At the risk of upsetting dermatologists everywhere, any time a pimple appears on my face, I pop it. Does it feel good? Absolutely. Is it good for me? No, and I know this because picking at those pesky little breakouts usually leads to acne scars that take forever to disappear. Why?
“As acne lesions clear, they often leave behind dark spots as a result of inflammation, which promotes increased pigment production, explains Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. "These dark spots can last for several months and are often more bothersome than the acne itself."
Hope is not lost, especially when there's a barrage of dermatologist-endorsed cleansers, serums, and treatments that reduce the appearance of scars and brighten your complexion over time. But the best way to get rid of acne scars? Eliminating acne, full stop. "The number one way to prevent acne scars is to prevent acne from forming in the first place,” Dr. Dennis Gross, M.D. and creator of Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare explains. “The acne you are seeing today actually began two weeks ago below the skin’s surface."
1 Skincare Alpha Beta Peel Extra Strength Formula
"Incorporating a gentle, daily chemical exfoliant helps improve overall texture and treat acne scars, but this two-step peel takes it a step further," Dr. Gross explains. "The alpha and beta hydroxy acids in step one loosen the glue that binds dead skin cells to the new, radiant ones underneath and also prevent dead skin cells from clogging pores. The second step is a neutralizer that is jam packed with amazing active ingredients like retinol, which helps smooth fine lines and wrinkles, and green tea extract."
2 The Best Treatments for Brightening SpectraLite FaceWare Pro
"This medical grade LED device is the perfect addition to your skincare routine to treat and prevent acne scars," says Dr. Gross. "It has 162 red and blue LED lights–red lights stimulate your skin’s own production of collagen, treating acne scars while the blue lights kill acne-causing bacteria, preventing future flare ups. You use this device once per day for three minutes on clean, dry skin. The device will never over-dry skin and is completely safe to use."
3 Clinical Grade IPL Dark Spot Correcting Serum
"Post-inflammatory hyper pigmentation is one of the main causes of acne scars," Dr. Gross explains. : This product targets PIH in three ways: it removes dead pigmented cells from skin’s surface, inhibits melanin transfer in the middle skin layers and prevents melanin production at the source – deep within skin. It is formulated with 10% l-ascorbic acid which is a form of vitamin C and stimulates your own production of collagen along with brightening the overall complexion."
4 DRx Blemish Solutions Acne Eliminating Gel
"This product uses a comprehensive approach to tackle acne, working in four ways: it decongests the pores, controls oil, kills acne-causing bacteria and reduces inflammation," Dr. Gross says. "Because it targets acne on multiple levels, it is great for all types of acne. It is also the first-ever skincare product to use monk pepper to treat acne. Monk pepper is a revolutionary ingredient because it prevents hormones from triggering our hormonal glands to make a thicker oil which gets more easily clogged in pores. Essentially, it works beauty monk pepper stimulates the pre-cursor to testosterone–a lookalike compound with a weaker biological effect on sebum. It also blocks testosterone from binding with the androgen receptor in the first place to prevent sebum production."
5 The Best Cleansers For Stubborn Marks Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser
Stubborn marks call for a powerful cleanser. "If you have acne, consider using a cleanser that contains salicylic acid," says Dr. Zeichner. "Aveeno's Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser delivers salicylic acid the skin without causing excessive dryness and helps remove excess oil and exfoliate dead cells from the surface of the skin to keep the pores clear."
6 The Best Cleansers For Stubborn Marks Purifying Cleanser with Glycolic Acid
Dr. Y. Claire Chang, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at NYC's Union Square Laser Dermatology, recommends SkinCeuticals' Purifying Cleanser, which "encourages cell turnover without drying out the skin." Plus, it's formulated with glycolic acid "to wash away dead skin cells on the top layer of the skin, leaving a very clean feel and improving acne blemishing."
7 The Best Treatments for Stubborn Marks Peter Thomas Roth Max Complexion Correction Pads
Salicylic acid and glycolic acid are the essential ingredients in these exfoliating pads. " Salicylic acid works to treat current pimples and existing scars, by increasing skin-cell turnover and declogging pores," says Dr. Change. " Glycolic acid chemically exfoliates the skin to even skin tone and decrease blemishes."
8 The Best Treatments for Stubborn Marks AGE Bright Spot Fader
Dermalogica's Age Bright Spot Fader is a multi-purpose treatment for acne. "Ideal for adults that are concerned about post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from breakouts, this two-in-one brightening spot treatment reduces the appearance of active breakouts and post-breakout marks," explains Heather Hickman, the Senior Director of Education at Dermalogica.
10 The Best Treatments for Stubborn Marks Retinol Intense+
Don't let the word "intense" listed on the front scare you away. While Chantecaille's serum is formulated with a good amount of retinol, it also comes packed with vitamin C and green decaffeinated coffee to tackle hyperpigmentation head-on.
