Skincare Ingredients That Help Treat Acne Scars

Skincare Ingredients That Help Treat Acne Scars I Mirra Skincare

Finding the right ingredients to treat your acne will likely make you feel as if you’ve won the battle. However, struggling to treat acne scars on the other hand can have you frustrated when it comes to winning the war. 


1.What Are Acne Scars?

2.Skincare Ingredients That Help Treat Acne Scars

Key Points

  • Acne scars result from the inflammation of acne blemishes and can be found in those with inflammatory acne or those who pick and pop their blemishes to cause inflammation of the skin.
  • There are several different types of acne scars, which might require different treatment.
  • Ingredients that are known to help treat acne scars include, glycolic acid, lactic acid, retinol, vitamin C, AHAs, salicylic acid, mandelic acid, and more.

Long after a breakout or blemish has subsided, acne scars can leave their mark for months – and even up to years in a lot of cases. Ranging from pitted acne scars to red or darker hyperpigmentation, acne scars can come in a ton of colors, shapes, and sizes. That’s why it can be so tough to find the right skincare ingredients for you that will help treat acne scars. While it’s tough, it’s definitely not impossible.

We should also remember that acne scars aren't ugly, gross, or something you need to get rid of, but treating them can boost confidence and elimiate pain from makeup or irritants around you. Here are the best skincare ingredients that will help you treat acne scars and reach your skincare goals.

What Are Acne Scars? 

Acne scars are a lot more common than you may think. In fact, one out of five people with acne will develop acne scarring (1). But that leaves one glaring question – where do acne scars come from and how do they form? Why do some people get acne scars and others do not? Basically, acne scars are a result from a few issues, but namely the inflammation of acne blemishes. When the acne pore swells, a breakdown occurs in the wall of the pore and can cause issues with the surrounding tissue which can ultimately cause deeper scars (1). 

When it comes to who develops acne scars and why, some people are more likely to see scars develop when the acne clears, including people who:

  • Have inflammatory acne that is swollen, red, and painful. Acne cysts for example can penetrate deep into the skin causing damage. Neglecting to treat inflammatory acne can also cause a greater risk of scarring.
  • Pick, squeeze, and pop blemishes as this can increase inflammation
  • Are related to someone who also developed acne scars (2)

While the above criteria can increase one’s risk of developing acne scars, it’s not always possible to predict when or why acne scars form. Even those who meet every single criterion may not develop scarring, but knowing the causes of acne scars for prevention certainly can’t hurt. Plus, knowing the different kinds of acne scars there are is another great factoid to keep in mind as you work with a dermatologist to find the right methods to treat your acne scars.

Working with a dermatologist is key as some types of acne scars benefit from solely topical treatments and products with beneficial ingredients while others benefit from other methods of treatment like micro-needling or laser skin resurfacing.

The different types of acne scars include:

  • Depressed Acne Scars: Pitted acne scars resulting from inflammatory acne that can cause rolling scars, boxcar scars, and ice pick scars that manifest as shallow or deep indentations in the skin (3).
  • Raised Acne Scars: Resulting from inflammation, these scars form from excess scar tissue on the surface of the skin and appear bumpy or uneven. The two main types of this type of acne scarring are keloid and hypertrophic scars (3).
  • Post-inflammatory Hyperpigmentation: Usually develop from skin picking or popping blemishes. They are not technically a type of scarring but are usually grouped in with acne scars as they are a visible blemish resulting from inflamed skin and acne (4). 

    Skincare Ingredients That Help Treat Acne Scars

    1. Vitamin C 

    • Vitamin C is a brightening agent and an antioxidant that has been shown to build collagen as well. The brightening properties of vitamin C allow the ingredient to help treat hyperpigmentation while preventing the darkening of spots by defending against UV damage as an antioxidant.
    • Classification and Rating on Paula’s Choice: Antioxidant with BEST rating (5)
    • To get your vitamin C, it can be found in plenty of skincare products such as moisturizers, creams, serums, cleansers, and more. Be mindful of using vitamin C alongside niacinamide as it may make the vitamin C less effective.

    2. Arbutin

    • Arbutin is an antioxidant that has been backed by research for fading discolorations and evening out skin tone.
    • Classification and Rating on Paula’s Choice: Antioxidant and Plant Extract with BEST rating (5)
    • For effective results, you can use arbutin in combination with creams, cleansers, and serums that have lightening properties as the arbutin tends to be gentle. Arbutin can be found in many existing skincare products but is mainly an ingredient in serums, masks, and creams.

    3. Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

    • AHAs have plenty of benefits including anti-aging and hydrating benefits, but when it comes to acne scarring, it’s known for being a go-to ingredient to even out skin tone.
    • Classification and Rating on Paula’s Choice: Exfoliant and Humectant with BEST rating (5)
    • AHAs should be applied after a cleanser and toner in your skincare ritual. It is recommended to take it slow and use small amounts in the beginning to make sure they’re right for your skin after performing a patch test. AHAs can be found in serums and moisturizers. 

    4. Glycolic Acid

    • This type of AHA promotes cellular turnover to help even out the skin’s surface and skin tone in those with hyperpigmented skin from acne.
    • Classification and Rating on Paula’s Choice: Exfoliant, Humectant, and pH Adjuster/Stabilizer with BEST rating (5)
    • Glycolic acid should be applied in the evening as it can cause increased sensitivity to UV rays and cause further damage to the skin. It is recommended to use a product with glycolic acid up to twice a week just so your skin can build a tolerance. AHAs can be found in serums, creams, toners and serums.
    • In studies, glycolic acid has been a proven beneficial ingredient for more than just hyperpigmented skin resulting from acne scarring. Showing improvements in those with ice pick and boxcar scars, studies have shown particularly effective treatments for acne scarring including glycolic acid peels (6,7).

