How to Treat Post-Acne Scarring?

Published in: Skin Care, Top Posts

clinique even better

Earlier this summer I broke out somethin’ fierce. Eventually my skin cleared up, but many of the pimples left discolored post-acne scars, boo!

Then I got this email from reader Katie:

“Hey Karen,

I was wondering if you’ve tried any products to reduce or get rid of existing acne scars. I have a couple of acne scars that still look like pimples, and I would really like to reduce the look of them… Could you help a girl out???!

-Katie W.”

Hi Katie,

It’s kind of a cruel joke, isn’t it? Mother Nature, not content to merely dish out the pimples, follows suit by leaving behind a discolored mark or divot that can linger for months or even years. Talk about unwanted reminders!

Depending on your skin color and the severity of your scarring, the discolorations, called Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH), can be pink, red, purple, brown or black, and can take anywhere from three to 24 months to disappear.

PIH is a common occurrence among acne sufferers, but there are a slew of over-the-counter treatments on the market to help.

Many times they’re referred to as “brightening” or “skin tone correcting products” that very often contain AHAs, BHAs, retinoids or hydroquinone.

Clinique Even BetterTo diminish the appearance of my summer breakout scars, I’ve been using a product with AHA (salicylic acid) from Clinique called Even Better Skin Tone Corrector ($40), an unscented, invisible serum.

I’ve been using it for about six weeks now, twice a day, applying after toning and moisturizing but before sunscreen.

Clinique claims Even Better works to correct uneven skin tone by removing dark patches, age spots and the darkening often caused by breakouts.

The product’s been out for about a year now, but I didn’t think to try it until my skin trubs this summer.

Whenever I get a pimple, I’m pretty much guaranteed a lingering dark spot on my skin. They usually take from two to three months to fade, but Clinique Even Better, applied twice per day, seems to cut that down by half.

It’s now a permanent member of my skin care arsenal. :) Straight up, this stuff WORKS!

OF NOTE: Salicylic acid has been shown to help diminish the appearance of minor acne scarring, but it can also make skin more sensitive to sunlight and the dark spots common to it (photo aging). If you decide to give Even Better a try, sunscreen is an absolute must (I like Shiseido 55+).

If your scars are more along the lines of deeper skin indentations or pockmarks, you might want to ask your dermatologist about some of these treatments:

For more information on acne scars and PIH, check out this page on About.com or this page.

Chicas, I’m putting this out there to you. Do you have any suggestions or product recommendations for our girl Katie? Have you ever dealt with acne scarring or hyperpigmentation?

Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,

Karen

53 Comments

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  1. Fie says:

    I love using Ginvera Marvel Gel to reduce scarring. It’s an exfoliating gel that’s gentle on your skin. It’s really cool. My scars reduces tremendously after using it for 6 months. :) It really smoothen out my skintone and my skin was noticeably softer.

  2. Marisol says:

    I will be interested in some tips as I have been battling some breakouts this week. Bleh!
    .-= Marisol’s last blog post… Obsessed much? =-.

  3. Sheena says:

    If you’re willing to shell out some major cash the Obagi Nu-derm System works wonder. My mother uses it to reverse signs of aging. I used it to maintain oiliness and post-acne scarring.

    A more pragmatic tool that I found was to exfoliate at 2 to 3 times a week. I think it has something to do with increasing the rate of cell-turn over … but I’m not sure so don’t quote me on that. I personally LOVE St. Ive’s Apricot Exfoliating Scrub :D

  4. Paris B says:

    All products with AHA, BHA or anything that exfoliates needs you to use a good sunscreen in the day or risk pigmentation getting worse so thanks for that reminder! :)

    To lighten pigmentation, I find using a whitening/brightening serum + mask helps. I had some tips here. Personally also, I find using an exfoliating scrub (e.g. Kiehl’s Ultimate White Exfoliator) with a whitening or brightening serum helps lighten post acne scars.
    .-= Paris B’s last blog post… When Advertising for Beauty Services goes too far =-.

  5. Soyeun says:

    For acne scars, I use Mederma Skin Care for Scars. It’s OTC and easy-to-find and during the past few months that I’ve been using it, it’s been pretty effective. I use it on my face (and it’s gentle!) but I think you can use it anywhere.

  6. Sherry says:

    OMG this is great info for me I have scar ance.
    .-= Sherry’s last blog post… Money not enough to use =-.

  7. Sherry says:

    I tried the sample of Estee Lauder Advanced Night repair :) it worked too!
    .-= Sherry’s last blog post… Money not enough to use =-.

