The 12 Best Acne Scar Treatments of 2023

Murad InvisiScar Resurfacing Treatment fights acne scarring on multiple fronts — improving scar size, depth, texture, and discoloration.

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Best Acne Scar Treatments tout

InStyle / Reese Herrington

There are few worse feelings than clearing up the pimple that wreaked havoc on your face for weeks, just to realize it’s left behind a gnarly scar. You know the type: That irregular texture and harsh discoloration, sometimes pitted or raised, reminding you of yesteryear’s zits and cysts.

While a visit to the dermatologist’s office is the best way to treat acne scars, there’s still plenty that can be done from home to minimize lingering texture and hyperpigmentation. Removing scars altogether is rare, but the right products can make a huge difference when it comes to appearances. To learn more about acne scars and how to best treat them, we enlisted the help of two dermatologists for their product recommendations; plus, we also spent weeks researching and testing dozens of at-home acne scar treatments to find the most effective formulas. 

While both dermatologists agree that the absolute best way to treat acne scarring is to prevent it altogether, we know that’s not always possible. Our top pick for treating those pesky scars? Murad InvisiScar Resurfacing Treatment, thanks to its multi-pronged approach at targeting scar size, depth, texture, and discoloration.

Best Overall

Murad InvisiScar Post-Acne Resurfacing Treatment

Murad InvisiScar Post-Acne Resurfacing Treatment


What We Love: The creamy treatment works on both uneven texture and discoloration to fight scarring.

What We Don’t: The hardworking formula requires long-term, persistent use.

There’s a reason Murad InvisiScar Resurfacing Treatment is our top pick for the best acne scar cream of the year — the countless before-and-after pictures in the reviews speak for themselves. The treatment fights scarring on multiple fronts, targeting texture, hyperpigmentation, and raised scars with a blend of salicylic acid, vitamin C, and silicone.

The formula also features TECA centella asiatica, which hydrates and strengthens the skin barrier to avoid any future inflammation. All that being said, the popular cream requires patience — results can take as little as eight weeks when applied diligently twice a day, but can certainly take longer.

Price at time of publish: $38

Size: 0.5 oz | Usage: Twice daily | Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid, purified TECA centella asiatica, hydroxytyrosol, vitamin C 

Best Budget

The INKEY List Mandelic Acid Treatment

The INKEY List Mandelic Acid Treatment


What We Love: The spot application allows for precise healing.

What We Don’t: Because it’s meant to be a spot treatment, the formula is incredibly strong and can potentially irritate skin.

According to Joshua Zeichner, M.D., Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, over-the-counter retinoids and hydroxy acids are two key ingredients when it comes to fading acne scars. This formula delivers on both fronts with a rather unique combination of mandelic acid and retinol to help fade post-breakout dark spots and hyperpigmentation.

While the retinol naturally supports skin cell turnover, mandelic acid targets melanin production to stop hyperpigmentation at the source. Because this is a spot treatment, the ultra-targeted formula is seriously hard-working — so don’t use any more than a pea-sized amount per spot or you may experience irritation. 

Price at time of publish: $12

Size: 0.5 oz | Usage: Slowly build up use to once a day, only at night | Active Ingredients: Mandelic acid, glycerin, encapsulated retinol

Best Splurge

droplette Tranexamic Eraser

droplette Tranexamic Eraser


What We Love: The formulation effectively erases visible dark spots on the skin.

What We Don’t: You can’t use the capsules without the Droplette device, which costs $299.

Droplette’s skin repair technology, which uses a fine nano-mist to deliver ingredients deeper into the skin than traditional topical treatments, was created by MIT scientists, backed by Harvard Medical School advisors, and funded by NASA — and with a trio of elite institutions like that, it’s safe to say the science is legitimate.

As someone who’s suffered with hyperpigmentation for years, this is easily the most effective at-home treatment I’ve tried (the other being a series of in-office peels from my dermatologist). The serum drastically improves dark spots, even without consistent daily use thanks to a potent mix of tranexamic acid and niacinamide. The one drawback (and to be fair, it’s a big one) is that you can’t use the capsules without owning the Droplette device itself, which comes in at just under $300. And while we’re mega-fans of the device, it’s certainly an investment.

