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The Best Acne Scar Treatments for Sensitive, Dry and Oily Skin

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Written by Jenna Cartusciello
Best Acne Scar Treatments

Hoping to find the best acne scar treatment that will smooth out pockmarks, fade red spots and brighten hyperpigmentation? While it can be as simple as choosing the most popular retinoid cream on TikTok, taking the time to understand active ingredients and how they affect your skin will help you achieve an optimal, customized skincare routine. Plus, different scars require different treatments — so you may not need the strongest product out there and could avoid unnecessary irritation.

Let’s dive right in: There are four main types of acne scars, including post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (dark spots), post-inflammatory erythema (red spots), atrophic scars (indented scars) and hypertrophic scars (raised bumps). Dermatologists recommend various active ingredients for each category, and some active ingredients can improve the appearance of more than one type of scar. Below, we explore the pros and cons of the best acne scar treatments and give you a breakdown on the lingo so you can make informed decisions about your skincare routine.

16 Best Topical Acne Scar Treatments 

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Finding the Best Acne Scar Treatments

Topical acne scar treatments are just one part of a healthy skincare routine for eliminating unwanted discoloration, bumps and pock marks. The other part? Professional resurfacing treatments provided by dermatologists and aestheticians, depending on the severity. Based on your case, a dermatologist may recommend microneedling, laser treatments, chemical peels, injections of corticosteroids or fillers. It’s also important to apply a 50+ SPF sunscreen at least twice daily, according to Dr. David Lim, lead dermatologist at Cutis Clinic in Brisbane, Australia.

Of course, professional resurfacing treatments are expensive, and Dr. Lim doesn’t always recommend them for mild to moderate cases. If you’re on a budget, you can still achieve great skin from home. Just temper your expectations! Topical treatments take time, and they won’t necessarily transform moderate to severe atrophic and hypertrophic scarring.

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Acne Scar Treatments

Before buying an acne scar treatment, it’s important to consider your scar type, the active ingredients that will be effective, inactive ingredients that are crucial for a healthy skin barrier, your level of sensitivity and your skin type.

Acne Scar Type

As we previously mentioned, dermatologists categorize acne scars into four types: hyperpigmentation, erythema, atrophic scars and hypertrophic scars. Hyperpigmentation (dark discoloration) is most common on darker skin tones, while erythema (red discoloration) can occur on all skin tones but is easier to detect on lighter tones.

Atrophic scars include ice pick, rolling and boxcar scars, which are all types of indentations. Hypertrophic scars are raised bumps that occur from thickened scar tissue. Generally, atrophic and hypertrophic scars are far more difficult to get rid of than hyperpigmentation and erythema.

Active Ingredients

The key to achieving results for your acne scars is knowing which active ingredients will improve your skin’s appearance without causing irritation and raising your risk of another breakout. To help you get started, check out our breakdown of the active ingredients dermatologists recommend for scarring below. (Note: If you have sensitive skin, start with products marketed towards sensitive skin. Ideally, these products will have low concentrations of retinol and other strong actives.)

  • Retinoids (for all acne scar types) are forms of vitamin A or chemical compounds closely related to vitamin A. They include strong, prescription retinoids such as tazarotene, trifarotene, tretinoin and adapalene, and weaker, over-the-counter retinoids like retinyl esters, retinal and retinol. Note that adapalene in weaker concentrations is often sold over the counter.
  • Azelaic Acid (for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and post-inflammatory erythema) is a gentle acid that works well on all skin types (dry, oily and combination) to treat dark and red acne scars. It also treats mild to moderate acne caused by inflammation.
  • Niacinamide (for dark spots and red spots) is a form of vitamin B3 with a host of skin benefits, including a brightening effect on dark and red spots. It also helps reduce inflammation and prevents moisture from leaving the skin.
  • Vitamin C (for dark spots and mild, atrophic scars), in the form of ascorbic acid, is an anti-inflammatory that brightens hyperpigmentation and inhibits pigment production. It also helps increase the skin’s collagen production, which improves the appearance of mild atrophic scarring.
  • Hydroquinone (for dark spots) is a skin-lightening agent that brightens and reduces the appearance of skin marks.
  • Arbutin (for dark spots) is a natural derivative of hydroquinone. Since it is milder than hydroquinone, it can provide the same skin-lightening benefits but is less likely to cause side effects like itchiness, redness and dryness.
  • Tranexamic Acid (for dark spots) is an anti-inflammatory chemical compound that inhibits pigment production, calms the skin and helps restore the skin barrier. According to Dr. Lim, tranexamic acid is most effective when taken orally, but may have some positive effects if applied topically.