  8. amy says:

    Thanks for the recommendation Karen, I haven’t seen this serum at the Clinque counter before and I have been breaking out badly for the last couple of months. I am using Retin A mirco, which works for healing acne but not so much for scarring. I will have to give this a try!
    .-= amy’s last blog post… John Masters Organics Blood Orange and Vanilla Body Milk =-.

  9. Nadine says:

    A prescription topical retinoid is my top recommendation for fighting acne and aging. It helps slough off skin and thus combats PIH.

  10. Citrine says:

    I have tried the Neutrogena fight & fade acne gel, (well it doesn’t fight that much at all) it seems to give me an noticeable fading after I have using it for 2-3 days but the sun sensitivity it gave me was as obvious as the result though. If I don’t use/use little sunscreen the mark that turned pinking will just turn back dark again.

    Another bad thing is that it smells like superglue.
    .-= Citrine’s last blog post… Pixi Lip Booster in Zuzana =-.

  11. CC says:

    Aveeno Positively Radiant (not Positively Ageless) Daily Moisturizer with SPF 15 is great for evening out my skin tone. It’s gotten great reviews from users on websites like totalbeauty.com and makeupalley.com. It’s also received an Allure beauty award, which I totally rely on every year.

  12. Nicci says:

    I have heard good reviews about Kiehl’s Skin Corrector. It’s $50 so a little more than Clinique. I have not tried it before or the one suggested in this post. The Dermstore.com also has a lot of products for ace scarring, especially from Jan Marini which I’ve tried before & had success.

  13. Tavia says:

    I wanted to recommend the same thing, I know that Clinique really helped, cause one of my friends used it and it had amazing results. She can also use the Clinique Oil Cleansing mask based on clay will help heal blemishes, prevent breakouts and keep skin shine-free. I have oily skin and it’s also good because I can get rid of the oil excess.Another products that can fight acne will be Vichy Normaderm. I was just about to make a post – Declaring war to acne:)
    .-= Tavia’s last blog post… Review -Too Faced – Smoky eye – Palette =-.

  14. Audrey says:

    Very helpful post! I have a tons of scars (went on Accutane a few years ago) so I may have to check this out!
    .-= Audrey’s last blog post… Trailers for new seasons of The City and The Hills =-.

  15. Jessica says:

    I read that the Ginvera Marvel Gel when you use it actually brings up a bunch of white flakes on your skin which turns out to be the dead skin falling off your face – just wondering how true that is – sounds like it could be amazing. I found some on ebay for under 20 bucks after shipping so I’m debating it.

    For awhile I was using Bliss Peeling Groovy Facial Serum but I feel like it stopped working for me. Maybe it just did as much as it could do. I did see a great improvement but up then it just stopped working. It was $65 which is a lot for a 1 fl oz. bottle in my opinion.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Jessica,

      I have some Peeling Groovy and was going to start using it, but I’ve been so happy with Clinique that I never got around to it. Did you apply it twice a day?

  16. Diyana says:

    I use Decleor Prolagene Gel on my pimple/blackhead/face offender while its healing n aften and it leaves my skin smooth and blemish free. I also use it on my stretch marks n they have lightened quite dramatically.

  17. Sylvie says:

    Even though I’m young, I have pigmentation on my face resulting either from genetics or the sun. I do laser rejuvenation which has zero down time (your skin might be red for an hour after the procedure which takes maybe 30-40 minutes). It evens out the skin tone and makes it very clear, and pores are also minimized. However, this is an expensive procedure. I also like The Body Shop’s Tea Tree Oil Blemish Fade Night Lotion post pimple. I easily have scars from pimples but from my experience, nightly use of the lotion (directly on the spot) will very much reduce the appearance and darkness of the scar within the week or two. Sometimes they are so faded that I can hardly see where to dot the lotion on and so I just forget about it.

  18. Katherine says:

    I’ve been thinking of trying MAC’s Lightful line – supposedly it also has skin brightening ingredients, and I’ve heard good things about it.

  19. YadiQ says:

    i am totally a sufferer of acne scars and pigmentation issues – while i dont get acne often when i do they are horrifically painful and ugly (cycstic) after the breakout has healed ( i usually name the huge monstrosities “JULIO”) i use kiehls microdermabrasion scrub followed by their skin evening cream from the same line. Also another product i use that helps a lot is Jurlique’s blemish cream with tea tree oil helps bring down inflammation and soothes the skin

  20. Marce says:

    Great post and information. I’ve battled against acne and am now trying to clean up the battle field! I have this serum by Clinique too but I only used it once a day and at the time I had heaps of pimples anyway so if I actually got rid of anything, I’d have more to deal with. I’m going to start using it again, see how it goes!
    .-= Marce’s last blog post… Makeup Primavera – Verano – Part Un =-.