Price at time of publish: $137

Size: 30 capsules per package | Usage: Once daily or as needed | Active Ingredients: Tranexamic acid, arbutin, niacinamide

Best for Dark Skin

Eadem Milk Marvel Dark Spot Serum with Niacinamide and Vitamin C

Eadem Milk Marvel Dark Spot Serum


What We Love: Powered by the brand’s Smart Melanin Technology, the serum was formulated specially for melanin-rich skin.

What We Don’t: The serum has a thicker consistency, which makes the dropper feel like an inadequate packaging choice.

Meet EADEM, the first luxury skincare line made by women of color, for women of color (and everyone else, too). The brand’s unique melanin-rich skin first approach puts darker skin at the forefront of the brand’s mission and formulations. Skin of color is more prone to inflammation, further hyperpigmentation, and alterations to overall skin tone, and the Milk Marvel Dark Spot Serum has been expertly formulated to address those concerns. 

And it wasn’t easy: The founders went through no less than 25 iterations before getting the results and user experience just right. The finished product is a gentle, milky serum that fights hyperpigmentation without compromising the skin barrier. The formula features a blend of niacinamide and encapsulated vitamin C, which visibly brightens and soothes skin; amber algae, which fades and discourages the appearance of dark spots; and papaya and pineapple enzymes, which gently resurface the skin without any irritation.

While it’s formulated with people of color in mind, the serum can be used by anyone with any skin tone. And though we can’t get enough of the formula itself, our one gripe is the dropper-style packaging, which can make it difficult to adequately dispense the thicker serum.

Price at time of publish: $68

Size: 1 oz | Usage: Once or twice daily | Active Ingredients: Niacinamide, vitamin C, amber algae, papaya and pineapple enzymes

Best for Sensitive Skin

Sunday Riley B3 Nice Niacinamide Serum

Sunday Riley B3 Nice 10% Niacinamide Serum


What We Love: The water-based formula effectively brightens discoloration and helps control oil production without irritating skin.

What We Don’t: The packaging isn’t ideal — it’d be much better suited with a pump top rather than a dropper.

Sunday Riley’s latest launch has quickly racked up rave reviews from fans and beauty editors alike, who say the serum zaps away any trace of post-acne scarring. With skin-loving ingredients like brightenyl to brighten the skin; EGCG, an antioxidant derived from green tea; and of course the star of the show, 10-percent niacinamide, which improves skin tone and texture and reduces discoloration. And the benefits don’t end there: One InStyle editor couldn’t believe the immediate glow and burst of hydration it gave her skin — praise you don’t tend to hear about treatments that target hyperpigmentation.

Unfortunately, the serum seems to face the same woe as EADEM’s Milk Marvel Dark Spot Serum: Inadequate packaging. The serum’s on the thicker side, which can sometimes render the dropper top useless — a pump top would make for a far more pleasant application process.

Price at time of publish: $65

Size: 1 oz | Usage: Once or twice daily, as needed | Active Ingredients: Niacinamide, diglucosyl gallic acid, trans-resveratrol 

Best for Dark Spots

Naturium Tranexamic Topical Acid

Naturium Tranexamic Topical Acid


What We Love: The high concentration of tranexamic acid along with niacinamide and kojic acid lightens dark spots without irritating skin.

What We Don’t: Those same high concentrations can leave skin dry if not paired with hydrating, soothing products.

Acne scars are notoriously stubborn and difficult to get rid of at home — which means targeted treatments tend to be seriously strong. That’s not exactly ideal for those of us with more reactive, sensitive skin. While Naturium’s Tranexamic Topical Acid is certainly hard-working with its five-percent tranexamic acid concentration, the formula itself is simple, non-irritating, and works well alongside other products (which is especially important).

We suggest using it in conjunction with a barrier-supporting serum or cream to avoid any potential dryness. With consistent use, gradually increasing frequency up from two times a week, the serum effectively fades dark spots without compromising sensitive skin. 