Inactive Ingredients

Hydrating and anti-inflammatory ingredients are important additions to any acne scar treatment, because they will replenish moisture and mitigate irritation. Great hydrators to look out for include glycerin, hyaluronic acid, allantoin, petrolatum and squalane. Non-active anti-inflammatories include green tea, chamomile extract, aloe vera and ceramides.

Skin Sensitivity

Your skin’s sensitivity level will help you determine the strength of your acne scar treatment. If you have very sensitive skin, we recommend choosing a gentle treatment such as encapsulated, low-dose retinol (encapsulated retinol releases gradually into the skin which reduces irritation). If you have a moderate to high tolerance to active ingredients, you may be able to handle stronger serums and creams. We also recommend avoiding fragrance (including essential oils) in your acne scar treatment to reduce your risk of irritation.

Skin Type

The best acne scar treatments are designed for oily, dry and combination skin, but certain formulas will be better suited to certain skin types. For instance, oily skin may benefit from a gel-based formula that has very lightweight hydrators like aloe vera and hyaluronic acid. Dry skin would pair well with a cream-based or serum-based formula that contains squalane or petrolatum (though aloe vera and hyaluronic acid are also beneficial). Combination skin would do well with either a gel or serum base.

What Are the Different Types of Acne Scar Treatments?

According to Dr. Muneeb Shah, board-certified dermatologist and influencer, different types of scarring require different treatments. There is some overlap — meaning certain active ingredients can help treat two or more types of scarring. Learn more about each scar type and the treatments Dr. Shah recommends below.

Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is dark discoloration that appears on the skin where a pimple, lesion or patch of irritation used to be. It occurs because the body creates inflammation to heal the affected area, and this inflammation causes your skin to produce more melanin. Generally, PIH is more common for people with darker skin.

So, how do you treat it? Dr. Shah recommends facial treatments that include retinoids, tranexamic acid, azelaic acid, niacinamide, vitamin C, arbutin or hydroquinone.

Post-Inflammatory Erythema

Post-inflammatory erythema (PIE) is a term that refers to pink or red marks left on your skin after a breakout. In general, PIE affects people with lighter skin. Note that PIE often resolves on its own, but if you want to speed up the healing process, over-the-counter acne products can help. Dermatologists recommend azelaic acid, retinoids and niacinamide for PIE.

Atrophic and Hypertrophic Acne Scarring

Atrophic acne scarring refers to indented scars, or ones that rest below the skin’s surface, and hypertrophic scarring refers to raised bumps. Atrophic scars form when your skin has insufficient collagen during the healing process. In contrast, hypertrophic scars form when extra connective tissue develops around the original wound.

Both types of scars are very difficult to get rid of. In addition to topical retinoids and vitamin C, dermatologists recommend trying microneedling, laser peels or chemical peels for atrophic and hypertrophic scars.


Best Overall: NUVADERMIS Scar Gel Acne Scar Treatment


  • Diminishes the appearance of acne scars
  • Enriched with hydrating and nourishing ingredients
  • Clinically proven to be effective


  • May experience sensitivity

Experience the ultimate in scar care with the NUVADERMIS Post-Surgery Acne Scar Treatment, a revolutionary formula designed to fade acne scars and restore skin confidence. Crafted with precision and backed by dermatologist expertise, this treatment is specifically formulated to target post-surgery acne scars, effectively diminishing their appearance and promoting smoother, more radiant skin. Infused with advanced ingredients such as vitamin E, hyaluronic acid, and botanical extracts, this treatment not only helps to reduce scar visibility but also nourishes and hydrates the skin, aiding in the natural healing process.


Best Overall for Hyperpigmentation: Simple Science 0.1% Retinol + 1% Azelaic Acid + 3% Niacinamide


  • Great for frequent use
  • Lightweight
  • Simple formula


  • Pricey
  • May be too strong for sensitive skin
  • Drying

Whether you’re a beginner retinol user or an experienced pro, the Simple Science Retinol, Azelaic Acid and Niacinamide Serum is an excellent addition to your skincare routine for hyperpigmentation-based acne scars. A low dose of retinol combined with azelaic acid helps fade dark spots, while niacinamide naturally brightens the skin, deters irritation and promotes collagen production.

However, this product may be too strong for sensitive skin types and cause irritation. (If you’re an advanced user, consider applying this product daily or every other day. Beginners and those with sensitive skin should introduce it once every week, then gradually build up to every other day or everyday.) It’s also pricey for a one-ounce bottle and may be drying.


