How to get rid of acne scars—7 proven treatments recommended by experts

Dermatologists explain how to get rid of acne scars with methods and treatments proven to work

A woman smiling with clear skin after learning how to get rid of acne scars
(Image credit: Getty images)

To really get to the bottom of how to get rid of acne scars or marks, we've turned to the professionals to learn how to treat and mitigate acne scars, once and for all.

If you have acne scars that even the best foundation and learning how to apply concealer, still won't cover, we've got you.

As with anything complexion-related, getting rid of acne scars starts with your skincare routine. The greatest battle of all is learning how to get rid of acne, so once you've sorted that out with the best skincare routine for acne as well as professional treatments, you can start using targeted ingredients and treatments to maintain that clear complexion and smooth out any remaining textural issues. 

Here is everything you need to know about how to get rid of acne scars and ensure they stay away for good. 

How to get rid of acne scars—your expert guide

What are acne scars?

Firstly, it's important to understand what acne scars are, as they differ from the scars left by your average cut. Acne scars are small depressions in the skin—different in size and shape from a scar left by a cut or raised mark.

“Acne can cause trauma to the skin, and as acne lesions heal, the collagen that is produced may be deficient," says Dr. Alexis Granite, Consultant Dermatologist at Mallucci London.

Acne scar types can be defined as follows: 

  • Atrophic scars: Flat depressions in the skin where the acne was previously present.
  • Boxcar scars: Broad, box-like depressions with sharply defined borders.
  • Ice pick scars: Small, narrow indentations that are deeper than boxcar scars.
  • Rolling scars: These have sloping edges and may cause the skin to look wavy and uneven.

Separate from scars, acne marks can also develop—smooth red or darkened pigmentation blemishes left on the site of a spot long after it's gone. Darker skin tones are more prone to hyperpigmentation on the site of a spot because more melanin is produced in the skin to defend and protect against trauma.

The best treatments to clear acne scars 

Most people thinking about how to get rid of acne scars may find over-the-counter treatments are very effective on mild to moderate acne scarring. Learning how to use retinol and the best Vitamin C serums, for example, can work wonders. If you have more severe scarring, in-clinic treatments might be necessary. Below are the ones to look out for. 

1. Ingredient: Retinol

Best for: General texture improvements and pigmentation

This popular ingredient isn’t just for aging and acne, it increases cell turnover so fresh skin texture can surface and causes dark spots and hyperpigmentation to fade.

According to Dr. David Jack, Aesthetic Doctor and Founder of Dr. David Jack Clinic, “Topical retinoids such as retinol and tretinoin, the latter being prescription-only, can tackle both active acne and treat pigmentation by inhibiting the overproduction of melanin in the skin.” 

The best retinol creams shouldn't irritate the skin, but if you do feel sensitivity, switch to lower strength retinol or alternate with a moisturizer to cut down the number of days you're applying. 

2. Ingredient: Vitamin C

Best for: Stubborn post-inflammatory pigmentation

Often when you even out the color of a scar, the texture can appear improved too. When it comes to brightening and fading dark hyperpigmentation, look no further than Vitamin C in its purest form, known as ascorbic acid. This ingredient is packed with protective antioxidants that help brighten the skin and reduce the appearance of dark spots. The best vitamin C serums not only even out skin tone but also protect against free radicals like pollution and UV rays from sunlight. 

"Vitamin C works to fade all types of pigmentation and is an excellent choice when looking to fade post-inflammatory marks. I would recommend a concentration of 10% or higher," says Granite.

3. Ingredient: Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

Best for: Refining skin texture

Wen thinking about how to get rid of acne scars, AHAs should be a regular feature in your routine. According to New York dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as malic, lactic, and glycolic acid are a great way to gently refine the skin's surface and fade post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. "AHAs like lactic acid work to remove dead pigmented cells from the skin’s surface by gently loosening the bonds that hold these dead skin cells together." 

Other AHAs go beyond just exfoliation, so it's worth considering adding these to your routine. "Kojic acid, for example, actually prevents melanin production at the source, deep within the skin," says Gross. 

4. Pro treatment: Microneedling

A person using a microneedling tool on her cheek

(Image credit: Getty)

Best for: Collagen production to retexturize from within

Kickstarting your bodies’ natural healing abilities, microneedling involves tiny needles rolled across the skin to intentionally cause micro-injuries. Your skin then goes into healing mode and works to repair itself by producing new collagen—lessening the appearance of acne scars after a few sessions.

According to Margo Marrone, Founder of The Organic Pharmacy, “At home microneedling is very effective.” Although it won't achieve the effects of a professional microneedling pen treatment. If you do want to try microneedling at home, go gently. You are puncturing the skin after all. 

5. Pro treatment: Microdermabrasion

A woman receiving microdermabrasion from an expert

(Image credit: Getty)

Best for: Superficial texture improvements

This method of exfoliation involves a tool coated in fine crystals being massaged into the face, it goes a little deeper than an at-home scrub, but isn’t advisable for anyone suffering from deeply pitted scars as it won’t reach far enough into the skin. 

“This form of exfoliation only works superficially on the skin’s surface layer,” explains Genevieve Knodell, an aesthetic practitioner at Stratum Dermatology Clinics. “If you go down this treatment route, opt for a medical dermabrasion device with infusion of active serums for better results.”

6. Pro treatment: Chemical peels

A woman receiving a chemical peel treatment for acne scars

(Image credit: Getty)

Best for: Shedding post-inflammatory pigmentation

Like microdermabrasion, chemical peels only work on the surface layers of the skin. They are not suitable for deep scarring, but they can help lessen pigmentation. Powerful chemical peels should always be administered by a professional and are strictly not for home-use.

“In-clinic chemical peels contain strong ingredients and can improve the surface texture of the skin and tackle hyperpigmentation—a number of treatments are often required for best results,” says Dr. Jack. 

7. Pro treatment: Subcision and dermal fillers

A woman receiving dermal fillers

(Image credit: Getty)

Best for: Very effective retexturizing

It might sound gruesome but subcision, followed by dermal fillers, can be fantastic for deeply pitted scars when treated by a doctor.

“This involves use of a needle to break apart the deep scar tissue under the skin, releasing the tethering and freeing up the scar tissue from underneath,” explains Dr. Jack. “I then often inject some dermal filler into the area to help keep the skin untethered and fill the gap where the pit in the skin was.”

Although dermal fillers are temporary they can have a natural collagen-stimulating effect within the body so areas that have been injected can stay plump for longer than filler will last. 

Top tip for how to get rid of acne scars fast: start early

Mild acne scarring can stick around for months (three to six months on average) but you can speed this process up to a couple weeks or even a few days, when using the right products. It’s a good idea to start treating acne scars as soon as possible, the longer you leave them, the harder it is to get rid of them.

woman&home thanks Dr. Alexis Granite, Dr. David Jack, Dr Dennis Gross, Margo Marrone and Genevieve Knodell for their time and expertise

Emma North is a Beauty Writer who works for digital titles including woman&home, Woman, Woman’s Weekly, Woman’s Own, Chat and GoodtoKnow. Emma’s career in beauty journalism began with internships at publications including Vogue, Elle, The Telegraph and Glamour. She was then taken under the wing of Funmi Fetto, Contributing Beauty Editor at Vogue where Emma assisted with Funmi’s debut beauty book, Palette.