Price at time of publish: $20

Size: 1 oz | Usage: Twice a day, two times a week, gradually increasing use up to twice daily | Active Ingredients: Tranexamic acid, niacinamide, kojic acid

Best for Raised Scrs

Biodermis Pro-Sil Silicone Scar Stick

Biodermis Pro-Sil Silicone Scar Stick


What We Love: The easy-to-use stick works effectively on scars old and new.

What We Don’t: This won’t help with any pigmentation issues.

If you’re dealing with any sort of raised scar, we suggest visiting a doctor for the most effective treatment plan. Still, topical use of silicone can potentially provide some help — in fact, it’s actually been used as a scar treatment for more than 30 years.

According to the Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery, applying silicone gel to a raised, discolored scar increases hydration in the uppermost layer of skin and facilitates regulation of fibroblast production while reducing collagen production, which allows the skin to “breathe” and results in a flatter scar. It also protects scarred tissue from further bacterial invasion, which could otherwise induce excessive collagen production in the scar tissue (a major cause of raised scarring).

This silicone stick is easy to use and allows for mess-free application. It’s especially effective on hypertrophic and keloid scars and works on all skin types and tones, but it won’t help with any pigmentation issues.

Price at time of publish: $37

Size: 4.25 grams | Usage: Several times a day for eight to 12 weeks | Active Ingredients: Silicone

Best for Discoloration

Topicals Faded Serum Dark Spots Discoloration

Topicals Faded Serum for Dark Spots Discoloration


What We Love: The lightweight cream formula reduces discoloration without drying out or irritating skin.

What We Don’t: The smell leaves something to be desired.

Designed by a top Stanford dermatologist, Topicals Faded Serum was clinically tested and formulated through a series of third-party studies (which means the findings are legit). For those struggling with discoloration and hyperpigmentation, board-certified dermatologist Ranella Hirsch, M.D., says this is a solid over-the-counter option at a reasonable price that’s definitely worth considering.

The formula features a blend of tranexamic acid, niacinamide, glutathione, and azelaic acid to visibly brighten and reduce discoloration. It can be used as either a spot treatment or an allover serum depending on your particular needs, and has a nine-month shelf life once opened.

The serum is also fragrance-free, meaning there’s no risk of fragrance-related irritation. Unfortunately, that also means there’s nothing to mask glutathione’s onion-y, burnt rubber smell — which largely overpowers the entire product.

Price at time of publish: $38

Size: 1.7 oz | Usage: Use once a week, building up to daily use | Active Ingredients: Tranexamic acid, niacinamide, azelaic acid 

Best Patches

Peace Out Microneedling Dark Spot Brightening Dots

Peace Out Microneedling Dark Spot Brightening Dots


What We Love: The patches provide an ultra-targeted treatment that lightens spots with immediate results.

What We Don’t: It’s less effective for long-term lightening than other products and can leave behind a residue.

Each of Peace Out’s Microneedling Dark Spot Brightening Dots feature 430 self-dissolving, hyaluronate-infused microneedles, and a dose of niacinamide, tranexamic acid, and ferulic acid that swiftly brightens dark spots for noticeable next-day results. Think of it as a fail-safe approach to targeted, at-home microneedling — without any of the hassle or risk.

Simply stick the dot on your acne scar before you go to sleep and remove it in the morning. It provides immediate results (though not always long-lasting — we’ve found that results may fade after a few days) without any of the dryness or irritation that comes with other ultra-effective, targeted dark spot treatments.

Price at time of publish: $28

Size: 12 patches per package | Usage: Wear overnight or for at least six hours | Active Ingredients: Niacinamide, tranexamic acid, ferulic acid

Best Spot Treatment

Renee Rouleau Post Breakout Fading Gel

Renee Rouleau Post-Breakout Fading Gel

Renee Rouleau

What We Love: The spot treatment helps speed the recovery and brightening process for post-acne spots and scars.

What We Don’t: The potent formulation feels strong on the skin, and the results take real persistence and patience.

Celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau knows acne (her celeb fans include Demi Lovato, Sofia Vergara, Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes, and Madelaine Petsch), which is why she created this targeted treatment to help fade post-acne scars. It features a mix of brighteners and exfoliating acids (including lactic and glycolic acids) to promote evenness and fight discoloration at the source. The thin liquid has a subtle citrus scent and can feel a bit spicy on the skin, but the burn is manageable and goes away fairly quickly. The key here, as is the case with most treatments that target hyperpigmentation, is consistency.

Price at time of publish: $43

Size:  0.5 oz | Usage: Up to four times a week, at night | Active Ingredients: Lactic acid, glycolic acid 

Best Retinoid

Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment



What We Love: The retinol effectively treats acne and hyperpigmentation sans prescription.

What We Don’t: Like most retinols, skin tends to get worse before it gets better, and it can sting on application.

Once only available by prescription, Differin changed the retinoid landscape with its over-the-counter 0.1-percent adapalene formula. According to Dr. Zeichner, it not only treats and prevents acne, but also improves the appearance of hyperpigmentation and indented scars over time.

All that power, though, comes with a price — the formula is very strong and, like other adapalenes, can make skin worse before it gets better. That being said, consistently using a pea-sized amount at night will eventually pay off big time. Just be sure to give your skin time to adjust to the product, so start by applying it once a week and work up to a more consistent frequency. 

Price at time of publish: $18

Size: 0.5 oz | Usage: Once a day | Active Ingredients: Apadalene

Best Under Makeup

Jori Acne Oil Control Primer

JORI Acne & Oil Control Primer


What We Love: Part-primer, part-treatment, the weightless formula blurs imperfections while treating and preventing breakouts, and improving skin texture and tone.

What We Don’t: The combination of ingredients might be too harsh for super-sensitive skin.

Jori Acne & Oil Control Primer truly does it all — blurs the skin, reduces shine (without mattifying the skin), minimizes the appearance of pores, treats breakouts, prevents new breakouts from forming, and improves skin texture and tone (which is a must-have when dealing with stubborn acne scars). Did we mention it’s also a stellar makeup primer? It gives skin a silky complexion that’s great on its own and helps makeup go on smoother.

The formula features maximum strength two-percent salicylic acid, which treats acne and helps resurface discoloration. That being said, the hefty dosage could prove to be overwhelming and irritating for those with more sensitive, drier skin.

Price at time of publish: $70

Size: 1.5 oz | Usage: Once a day, in the morning under SPF and makeup | Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid, linoleic acid, zinc, niacinamide

What to Keep in Mind

Type of Acne Scar

There are different types of acne scars — all of which require different treatment methods and plans. 

Atrophic scars are the most common; they’re generally flat and shallow depressions, often caused by cystic acne (though other types of acne can cause them as well). Within the atrophic umbrella, there are three different types: Boxcar scars, which are broader, box-like depressions with strongly defined edges that often appear along the lower cheeks and jaw area; ice pick scars are smaller, more narrow indentations that point down into the skin’s surface and are more difficult to treat than other scars; and rolling scars, which have a varying depth and make skin appear uneven. Typically, these scars can be minimized with chemical peels and lasers at your dermatologists office, or with resurfacing treatments, like our best overall pick Murad InvisiScar Resurfacing Treatment.

On the other end of the spectrum are hypertrophic and keloid scars, which form as raised lumps of scar tissue where the acne once was. Again, these scars are best treated with the guidance of your dermatologist in office, but silicone has also been known to reduce raised scar tissue. (Biodermis Pro-Sil Silicone Scar Treatment Stick is a good at-home option for these types of scars.)

There’s also post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which are those dark, discolored patches of skin left behind after acne heals. To help lighten discolored spots, look for products with brightening ingredients like hydroquinone (which is one of Dr. Hirsch’s favorites), L-ascorbic acid, kojic acid, licorice extract, niacinamide, and/or vitamin C. All are known for their ability to brighten uneven skin tone and fight discoloration. On our list, Peace Out Microneedling Dark Spot Brightening Dots, Topicals Faded Serum for Dark Spots & Discoloration, and Naturium Tranexamic Topical Acid 5% all work to lighten discoloration from acne over time. 