Best Overall for Erythema (Red Spots): Naturium Azelaic Topical Acid 10%


  • 3 active ingredients for discoloration
  • Gentle
  • Lightweight


  • May smell bad
  • May not be strong enough
  • Some buyers wish it had more vitamin C

If you’re looking for the perfect skin-brightening and anti-inflammatory combo, try Naturium’s Azelaic Topical Acid Serum. The high dosage of azelaic acid targets discoloration (and fine lines), while niacinamide brightens and reduces risk of inflammation. Vitamin C (in the form of ascorbic acid — a big plus!) also reduces discoloration, inhibits hyperpigmentation and protects the skin against environmental stressors. We love that the serum is also lightweight.

The downsides: A few customers have complained about this product’s smell, which may be a sign that it has gone bad. We recommend storing it in the fridge or a cool, dry place. In addition, some buyers found that it didn’t do enough to help their discoloration, while others wish it had more vitamin C (it is low on the ingredient list).


Best Overall for Atrophic (Indented) Scars: Differin Adapalene 0.1% Gel


  • Helps resurface skin
  • Great for normal to oily skin
  • Prevents inflammatory acne over time


  • Can take a while to see results
  • Not for sensitive skin
  • Drying

Differin Gel is widely recognized in the skincare community for its ability to treat atrophic acne scars, and it’s all thanks to the key ingredient: adapalene. A retinoid derivative, adapalene helps normalize skin cell turnover, unclog pores, reduce inflammation and resurface the skin to improve texture. It’s also a water-based formula, which makes it great for normal to oily skin.

However, adapalene is not for everyone. It’s still a potent retinoid at 0.1% and may cause burning, redness and peeling. The formula is very drying as well, so you may need to sandwich it between layers of moisturizer.


Best Prescription: TARO Trentinoin 0.1% Cream


  • Reduces active breakouts
  • Helps resurface skin
  • Anti-aging


  • Online subscription renews every 3 months
  • Prescription can be a hassle
  • Not for sensitive skin

Works For: Atrophic and Hypertrophic Scars

If you’ve tried a wide variety of retinols for atrophic or hypertrophic scars and you’re ready to go to a prescription strength, we recommend the TARO Trentinoin 0.1% Cream. It not only reduces active breakouts, but also helps improve the surface of the skin by evening out texture.

The downsides? This product will make your skin noticeably more sensitive. Getting a prescription can also be a hassle, and the strength of the trentinoin, even in the 0.025% and 0.05% doses available, can cause burning and redness. (Make sure you gradually introduce this product into your routine.)


Best for Mild Scarring: The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% and Zinc 1% Oil Control Serum


  • Affordable
  • High niacinamide concentration
  • Zinc helps prevent breakouts


  • Tacky feel
  • Shiny finish
  • May be too strong

Hoping to gently brighten your skin and reduce mild scarring? If so, The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% and Zinc 1% Serum is a great place to start. The high concentration of niacinamide lightens acne scars and reduces inflammation, while zinc keeps mild breakouts at bay. This product is also one of our most affordable picks.

On the other hand, this serum has a tacky feel when dry and a shiny finish (though you can easily mitigate it by applying moisturizer on top). A few buyers also felt that it was too strong and caused irritation.


Best for Active Acne and Hyperpigmentation: La Roche Posay Effaclear Acne Treatment Salicylic Acid Face Serum


  • Deeply penetrates pores
  • Lightens hyperpigmentation
  • Lightweight


  • Pricey
  • May be too strong
  • May cause skin purging

Struggling with a breakout and discoloration at the same time? Then it’s time to try the La Roche Posay Acne Treatment. The key ingredient is salicylic acid, which is a well-known chemical exfoliant for acne that deeply cleans out pores. Since it also promotes skin cell turnover, this lightweight formula is also great for hyperpigmentation and erythema.

However, this product is pricey at $40 for one ounce. It may also be too strong for sensitive skin types (as it also contains glycolic acid).


Best Salicylic Acid Treatment: Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant


  • Unclogs pores
  • Smooths out skin texture
  • Lightweight


  • Pricey
  • Pour spout isn’t convenient

What we like about the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting BHA Exfoliant: The 2% BHA (a.k.a. salicylic acid) effectively unclogs pores and sloughs off dead skin cells, making it a great product for acne scars. It also smooths out skin texture and has a lightweight, non-gooey feel, so it never feels heavy under a layer of moisturizer.

What some buyers may not like: As with all salicylic acid products, this one can cause purging. It’s also likely to cause irritation if you don’t gradually incorporate it into your routine. Plus, the pour spout isn’t as convenient as a pump, though it is easier to recycle.


