It might seem that, once you’ve cleared up your acne, you should be free of any skin issues. However, for many who once dealt with acne, they are left with frustrating residual acne scars.

Read on to learn more about the different types of marks, as well as the best serums for acne scars.

The Types of Acne Scars and Their Causes

Acne scars are caused by moderate to severe acne. Typically, they come from inflamed blemishes trying to heal themselves. There are two main types of acne scars that acne-sufferers can experience: atrophic and hypertrophic.

  1. Hypertrophic scars are also referred to as “keloid scarring.” These scars occur when the body produces an excess of collagen during the healing process of a wound. This results in raised tissue on the surface of the skin. Additionally, they can appear as red acne marks or even look like acne.
  2. Atrophic scars (or “depressed scarring”) have the opposite effect. They occur when there is a loss of tissue, resulting in an indent in the skin. The most common forms of atrophic scarring are ice pick, boxcar, and rolling. Ice pick scars are small but noticeable holes in the skin. Boxcar scars have defined borders with a flat bottom surface, and resemble chicken pox scars. Rolling scars don’t have clearly defined borders, and are commonly found on the cheeks.

In most cases, atrophic and hypertrophic scars don’t fade on their own. They typically require some form of treatment to reduce their appearance.

Dark Acne Scars aka 'Hyperpigmentation'

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is another issue that many people with acne have to deal with. This visually appears as a dark spot on the skin where a pimple once existed. While often referred to as a scar, it is actually just an acne mark, since it doesn’t have to do with a loss or excess of tissue. Typically, hyperpigmentation with clear up on its own within 4 to 24 months. However, it can be treated to speed up the process.

7 Best Serums for Acne Scars

There are a variety of drugstore products that may help with treating different types of acne scars and marks. The following are some of the best over the counter serums for acne scars.

1. Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum

Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum

Best for: hyperpigmentation (dark spots)

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that offers a host of anti-aging and brightening benefits. In terms of acne scars, studies have shown that consistent use of a vitamin C topical can help reduce the appearance of acne scars. It can also be useful for reducing the appearance of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This serum combines vitamin C with konjac root, ferulic acid, and hyaluronic acid to provide a hydrating, softening, smoothing, and anti-aging punch – making it one of the best serums for acne scars and red acne marks. It is all natural, vegan, and cruelty-free.

How to Use: Cleanse and pat dry your skin. Dispense the product onto your fingers and gently massage into the skin. Follow up with a moisturizer, or combine the two together and apply to the skin. Use at night.

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2. Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Resurfacing Night Serum

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Resurfacing Night Serum

Best for: hypertrophic acne scars (red acne marks) and hyperpigmentation (dark spots)

Exfoliation is an incredibly important step for both reducing the appearance of acne scars and marks and enhancing overall skin health. This cult favorite serum contains chemical exfoliating ingredients, including glycolic and lactic acid (AHAs) as well as salicylic acid (BHA), making it one of the best serums for acne scars. AHAs are water-soluble, and work at the surface of the skin to smooth out the skin tone. Salicylic acid is oil-soluble, and gets into the pores to dissolve sebum and prevent future breakouts that could cause more scars or marks.

How to Use: Cleanse and pat dry your skin. Dispense the product onto your fingers and gently massage into the skin. You may experience a light tingling sensation. This serum enhances to absorption rate of other products, so it is beneficial to follow with other complimentary serums. Be sure to also follow up with a moisturizer. Use at night.

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3. The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%

Best for: hypertrophic acne scars (red acne marks) and hyperpigmentation (dark spots)

Azelaic acid speeds up cell turnover rate, meaning it helps even out the skin’s texture. The ingredient can be particularly useful for treating hyperpigmentation. This cream-gel product from The Ordinary has a 10% concentration, making it particularly powerful. It is safe and effective to use with active ingredients like salicylic acid and vitamin C, so it can be used in conjunction with other products to better attack acne scars.

How to Use: Cleanse and pat dry your skin. You may want to start with another serum, such as a vitamin C or exfoliating product. Dispense the product into your hands, and then gently massage into your skin. Follow up with a moisturizer. You can use this product 1 to 2 times daily.

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4. Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment

Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment

Best for: hypertrophic acne scars (red acne marks) and hyperpigmentation (dark spots)

Retinol – which is pure vitamin A, and a class of retinoids – increases cell turnover. This makes it an excellent ingredient for treating acne scars and marks. It speeds up the healing process of hyperpigmentation, and can prevent new acne from forming – therefore preventing more acne scarring. Retinoids may even be able to prevent early scars from becoming permanent. This particular product has a control-release delivery system. It ensures the absorption is even across the skin. The light lotion formula absorbs quickly, and offers hydrating, anti-aging, and smoothing benefits.