Skin Type

Skin type is another important consideration when it comes to treating acne scars. For example, Naturium Tranexamic Topical Acid 5% features a concentrated, powerful formula that’s better suited for oilier skin types, whereas a product with a creamier base and additional hydrating ingredients, like EADEM Milk Marvel Dark Spot Serum, is better for those with drier skin. For those with acne-prone skin, look for formulas that fight active breakouts and prevent new ones from forming while also treating signs of scarring (we suggest the Jori Acne & Oil Control Primer).

Your Questions, Answered

What do acne scars look like?

Per Dr. Hirsch, we tend to use the term colloquially to describe two phenomena: The first are permanent changes to the skin caused by collagen damage from inflammation following acne. Scars may be either indented or raised, but always have irregular texture and contours compared to the rest of the skin. 

The second, which technically isn’t real scarring (but we’ll refer to it as such in this case), is a mix of post-inflammatory pigmentation, which appear as brown spots, and persistent erythema, which appear as red spots, explains Dr. Zeichner. While post-acne discoloration isn’t true acne scarring (they often fade over time), we included them under the term throughout our testing since most people consider them as such.

What is the most effective treatment for acne scars?

The best way to treat acne scars is to prevent them altogether. We know it’s not the answer you’re looking for, but it’s the unfortunate truth. Acne scars are stubborn and notoriously difficult to get rid of — it’s far easier to focus on prevention versus post-scarring treatment. But we understand things aren’t always so simple. Barring prevention, the next best thing to do is visit your dermatologist. 

A combination of in-office dermatological procedures, depending on the specific patient presentation, will be far more effective than any topical, over-the-counter solutions, says Dr. Hirsh. These treatments may include (but are not limited to) medical-grade peels that help exfoliate and resurface away texture and discoloration, lasers to reduce redness and lighten pigmentation, microneedling to improve depressed acne scars, cortisone injections to flatten out raised bumps, and surgical excision for specific lesions, says Dr. Zeichner. T

o be clear, this doesn’t mean that at-home, over-the-counter acne scar treatments don’t work — they absolutely can and do help with post-acne scars. They’re simply not as effective as the treatments available in-office, which is often the case when comparing the two. For very serious scarring, we suggest looking into options with your dermatologist. If your scarring is mainly limited to discoloration (with little to no textural issues), at-home treatments are a great, more affordable solution.

How can I treat acne scars at home?

If you want to treat acne scars from home, our experts suggest looking for products with brightening and exfoliating ingredients. And, to avoid further issues, hydrating ingredients are always a plus. Dr. Zeichner says that over-the-counter retinoids and hydroxy acids are two great ingredients to look for when treating acne scars. Retinols stimulate collagen to help remodel the skin and improve the texture and appearance of scars, while acids offer exfoliating benefits and enhance cell turnover to brighten spots and the appearance of scars.

In general, the most important factor when it comes to improving acne scarring at home is patience. There is no easy solution here; if you want to see real results, it will take time, patience, and consistency.

Can lasers treat acne scars?

Lasers can absolutely treat acne scars — actually quite well! The specific laser right for your acne scarring depends on what your scars look like, and dermatologists can help find the right solution for your personal needs. Pulsed dye lasers can target blood vessels in the skin to eliminate unwanted redness, while fractionated resurfacing lasers punch microscopic holes in the skin and take advantage of the skin’s ability to heal itself, Dr. Zeichner explains.

Why Shop With Us

Danielle Cohen is a freelance beauty writer and editor with more than five years of experience reporting on the beauty industry and testing products. As a member of InStyle’s commerce team, she swatches, sprays, and samples countless beauty products. For this story, she researched dozens of acne scar treatments, and consulted with two dermatologists: Joshua Zeichner, MD, board-certified dermatologist and the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, and board-certified dermatologist Ranella Hirsch, MD.

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