Best Vitamin C Serum: Banish Dark Spot Corrector Serum With Vitamin C & E


  • Brightens dark spots
  • Protects against environmental stressors
  • Smooths skin texture


  • Expensive
  • Takes time to see results
  • Increases skin sensitivity

Dr. Lim highly recommends the Banish Dark Spot Corrector Serum for all types of acne scars, primarily because it contains L-ascorbic acid — an antioxidant with a lot of testing to back up its efficacy. L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is a superpower; it brightens dark spots, smooths its surface, inhibits the production of pigment and protects the skin against environmental stressors. Plus, the formula is gentle and suitable for all skin types.

However, seeing results can take some time, which some buyers may not like. This product can also increase your skin’s sensitivity and it isn’t readily available at most retailers.


Best Retinol for Sensitive Skin: CosRx The Retinol 0.1% Cream


  • Promotes collagen production
  • Lightweight
  • Hydrating


  • Store in fridge to maintain product efficacy
  • Not great for oily skin
  • Causes increased skin sensitivity

Retinol is one of the most difficult active ingredients to adjust to, which is why a low-dose formula like the CosRx The Retinol 0.1% Cream is an important option. It helps promote collagen production, which is important for acne scars, while reducing signs of aging. We like that it has a lightweight texture and contains key hydrators like ceramides and hyaluronic acid.

Note that this product can still cause irritation and increased sensitivity, thanks to the retinol. It also contains shea butter and sunflower seed oil, which are non comedogenic and great for dry skin but not ideal for oily skin.


Best Moderate Retinol Treatment: Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Night Serum


  • Smooths texture
  • Treats hyperpigmentation
  • Encapsulated retinol (more effective and less irritating)


  • May be too strong
  • Exact retinol concentration unknown
  • Results take time

What the Peter Thomas Roth Retinol does well: This product is highly potent, so it’s effective at treating both texture and hyperpigmentation-related acne scars. We love that the retinol is encapsulated, so it gradually releases into the skin over time and is therefore less likely to cause irritation. The lightweight texture makes this a great serum underneath a heavy, nighttime moisturizer.

What could be improved: Peter Thomas Roth does not disclose the exact retinol concentration, and it may be too strong for sensitive skin. It’s also an expensive product, and results can take time.


Best Strong Retinol: RoC Retinol Correxion Anti-Aging Wrinkle Night Serum Capsules


  • Capsules maintain freshness
  • Great for atrophic scars
  • Capsules are biodegradable


  • Exact retinol percentage unknown
  • May not be effective on severe acne scars
  • Have to use entire capsule each time

Retinol in a bottle loses its potency over time, especially if you don’t refrigerate it or store it properly. Fortunately, the RoC Retinol Correxion Capsules solve the issue. Each capsule contains one application of retinol, and the exterior maintains the freshness and integrity of the product (no refrigeration needed). We also appreciate that the capsules are biodegradable.

However, the retinol concentration in this product is likely low (RoC doesn’t disclose the exact percentage), so it may not be effective on severe atrophic or hypertrophic acne scars. It may also feel frustrating to use an entire capsule at a time instead of controlling your dosage.


Best Splurge: Skin Better Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream


  • Brightens discoloration
  • Smooths rough skin
  • Contains antioxidants


  • Increases sun sensitivity
  • Need to build up to nightly use
  • Not available at most retailers

For a truly luxurious skincare experience to reduce all types of acne scars, we like the AlphaRet Overnight Cream from Skin Better Science. It contains a unique active ingredient called AlphaRet, which is a combination of retinoid and lactic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid. It works to gently brighten uneven skin tone, smooth texture and (bonus!) reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

This product is easy enough on the skin to be used every night, though you will have to build up a tolerance by gradually incorporating it into your routine. The formula also increases your skin sensitivity, so it’s very important to wear sunscreen during the day.


Best for Oily Skin: Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Treatment


  • Absorbs quickly
  • Non-greasy
  • Contains vitamin C


  • May be too strong
  • Takes a while to build up tolerance
  • Expensive

If you struggle with oily skin, a lightweight formula for all types of acne scars that doesn’t contain heavy moisturizers is ideal. The 1% Retinol Treatment by Paula’s Choice is a great pick because it absorbs quickly into the skin and doesn’t feel greasy. We love that it contains both retinol and vitamin C to help smooth and brighten skin.

Note that the high concentration of retinol is great for tough acne scars, but it can take a while to build up a tolerance to it. (It may cause redness, burning and peeling.) In addition, a full-size bottle is expensive.


