So, what’s a girl to do? You could layer on the primer, foundation, and loose powder for that smooth look you’re craving. Or you could explore a more permanent remedy. Fortunately, there are several treatment options, ranging from over-the-counter topical treatments to more expensive laser therapies and more.
Ready to learn more? Keep reading for the scoop on 14 acne scar treatments that promote smoother, healthier-looking skin.
Let’s start with the cheapest and least invasive class of acne scar treatments: over the counter (OTC) topical products.
The downside of OTC products is that they may not work on your skin. To some degree, this truth applies to any acne scar treatment. Even high-powered laser therapies aren’t effective on everyone. But OTC serums are most likely to disappoint, simply because they’re less powerful than prescription-based treatments.
Even so, OTC topicals likely will deliver other benefits to your skin. To give this treatment class a try, look for formulas with retinol, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), and/or vitamin C.
Retinol addresses acne scars by stimulating cell turnover and collagen production. Those two outcomes, over time, can help smooth skin texture.
Retinol products are readily available at drug stores, beauty stores, and online retailers. Some well-regarded formulations to research include:
- CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum
- Neutrogena Stubborn Marks PM Treatment with Retinol
- The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalane Serum
Retinols generally do deliver brighter, fresher skin over time but they can be inconsistent as acne scar treatments.
AHAs slough away dead skin cells to reveal healthier, brighter skin underneath. According to Acne.org, AHAs also fight bacteria, decrease hyperpigmentation, and limit the skin’s oil production. These actions combined can prevent new blemishes and help skin recover from past breakouts.
Glycolic acid is commonly used in OTC AHA products at a concentration of less than 10%. As with retinol products, you may see results over time.
Readily available AHA treatments for acne scars include:
- Mizon AHA 8% Peeling Serum
- SkinCeuticals C+AHA Treatment
- Shani Darden Skin Care Lactic Acid AHA Exfoliating Serum
Vitamin C promotes collagen production and reduces inflammation in the skin. Those two actions can smooth out skin’s texture to minimize the appearance of scars.
Over-the-counter vitamin C products have a wide range of concentrations. For best results, choose formulas with 10% to 25% vitamin C concentration. Some options include:
- The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
- La Roche-Posay Pure Vitamin C Face Serum
- L’Oréal Revitalift Derm Intensives Vitamin C Serum
Note that the products at the higher end of this spectrum can be harsh. I use The Ordinary Vitamin C suspension listed, for example, and it doesn’t feel great going on. But it also brightens skin overnight…so you may have to decide if a little pain is worth the gain.
RX topical treatments
Dermatologists can also prescribe stronger topical treatments if OTC products aren’t effective, or scarring is severe. Often, these RX topical treatments use retinoids like Tretinoin. Retinoids are essentially stronger forms of retinols that are only available with a doctor’s note.
Chemical peels are topical formulations that produce a deeper level of exfoliation. The treatments cause the top layer of skin to peel away, revealing fresher skin underneath. This process also stimulates collagen production.
There are professional and DIY chemical peels available. As you’d expect, professionally supervised treatments will be more powerful and effective.
Note that chemical peels work primarily on atrophic acne scars, according to Derm Collective. Atrophic scars present as depressions in the skin. Hypertrophic scars are raised formations, and chemical peels are less effective on those.
A dermatologist can assess your skin condition and recommend a treatment protocol. If chemical peels are suitable, you may need multiple treatments.
There are two methods of exfoliating the top layer of skin. One is by way of chemicals like AHAs. The other is with a physical tool or grainy substance that actively scrubs the skin. Microdermabrasion is the latter process. DIY face scrubs like this one are also physical exfoliators.
You can buy DIY microdermabrasion tools, but aestheticians and dermatologists will generally produce better results. As with chemical peels, microdermabrasion is most suitable for depressed acne scars and multiple treatments may be needed.
Two main types of lasers are used for skin rejuvenation, ablative and non-ablative. Ablative lasers are the more aggressive treatment. These remove the top layer of skin and heat tissue beneath to promote collagen production. Non-ablative lasers don’t remove skin; they only use heat to stimulate collagen production. For that reason, there’s less downtime associated with non-ablative treatments.
Within those two categories, there are various proprietary laser systems. One that’s getting some buzz in beauty circles right now is the non-ablative Lutronic Ultra. Derms around the web say the Lutronic Ultra is gentle and suitable for all skin types. They also confirm that Lutronic Ultra results are positive, particularly with respect to acne scars. One or more treatments produces brighter, smoother, and rejuvenated skin.
If you want a quick fix for depressed acne scars, ask your aesthetician or dermatologist about dermal fillers. Depending on the nature of the scarring, an injectable filler can deliver smoother skin immediately. The downside is that the effect of these treatments is temporary. They might last six or 12 months.
For that reason, you might consider combining filler injections with another treatment that produces a longer-lasting result.
According to Derm Collective, fillers commonly used on acne scarring include hyaluronic acid, polymethylmethacrylate, calcium hydroxylapatite, and poly-L-lactic acid.
Smoother skin after acne
Embarking on the journey to say goodbye to acne scars requires patience, consistency, and an appropriate treatment plan tailored to your situation. That’s why it’s critical to consult with a dermatologist for guidance on the most effective approach.
Whether you land on a drugstore serum or fillers plus laser, also make sure you’re doing what’s needed to prevent future breakouts. Because taking charge of your skin is a confidence booster in its own right. Smoother skin over time is amazing, too — but also less important when love who you are and how you look, regardless of the acne scars.