If you deal with acne scars, then you know how they can affect the appearance of your skin. They may appear in the form of noticeable raised skin or depressions in your skin.
Acne scars also come in the form of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which presents as dark spots on your skin after a pimple has cleared up.
There is only so much that makeup and concealer can do for acne scars. So today, we’ll discuss the ten best The Ordinary products for acne scars that result from post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
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About Acne Scars
Acne scars are the result of an inflammatory response to acne in the body. As the body tries to heal from acne, too much or too little collagen forms where the acne was present.
Acne scars are universally classified as either icepick, rolling, or boxcar.
Icepick scars occur when collagen is lost often after cystic acne. Rolling acne scars are often in a wavy texture and aren’t as deep as icepick scars.
They tend to become noticeable when skin loses elasticity with age. Boxcar scars have sharper edges than rolling scars.
For all of these types of acne scars, it is best to see a dermatologist for the optimal course of treatment.
There are many treatments available from a dermatologist, such as laser treatments, chemical peels, and fillers to improve the look of acne scars.
The Ordinary For Acne Scars That Cause Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation occurs when skin cells overproduce melanin or pigment is irregularly dispersed in an area that experiences inflammation or injury.
This can occur when the skin is healing from acne and breakouts.
Over-the-counter products, like the ones in this post from The Ordinary, are best suited to target acne scarring that results in post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and discoloration.
If you are unsure of which product or treatment to use on your acne scars please consult a dermatologist for the best treatment for you.
The Ordinary for Acne Scars
Azelaic Acid For Acne Scars
Derived from rye, wheat, and barley, azelaic acid can effectively manage post inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Azelaic acid has been shown to have an anti-acne effect comparable to tretinoin, benzoyl peroxide, erythromycin, and oral tetracycline and can also help with melasma, a skin condition that presents as discolored patches of skin.
This study determined the 15% azelaic acid gel was both a safe and effective treatment for hyperpigmentation from acne.
This is partially due to the fact that azelaic acid inhibits the enzyme tyrosinase, which is involved in the production of melanin, a skin pigment that gives human skin, hair, and eyes their color.
Azelaic acid also has anti-inflammatory properties. So azelaic acid has multiple benefits as it helps both acne and hyperpigmentation caused by acne.
NOTE: The Ordinary recommends patch testing prior to introducing any new product into your skincare routine.
1. The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% helps to brighten skin tone while evening out skin texture. It also helps to reduce the appearance of blemishes and has antioxidant properties.
This high concentration of 10% azelaic acid comes in a lightweight cream-gel formula.
Since this is a direct acid and can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, it is best used in the evening after water-based serums.
If you do use it in the AM, be sure to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 after this product.
The Ordinary notes that this suspension should not be combined with other strong acids, EUK 134 0.1%, or peptides.
Alpha Arbutin For Acne Scars
Melanin helps to pigment our skin, so restricting melanin production can help keep hyperpigmentation and dark spots at bay.
2. The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA
The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA targets dark spots and hyperpigmentation with its high 2% concentration (standard concentrations are 1%) plus hyaluronic acid for hydration and plumping.
Since Alpha Arbutin may degrade in the presence of water if the pH of the product is not optimal, this serum is formulated at a pH of about 4.9, which is the optimal pH to minimize the degradation of the serum.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are chemical exfoliants that help to improve cell turnover, getting rid of dead skin cells. AHAs will help to improve the look of acne scars that are reddened and discolored.
They will also help to improve uneven skin tone and radiance.
Alpha hydroxy acids will make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so please be sure to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher when using AHAs and for 7 days after.
Glycolic Acid For Acne Scars
Glycolic acid increases hyaluronic acid and collagen gene expression in the skin.
It also helps to increase cellular turnover, helping skin to shed melanin, the pigment which causes discoloration, hyperpigmentation, and dark spots.
3. The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution contains 7% glycolic acid to mildly exfoliate the skin to improve clarity, radiance, and skin texture with continued use.