  21. CC says:

    Hi Karen, Aveeno Positively Radiant doesn’t leave a whitish cast on my skin. It feels as thin as most SPF 15 facial lotions do, and it’s definitely lighter than the Ambi hydroquinone product I used to use. Plus, it doesn’t clog my pores, which is a must-have benefit for me. It does take time to work, based on reviews I’ve read, but considering it’s something that’s light and has SPF, I can use it everyday. I always check up on reviews on sites like drugstore.com, totalbeauty.com, makeupalley.com, amazon.com, plus this site(!) if I’m ever skeptical, so you could do a quick search there, to see if anyone raised any red flags. :D

  22. CC says:

    Oh, and I’ve also tried a DIY at-home lemon juice skin brightening facial (just squeeze some lemon juice and pat onto your skin, leaving it on for 5 minutes max). I don’t know about its skin brightening/tone-evening effects, but it definitely makes my skin look perked up for the day! (I don’t recommend doing it more than once or twice a week because it is an acid and can make even normal skin dry and irritated.)

  23. Abbie Johnson says:

    AHA and BHA can work wonders for removing scars leftover for acne. What I have found is that if you use an AHA moisturizer and a glycolic peel that you can get results much faster. One of my favorite brands is md Corrective Care, the moderate peel with 15% glycolic and salicylic acid.

    Hope that helps :)

  24. Trude says:

    Aveda’s Enbrightenment serum. It’s $50, but lasted me several months with daily application. I just wish they’d come out with this product 10 years ago!! The results are amazing. Even the facialist at the Aveda salon/spa uses it.
    .-= Trude’s last blog post… Mom’s (ssh) 50th Birthday =-.

  25. Kate & Zena says:

    I don’t actually have no acne scars. My skin does stay red for a few days post-zit but my Differin really helps with my acne and all the things dealing with acne. I have two scars on my face I’m incredibly proud of (as with all my scars) that I’d hate to lose so I generally don’t use anything marked for brightening skin.

  26. Nicci says:

    Karen,

    I have tried the Acne Gel I & II back in college and it worked for me. I also tried the Bioglycolic Facial Cleanser too.

  27. L says:

    This is good to read! I don’t get that many zits, but my problem is that once I have one, it leaves a mark (but luckily no change in skin texture) for anywhere from 8 months to over a year — long enough that it’s hard to remember a time without the spot! I’ll have to check out all of these product recommendations.

  28. Eva says:

    Skinbiology LacSal serum or cream (a combo of BHA and AHA) and Copper Peptides!
    Both can be ordered via lurebeauty.com or skinbiology.com (you can find great info on the results of CP serums, etc. on there).

  29. Miamia says:

    “Even better” is somehow not available here in Germany, but I found the Tea Tree Mask of Body Shop to be very useful for making discolorations go away. It not only lightens them up but really makes them fade away. I don’t know how it works for acne scarring but I had some very visible discolorations stemming from my acne and they are completely gone now (something that not even chemical peeling managed to do).

  30. Vanessa says:

    Philosophy makes a great retinol cream called “on a clear day” that’s great. I get those little battle scars too right after aunt flo leaves! Grrrr, I hate when she visits!!! Anyways, this lotion ruduces my healing time in half. You should check it out!

  31. Kaylena says:

    I have heard good things about LED Light Treatment. Using a red light will help fight fine lines and wrinkles while blue lights and purple lights help diminish post acne scarring. Some of these machines (that look like a Clairsonic) can be pretty pricey but since I’m a little suspicious about its effects (and I don’t severe scarring) I found one that has a tri colored light option for only $45.00 on Amazon.com! I’m anxious for it to get here and try it out, but I will definitely be ranting and raving if it does wonders for my skin!

  32. Cindy says:

    Mario Bedescu’s Drying Lotion is AWESOME! Overnight it dries out your pimples and it def lightens things up in the scarring dept…proof: My boyfriend is African American, he got into my stash and the next day he was like, Babe, you did not tell me this stuff lightens your skin!!! I have circles on my face!!! hahahaha…He just had to do a good exfoliation a couple times to get it to match….anyway,..def works and I highly recommend it!

    I actually don’t have a need to use it much anymore because I use the DDF Sulfur Mask at least once a week and that stuff rocks!
    .-= Cindy’s last blog post… If you register your site for free at =-.

  33. Bev says:

    Hey Karen,
    Just found your site when searching for acne scar treatments. There is lots of feedback here and tons of suggestions. I will be checking out the Clinque “Even Better” to help even out my skin tone. Thanks for putting this all together. Awesome effort!!
    .-= Bev’s last blog post… Body Acne Treatments =-.

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