    5. Lactic Acid

    • Lactic acid is another type of AHA that adds a brightening boost to any product that is great for smoothing out the skin through exfoliation and lightening hyperpigmentation. It is also known for strengthening the skin’s barrier.
    • Classification and Rating on Paula’s Choice: Exfoliant, Humectant, and pH Adjuster/Stabilizer with BEST rating (5)
    • To use, apply a thin layer of lactic acid serum once daily in the evening after toners and before a moisturizer. Like other acids, it is recommended to use it a few times a week when first starting in order to build up the skin’s tolerance.

    6. Azelaic Acid

    • This ingredient can help with both fading hyperpigmentation on existing acne scars while preventing future breakouts. It is also known for reducing redness, diminishing blemishes, exfoliating to improve texture, and its antioxidant benefits.
    • Classification and Rating on Paula’s Choice: Antioxidant, Exfoliant, and pH Adjuster/Stabilizer with BEST rating (5)
    • It is recommended to use azelaic acid at night as a spot treatment after toning. The ingredient can be applied on its own or even mixed into serums.

      7. Tranexamic acid

      • Products with tranexamic acid as an ingredient can help to improve discoloration, reduce redness, and reduce dark spots from hyperpigmentation.
      • Classification and Rating on Paula’s Choice: Humectant with BEST rating (5)
      • Tranexamic acid should be used once or twice daily (both morning and night) once your skin has shown it can handle the ingredient. It can be found in serums and is typically used alongside vitamin C and/or retinol.

      8. Retinol 

      • Retinol can help lessen the appearance of acne scars by boosting collagen and increasing cell turnover to smooth the skin’s surface. This is also helpful when it comes to treating hyperpigmentation resulting from acne.
      • Classification and Rating on Paula’s Choice: Antioxidant with BEST rating (5)
      • Retinol can be found in serums and creams and is usually used after cleaning and before moisturizer in nighttime skincare rituals. This is another ingredient that should be used in moderation to make sure you don’t experience any redness or flaky skin before using products with retinol consistently.

      9. Niacinamide

      • Niacinamide reduces inflammation, which is key to prevent and treat acne scars. It is a form of vitamin B3 that also reduces redness and hyperpigmentation to even out skin tone.
      • Classification and Rating on Paula’s Choice: Antioxidant and Humectant with BEST rating (5)
      • Niacinamide can be used after cleansing and before moisturizer, sometimes in tandem with hyaluronic acid. The ingredient can be used up to twice a day in the morning and evening. For the best results, formulas that can be left on the skin, like serums and moisturizers are recommended in comparison to cleansers.

      10. Salicylic Acid 

      • An ingredient with anti-acne, anti-aging, and blackhead reducing properties that is also known to be an incredible exfoliator as a beta hydroxy acid (BHA).
      • Classification and Rating on Paula’s Choice: Exfoliant and Humectant with BEST rating (5)
      • Salicylic acid is typically used in moderation at first to make sure your skin can build up a tolerance. Consulting with a dermatologist is crucial as you don’t want to use more or less than your skin needs. As a common ingredient, it can be found in cleansers, moisturizers, gels, masks, spot treatments, and more.
      • According to studies, salicylic acid is one of the best peeling agents to treat acne scars (8).

      11. Mandelic Acid

      • Like the acids listed above, mandelic acid is a great ingredient to treat acne scars as it evens out skin tone and smooths textured skin. Also known as amygdalic acid, mandelic acid is a type of AHA that can exfoliate the skin and is known to be a good ingredient for those with sensitive skin.
      • Classification and Rating on Paula’s Choice: Exfoliant with GOOD rating (5)
      • In comparison to glycolic acid, most would say glycolic acid is more effective but mandelic acid is considered to be more tolerable for sensitive skin. Unlike glycolic acid, mandelic acid is light-sensitive and can be found in opaque packaging to remain effective. It can be found in many topical products like serums and cleansers.
      Skincare Ingredients That Help Treat Acne Scars I Mirra Skincare

      Written by Selena Ponton

      UP NEXT:

      Winter Skincare Tips to Avoid Dry Skin

      10 Common Thyroid Symptoms and What They Mean for Your Health


      1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21222-acne-scars
      2. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/derm-treat/scars/causes
      3. https://www.andreacatton.co.uk/2015/11/the-different-types-of-acne-scars-with-pictures/
      4. https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/do-acne-scars-go-away#acne-scar-types
      5. https://www.paulaschoice.com/ingredients/ingredient-alpha-hydroxy-acid.html?q=Alpha%20Hydroxy%20Acid&fdid=ingredients
      6. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2059513117695312
      7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4375771/
      8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2958495/

      Leave a comment

      Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

      Self Care 101: The 6 Different Types of Self-Care
      0 Comment
      Too often, we feel swept up in day-to-day tasks, suffocated by our long-term goals, and stumped by the opposition tha ...
      How to Have Good Sleep Hygiene For a Good Night’s Rest
      0 Comment
      Although brushing your teeth, showering, or washing your face seem like no-brainers in some of our bedtime routines, ...
      Myth Busted! Do Skin Care Ingredients in Hair Care Products Work?
      0 Comment
      It feels like nothing is simple these days. We’ve gone from picking up the cheapest, best-scented drugstore hair prod ...