It also contains a purified Tasmanian Peppberry derivative that helps to reduce irritation that often comes along with using exfoliating acids.
Ginseng root and aloe vera soothe the skin and help to improve radiance. Use after cleansing and apply with a cotton pad.
This toning solution should not be used by those with sensitive, peeling or compromised skin.
4. The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA
If glycolic acid is too strong for your skin, The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA is another option to help speed up cellular turnover and exfoliate the skin to reduce discoloration and scarring from post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
It contains 10% lactic acid to gently exfoliate and clarify the skin, even out skin tone, and reduce dullness.
Like The Ordinary’s glycolic toner, this formula also contains a purified Tasmanian Pepperberry derivative that helps to reduce inflammation and sensitivity that often comes also with acid use.
This serum should not be used by those who have sensitive, peeling or compromised skin. For more on how to use The Ordinary lactic acid, please see this post.
Want a The Ordinary skincare routine that is tailored to your unique skin type and concerns? Take my exclusive The Ordinary Skincare Quiz now!
5. The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
The Ordinary also offers a very strong peeling solution, The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution which can help fade acne scars.
This chemical exfoliant contains 30% alpha-hydroxy acids (glycolic acid/lactic acid/tartaric acid/citric acid) and 2% beta hydroxy acid (salicylic acid).
It also contains hyaluronic acid crosspolymer for multi-level hydration, vitamin B5 for healing, the antioxidant black carrot, and a Tasmanian Pepperberry derivative to reduce irritation.
This The Ordinary product should not be used on peeling, compromised, or sensitive skin.
Please note that this formula is VERY STRONG. It is only recommended for experienced users of acid exfoliation that don’t have sensitive skin.
Beta Hydroxy Acid: Salicylic Acid For Acne Scars
Like AHAs, beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid are direct acids and chemical exfoliants that improve skin cell turnover and sweep away pigmented dead skin cells.
BHAs, like salicylic acid, differ from AHAs in that they penetrate into the pores (not just on the surface of the skin) to clear away pore-clogging sebum (oil), dirt, and debris, making them ideal for acne-prone skin.
Salicylic acid also has anti-inflammatory properties that can soothe redness and inflammation from acne and acne scars. It also targets uneven skin tone and discoloration.
Beta hydroxy acids can make your skin more sensitive to sun exposure, so don’t forget to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher when using BHAs and for 7 days after.
The water-based serum contains 2% salicylic acid to remove dead skin cells and exfoliate the skin, helping to fade acne scars.
With continued use, skin clarity improves as it helps to reduce blemishes and breakouts.
The newly reformulated serum also contains saccharide isomerate, a plant-derived humectant and moisturizer.
The lightweight formula is non-greasy, making it ideal for those with oily acne-prone skin.
It contains 2% salicylic acid in a squalane base and is a water-free formula.
Salicylic acid penetrates the pores to remove dirt and oil that can cause congestion. It removes dead skin cells to exfoliate the skin and fade acne scars. It also helps to reduce redness from acne scars.
Oleic/linoleic/linolenic polyglycerides bind water to the skin while 4-T-Butylcyclohexanol soothes irritation.
The squalane base of this serum is a lightweight moisturizer that is non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog your pores.
Squalane resembles the sebum in our skin, and it prevents water loss without feeling heavy on the skin.
Niacinamide For Acne Scars
Niacinamide has many benefits for oily and acne-prone skin, as it helps to regulate sebum production and reduce the look of blemishes.
It also helps to reduce redness, brighten the skin and minimize the look of enlarged pores.
Niacinamide, like alpha hydroxy acids, also increases cell turnover, encouraging cells that are discolored to shed quicker.
A true multi-tasker, it also strengthens your skin barrier and offers multiple anti-aging benefits, including decreasing the look of fine lines and wrinkles.