11 The Best Serums for Stubborn Dark Spots Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum
"Topical treatments that contain retinoids, hydroquinone, and azelaic acid have all been proven to dramatically lighten dark marks," says Dr. Chang. "The Murad Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum pairs hydroquinone with vitamin C and glycolic acid, two dark mark-fighting ingredients. Glycolic acid helps improve existing brown spots by increasing skin-cell turnover and chemically exfoliating the skin; vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can brighten the skin."
12 The Best Serums for Stubborn Dark Spots Vitamin C Serum
To help fade dark spots faster, Dr. Z suggests reaching for Ghost Democracy's Lightbulb Vitamin C serum that provides a strong dose of vitamin C to bring you one step closer to clear skin.
13 The Best Spot Corrector for Stubborn Marks Rapid Tone Repair Dark Spot Corrector
Packed with a high concentration of vitamin C and retinol, this dark spot corrector aims to instantly penetrate into the skin to brighten and fade dark marks.
14 The Best Sunscreens for Prevention La Roche Posay Anthelios 60 Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid
"Wearing SPF every day will not only help prevent new discoloration, but keep your current scars from worsening over time," says Dr. Anne Chapas.
15 The Best Sunscreens for Prevention CeraVe Sun Protection, SPF 30 Sunscreen Face Lotion
Too much sun exposure can darken the spots even more, so sunscreen will be your best friend. “Scarring and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation can darken with sun exposure and linger on the skin longer than needed," Dr. Idriss adds. "Therefore, a broad spectrum sunscreen, most preferably a physical blocker, is strongly advised."
16 The Best Sunscreens for Prevention Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion with SPF 60
What's not to love about this Neutrogena classic? It has SPF 60 (more protection for your skin), leaves no residue, works wonders for sensitive skin, and costs as much as a fresh-pressed green juice.
17 The Best Sunscreens for Prevention SkinCeuticals Protect Ultra Facial Defense SPF 50 Plus
Stop premature aging right in its tracks with the proper sun protection. SkinCeuticals Protect Ultra Facial Defense sunscreen is a lightweight, moisturizing cream perfect for the sweltering summer heat and brisk winter air.
18 The Best Moisturizer for Prevention Pond's Clarant B3 Even Skin Tone Daily Facial Moisturizer with SPF 30 Sunscreen 1.7oz
This daily moisturizer delivers soft, supple skin for a more vibrant glow. It's also packed with SPF 30 to prevent further discoloration from occurring.
19 The Best Mask for Prevention Neutrogena Rapid Clear Leave-on Mask (2-Pack)
Spot-treating is a great preventative method for acne but Dr. Zeichner suggests treating the entire face to avoid any future breakouts with Neutrogena's Rapid Benzoyl Peroxide Leave-On Mask.
20 The Best Serums for Brightening Truth Serum
When scouring the aisles for acne treatments, Dr. Idriss suggests looking for "brightening agents such as kojic acid, niacin, vitamin C, licorice root extract that help reduce the effects of pigmentation."
21 The Best Serums for Brightening Rapid D Tone Correcting Serum
Perfect for those melasma, Nia 24's serum helps to diminish the appearance of brown marks and stimulates collagen production.
22 The Best Serums for Brightening Post-Acne Spot Lightening Gel
Murad's Post-Acne treatment is powered with hydoquinone, "a powerful skin- lightening ingredient used to reduce post-acne discoloration and dark spots," explains Dr. Sperling . The gel also mixes in tea tree oil, which is known for treating everything from cuts and bites to soothing irritated skin.
23 The Best Serums for Brightening C E Ferulic
"While a bit on the pricier side, SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic is a combination of vitamin C, vitamin E, and ferulic acid," Dr. Sperling explains. "This powerful blend of antioxidants is great for brightening the skin’s complexion and for treating dark spots and scarring."
24 The Best Treatments for Brightening The Complete GLO, GloPRO® + Pack N' Glo Microneedling Regeneration Set
This at-home microneedling treatment comes with a range of attachment heads that treat your face, lips, under eyes and body. Wrinkle, who?
25 The Best Treatments for Brightening Espada Blue Light Acne Treatment
Turn your bathroom into your own personal spa with Foreo's Blue Light acne treatment. The blue light zap acne directly at the root and gets deep beneath the skin's surface to prevent future breakouts.
Microneedling is another in-office service that helps to break up scarring and fade dark marks over time. Here is a comprehensive guide.
27 Chemical Peels
Chemical peels are known for balancing out your complexion and improving the skin's texture. Dr. Idriss advises booking a chemical peel, in addition to your at-home treatments (though you should always consult with your derm first) because "exfoliating with chemical peels can help the aforementioned products penetrate better and work more effectively."