Dealing with breakouts summed up in one word: struggle. Once your blemishes finally shrink and go away, the party isn’t over. If you picked at your pimples because you didn't have any self-control, or you suffer from cystic acne, you might be left with dark spots as a reminder of what you just went through. While these spots often disappear on their own, it can take months before they’re completely gone.
The only way to treat intended or pitted scars is with in-office laser treatments, there are products that you can pick up over-the-counter or at your dermatologist’s office that will help fade spots faster. While all of these products promise to make stubborn spots disappear, they’re not all created equal.
To save you from the trial-and-error, we turned to a set of top dermatologists to find out what products will actually get the job done. Keep scrolling for their picks, along with why they swear by them.
VIDEO: 5 Skin Treatments Dermatologist Say Are a Waste of Money
1. Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Daily Leave On Mask
"When pimples go away they frequently leave behind red marks, which many people call scars. These spots are not actually scars, but rather persistent inflammation in the skin leading to redness. While the fire is out once the pimple clears, there still are some burning embers under the skin, which is why the spots look red. To help clear them quicker, continue using an acne treatment. Killed acne causing bacteria under the skin drive this inflammation, so when you keep treating your skin with acne-fighting treatments with benzoyl peroxide like this mask, you are also helping speed up recovery of the red spots." –Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research, Department of Dermatology at The Mount Sinai Hospital
Neutrogena | $9
2. Mybody Sledgehammer Intensive Skin Lightener
"My favorite product to treat dark marks is Sledgehammer. It is a 4 % hydroquinone that gently fades dark marks. This cosmeceutical is available in dermatologist offices and is considered a prescription." –Dr. Elizabeth Hale, co-founder of CompleteSkinMD and Clinical Associate Professor of Dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center
3. Skinmedica HA5 Rejuvinating Hydrator
"I like hyaluronic acid, which plumps the skin and helps even out texture and tone. SkinMedica HA5 is a great choice. Often, people get their acne scars injected with hyaluronic acid this is a topical option." —Dr. Mona Gohara, Connecticut-based board-certified dermatologist, Advanced Dermcare
SkinMedica | $178
4. Roc Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream
"True acne scars are caused by irregular collagen created by inflammation in the skin. Topical retinol stimulates cell turnover and stimulates collagen to improve the appearance of the skin. It may help smooth out minor scars, and will even out irregular pigmentation leftover after acne goes away." –Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research, Department of Dermatology at The Mount Sinai Hospital
Roc | $24
5. Colorescience Sunforgettable Loose Mineral Sunscreen Brush Broad Spectrum SPF 50
6. Differin Gel
"Topical retinoids are typically the prescription-strength, stronger cousins to retinols, which are available at the local drugstore or beauty counter," explains Dr. Melanie Palm, director, Art of Skin MD. "Retinoids are more powerful, treating active acne, encouraging skin turnover, improving skin texture, and most importantly for this story, improving pigmentation. Using a retinoid in combination with something like a beta-hydroxy acid only enhances results – retinoids tend to enhance the effectiveness of other topicals by improving absorption, exposure, and uptake of other topicals."
Since retinoids have been shown to regulate more normal collagen growth, important for healing scars and even scar-like conditions like stretch marks, Dr. Hale says a treatment packed with the ingredient like Differin Gel can help improve the appearance of dark spots. This gel along with other retinoid-based treatments were just made available over-the-counter earlier this year.
Differin | $14
7. Skinceuticals Blemish And Age Defense
"This is a biphasic salicylic acid solution so it does the job of a stronger salicylic acid peel without the drying effect because of the biphasic solution that it is in. It is my go to night-time solution. Four drops on the whole face and you wake up with silk smooth skin and a great complexion." –Dr. Kavita Mariwalla, founder Mariwalla Dermatology
Skinceuticals | $90
8. PCA Skin Acne Gel
"Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid is 'folliculotropic' – meaning it has the ability to be attracted to and penetrate the hair follicle-oil gland unit where acne starts," says Dr. Melanie Palm, director, Art of Skin MD. "Not only does it treat active acne, but it is one of the dermatologist’s most powerful topical remedies for gaining control of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation – brown discoloration left behind as the “ashes” after the fire of acne is put out."
Dr. Palm like this gel that's packed with 2% salicylic acid and azelaic acid because these powerful ingredients help more rapidly fade dark spots left behind by acne. "Additional ingredients such as cinnamon bark, ginger root, green burnet root and licorice root extracts help to brighten tone and improve the overall appearance of skin affected by acne," she adds.
9. Glytone Dark Spot Corrector
10. Skinfix 12 Hour Miracle Ointment
"I put this ointment on as a dab right on a spot that I know is going to leave a mark (a big cyst or particularly inflammatory lesion for example). It has allantoin as the main active ingredient, but also contains nourishing sunflower, bisabolol and jojoba oils. All of these have anti-inflammatory and good skin relief properties." –Dr. Kavita Mariwalla, founder Mariwalla Dermatology