How to Use: Cleanse and pat dry your skin. Dispense the product into your hands and apply evenly across the face. Follow up with a moisturizer. Use at night.

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5. The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA

The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA

Best for: hyperpigmentation (dark spots)

Alpha arbutin is helpful for brightening the skin and reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation. This formula has a high concentration of 2% alpha arbutin. It also has hyaluronic acid, which hydrates and helps support the delivery of the star ingredient. This product can be used in conjunction with other treatment products, like a vitamin C serum.

How to Use: Cleanse and pat dry your skin. Dispense the product into your fingers and gently massage into the skin. You may follow up with another complementary serum, like a vitamin C. Finish with a moisturizer. Use 1 to 2 times daily.

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6. Paula’s Choice Clinical Triple Action Dark Spot Eraser 7% AHA Lotion

Paula’s Choice Clinical Triple Action Dark Spot Eraser 7% AHA Lotion

Best for: hyperpigmentation (dark spots)

This product boasts a 7% AHA concentration, making it one of the best serums for acne scars. The chemical exfoliant is particularly useful for treating hyperpigmentation. In addition to glycolic acid, this product also has hydroquinone, which is useful for lightening the skin. Plus, it contains antioxidants that nurture the skin.

How to Use: Cleanse and pat dry your skin. Apply to any areas that are affected by hyperpigmentation. Follow up with a moisturizer. Use at night.

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7. Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1%

Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1%

Best for: atrophic acne scars (indented acne scarring) and hyperpigmentation (dark spots)

Differin gel contains adapalene, a retinoid that has been found to be incredibly effective for treating acne. Adapalene increases cell turnover rates, which can help with hyperpigmentation. When used in conjunction with benzoyl peroxide, it may even be able to reduce the appearance of atrophic scars. Due to its acne-fighting abilities and potential to treat scars and marks, Differin is one of the best acne scar removal products available.

How to Use: Cleanse and pat dry your skin. Dispense the product onto your fingers and gently massage across the face. Follow up with a moisturizer. Use at night.

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When to See a Dermatologist

For many, these serums can be effective. However, you may need to seek help from a dermatologist if they aren’t working well enough. You’ll likely have good luck with treating hyperpigmentation on your own. That being said, when it comes to atrophic and hypertrophic scars, you may need to seek a stronger treatment from a professional.

Additional Tips for Treating Acne Scars

There are a few additional tips you should keep in mind when dealing with acne scars.

  • Wear Sunscreen Daily - Many of the mentioned products can increase sun sensitivity, so it is vital that you wear sunscreen on a daily basis to protect the skin. Additionally, sunscreen has been found to prevent acne scarring and discoloration, so it is another beneficial step you can take to keep your skin in its best shape.
  • Exfoliate Regularly - Exfoliating is important for treating acne scars and marks, so find a chemical exfoliant that works for you – like one of the options mentioned above. If you are looking to use two or more of the best serums for acne scars (such as a retinol and a chemical exfoliant), you may consider alternating between different products every other night. Some products may be too harsh to use together on your skin, or may not interact well.

FAQs

Does serum help with acne scars?

Serums can help with acne scars. For post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, serums can help speed up the healing process. Serums may be able to help with atrophic and hypertrophic scarring. However, these types of scars may be best treated by a professional.

What is the best product to get rid of acne scars?

There are a few types of products that may help people treat their acne scars. Some of the best serums for acne scars include those with active ingredients like vitamin C, alpha arbutin, retinoids, and azelaic acid.

How do you fade acne scars fast?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a product or trick that will instantly fade acne scars overnight. For the quickest results, it is important to use one or more of the best serums for acne scars on a consistent basis. It is also important to use sunscreen daily and to keep up with an acne-fighting skincare regimen.

Summary: Best Serums for Acne Scars

The Bottom Line

  • The two most common acne scars are atrophic and hypertrophic scars. They may be treatable with serums, but often require treatment from a professional for the best results.
  • Hyperpigmentation is often referred to as an acne scar, but it is actually just an acne mark. It typically clears up on its own, but serums can speed up the healing process.
  • The best serums for acne scars include active ingredients like vitamin C, alpha arbutin, retinoids, and azelaic acid.