Best for Dry Skin: Bliss Youth Got This Pure Retinol Deep Hydration Moisturizer


  • Low dose, gentle retinol
  • Very hydrating
  • Plumping ingredients like peptides


  • May increase skin sensitivity
  • Unknown retinol concentration
  • Not great for oily skin

If you want to reduce the appearance of atrophic acne scars or hyperpigmentation but struggle with dry skin, try the Bliss Youth Got This Moisturizer. It has a low dose of retinol to reduce the chances of irritation plus silky hydrators and plumpers like peptides and squalane.

Bliss recommends using this formula morning and night because the retinol concentration is low, but you may still need to build up to daily use. We wish that Bliss disclosed the exact retinol concentration. Note that this product isn’t the best for oily skin.


Best Body Serum: Paula’s Choice Weightless Body Treatment 2% BHA


  • Clears clogged pores
  • Exfoliates
  • Lightweight


  • Irritating
  • Pricey
  • Drying

Hoping to eliminate acne scars on your body? If so, we recommend the Weightless Body Treatment by Paula’s Choice. It contains a high dose of salicylic acid (a beta-hydroxy acid, or BHA), which clears clogged pores and exfoliates, leaving behind smooth, radiant skin. We like that this formula is lightweight and easy to apply.

However, this product may cause peeling, burning and general irritation, especially if it’s your first time applying salicylic acid to your body. It can also get pricey if you use it frequently and apply it to large areas.


Best Body Wash: CeraVe SA Body Wash for Rough & Bumpy Skin


  • Ceramides may strengthen skin barrier
  • Reduces appearance of acne scars
  • Clears clogged pores


  • Doesn’t lather
  • May cause irritation

A wash-off treatment may be better for you if leave-on treatments are too irritating. In this case, we recommend the CeraVe SA Body Wash for Rough & Bumpy Skin. It contains ceramides which may help strengthen the skin barrier in wash-off form, and the salicylic acid helps reduce the appearance of acne scars.

However, a few customers wished that this product had a scent — though we don’t recommend it! It also doesn’t have much of a lather and may cause irritation if you don’t have a tolerance to salicylic acid.

People Also Ask

  • Q: What is most effective for acne scars?

    A:Retinoids are the gold standard for acne scars, though they are known to cause significant irritation. If you are a beginner, we recommend starting with a low dose retinol below 1% or opting for an encapsulated retinol.

  • Q: What do dermatologists recommend for acne scars?

    A:For acne scars in the form of skin discoloration, dermatologists recommend applying a skin brightener such as niacinamide, vitamin C (in the form of ascorbic acid), hydroquinone or arbutin. For raised bumps or depressions, try topical retinoids. Note that professional skin resurfacing procedures like microneedling are also effective.

  • Q: Can I use acne scar treatments if I have active pimples?

    A:“When you talk about scarring, you’ve got to make sure your acne is under control, which means having fewer breakouts,” says Dr. David Lim, lead dermatologist at Cutis Clinic in Brisbane, Australia. “That will break the cycle and reduce skin inflammation.” In other words, treat your breakout first, then worry about scarring. However, you may be able to use a retinoid product which would treat both.

  • Q: Which acne scar is easiest to treat?

    A:Post-inflammatory erythema is typically the easiest acne scar to treat, and sometimes it goes away on its own.

  • Q: What are the most common professional treatments for acne scar removal?

    A:Many dermatologists have recommended microneedling, chemical peels, corticosteroid injections and laser treatments to help reduce moderate to severe atrophic and hypertrophic scars.

  • Q: How much do acne scar treatments cost?

    A:Topical, at-home acne scar treatments can cost anywhere between $6 and $300. Our recommendations range between $6 and $100.

Why trust Us

At Us Weekly, we aim to inform readers to make smart purchasing decisions, saving you both time and money. Our editors are obsessed with finding products in a variety of categories from fashion and beauty, to home and fitness.

We try various products, so we can recommend our favorites, and we also summarize feedback and data from other customers. Data, like product reviews and ratings, helps us recommend the best product choices for individual price points and needs.

On top of that, we highlight unique product features for special use cases, ingredients preferences, and more. We strive to make sure you are discovering new products that can make your life easier, while keeping you up to date with the best product choices for types of items you already know and love.

Author photo

By Jenna Cartusciello

Affiliate Commerce Writer Jenna loves recommending great products to her friends and family, so helping the rest of the internet on their quest to find the best stuff makes tremendous sense! Though she mainly writes in-depth buyer’s guides these days, Jenna still enjoys crafting the occasional health article. In her spare time, she loves immersing herself in creative writing. Her favorite authors (for anyone who is willing to geek out with her) include Neil Gaiman, Cheryl Strayed, and Jennifer Egan.

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