Waging a war with pesky, painful and persistent-AF acne is frustrating—but the ugly flag it plants on our face in the form of an acne scar (which can take months, if not years, to finally disappear) is some total unfair bullshit. Because no matter how much you coddle your zits while in the throes of breakouts, there are some forms of acne, especially the cystic, hormonal kind, that leave behind a smattering of pocked, raised, red, or white scars that seem nearly impossible to get rid of. At least, that’s what we thought.
“Certain factors play a role in determining how your skin responds to breakouts and blemishes,” says dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, M.D., noting that “genetics, age, stress, medications, drinking, and smoking” can all be a factor in why scars stick to your skin like a Lite Brite. Luckily, though, you don’t need to move to a secluded cabin in the middle of the woods to treat your skin (though laying off the drinking and smoking will always be a good skin choice); you just need to find the right treatments for your specific type of scar.
Of course, the first step to getting rid of scars is to talk to your dermatologist. Hey, don’t roll your eyes—scarring can be extremely challenging to treat, and they’ve got fancy lasers and prescriptions that are miles more effective than anything you can buy in the drugstore. But since we know you won’t be heading to your derm any time soon, we brought the derm suggestions to you. So click through to find all of the best recommended treatments for all of your worst scars, below.
For fresh scars...
Try: Is Clinical Pro-Heal Serum Advance Plus, $142; at DermStore
The best time to get rid of scars? Before they’re even born, a.k.a. as soon as acne rears its ugly head. “Once a scar has formed, it’s much less likely to respond well to any treatments,” explains Schlessinger. So your best bet is to treat acne as early as possible to heal the blemish before it’s in the process of scarring. And while a quick prescription for a topical antibiotic, like clindamycin, from your derm can do the trick, a great OTC find is this antioxidant-rich serum that can help prevent acne blemishes from becoming dark spots.
For pink marks...
Try: Paula’s Choice Resist BHA 9 Spot Treatment, $43; at Paula’s Choice
These pink, reddish spots (adorably named vascular acne scars) are more common in those with fair skin and are usually the result of inflammation. “If they’re freshly formed, pink or red scars often respond to IPL—intense pulsed light—therapy, which can be performed in a dermatologist's office,” says Schlessinger. The next best thing is this BHA-based product, which contains concentrated salicylic acid that, in addition to unclogging pores, can fade marks on the skin over time.
For old scars...
Try: Stacked Skincare Micro-Roller, $30; at Stacked Skincare
Most derms recommend treating old, raised or depressed scars with micro-needling, an in-office procedure that involves puncturing the skin with incredibly tiny, thin, micro-needles to “stimulate collagen production, which helps rejuvenate the skin and diminish dark spots,” says dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD. Yes, it sounds like torture, but in surprisingly pretty painless, and it’s one of the best treatments for resurfacing old, textured scars. But if shelling out $250 for an in-office dermatologist treatment isn’t in the budget, opt for this at-home roller instead, which gives similar results after a few months.
For keloid scars...
Try: Avene RetrinAL+ 0.05, $62; at Eau Thermale Avène
These bumpy, overgrown areas of scar tissue are caused by an excess production of collagen, which can result in a raised scar once the injury heals, says Schlessinger. These scars are incredibly pesky and typically respond best to lasers, steroidal treatments, or excision, all of which are sadly only available in-office. Still, if you’re deadset on avoiding the dermatologist, try smoothing on a nightly layer of .05-percent retinoic acid, which studies show may help smooth out keloid scars.
For dark marks...
Try: Murad Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum, $65; at Murad
Also known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), these dark marks form as acne begins to heal. Unfair, right? “In-office lasers are best, though in some cases, these marks can be treated with a combination of chemical peels and skin-lightening agents,” says Schlessinger, noting that the best discoloration-fading products are filled with brightening ingredients like hydroquinone, kojic acid, phytic acid, l-ascorbic acid and glycolic acid. We love this serum by Murad, which contains both hydroquinone and a skin-brightening peptide, hexapeptide-2.
For boxcar scars...
Try: Roc Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream, $25.79; at CVS
Similar to, but wider than, ice pick and rolling scars, these shallow, indented scars look like you’ve pressed your nail into your skin, and they’re the the result of “too little collagen being produced during wound healing,” says Engelman. The best treatment? “Energy-based skin resurfacing with lasers or radiofrequency and ultrasound devices, which work to create new collagen beneath the surface of the skin,” she says. “With either procedure, using a retinoid to increase cell turnover and further boost collagen can help improve results.”