8. The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
A great way to reduce acne scars is prevention. Fewer blemishes and breakouts will lead to fewer acne scars.
The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% helps to reduce blemishes and balance oil/sebum production with 10% niacinamide and 1% zinc PCA (zinc salt of pyrrolidone carboxylic acid).
Perfect for oily skin and acne, this best-selling serum is effective and budget-friendly.
Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) For Acne Scars
Vitamin C inhibits melanin production, which can help reduce dark spots from acne, sun spots, uneven skin tone, and other discoloration.
Vitamin C not only helps to brighten the skin, but it also has antioxidant benefits.
It helps to protect your skin from damaging free radicals due to the UV rays in sunlight and promotes collagen synthesis, helping to plump the skin and reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
9. The Ordinary Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2%
The Ordinary Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2% is a water-free, stable solution of 8% ascorbic acid (pure vitamin C) and 2% alpha arbutin.
This serum is a one-two punch against hyperpigmentation and discoloration.
Both ascorbic acid and alpha arbutin will work on discoloration from acne scars. You also get the anti-aging benefits that come along with pure vitamin C.
This serum is at a low enough concentration that it doesn’t cause as much irritation as some other vitamin C serums.
While this serum feels a bit oily upon initial application, it works well in a morning skincare routine, as it protects against free radicals from sunlight.
Plus, it doesn’t interfere with makeup.
If you have normal or non-sensitive skin, consider The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%, a water-free, silicone-free stable suspension of 23% ascorbic acid and dehydrated spheres of hyaluronic acid.
It brightens, protects, hydrates, and plumps the skin.
Related Post: A Guide to The Ordinary Vitamin C Skincare Products
Retinoids and Retinol For Acne Scars
Retinoids are well known for their anti-aging benefits. They also help to speed up cellular turnover and increase collagen production, helping to shed pigmented cells.
You’ll also see a reduction in the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and improved skin clarity.
10. The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane
The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane is formulated with a 5% concentration of Granactive Retinoid, an advanced retinoid active complex of Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate.
While 5% is the concentration of the entire retinoid complex, this equates to a 0.5% concentration of non-prescription ester of all-trans direct retinoic acid.
Per The Ordinary, Granactive Retinoids offer better effects against the signs of aging than retinol, retinyl palmitate, and most other forms of non-prescription retinoids, but without the irritation that comes along with retinol and other retinoids.
This water-free stable solution comes in a squalane base. Squalane is highly moisturizing and very lightweight.
Squalane is non-comedogenic, so it is suitable for all skin types.
If you’d prefer to try one of The Ordinary’s 2% Granactive Retinoids, The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion is moderate strength, and like the 5% Granactive Retinoid, it does not irritate the skin like retinol products.
If you’d prefer a 2% formula in a squalane base, go with The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane.
11. The Ordinary Aloe 2% + NAG 2% Solution
This The Ordinary serum is formulated specifically for acne scars:
The Ordinary Aloe 2% + NAG 2% Solution is a lightweight serum that soothes and hydrates blemish-prone skin while reducing the appearance of post-acne marks.
The serum contains 2% Aloe barbadensis leaf juice powder, which provides hydration and soothes redness and skin irritation.
N-acetyl glucosamine (NAG) is an amino acid sugar and skin-identical ingredient that is a natural moisturizing factor. It also helps fade dark spots, including stubborn acne scars from post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Palmitoyl pentapeptide-4, also known as Matrixyl, helps refine uneven skin texture and reduce the look of wrinkles and fine lines.
The inclusion of these ingredients targets the look and feel of both uneven skin tone and texture while helping to reduce the appearance of pores and strengthen the skin barrier.
This serum is super lightweight, non-sticky, and works well under makeup.
This gentle skincare product can be used both in the morning and evening and is suitable for normal, dry, oily, and combination skin types.
Please note that since this The Ordinary scar treatment contains a peptide, it should not be used at the same time as direct exfoliating acids, pure vitamin C (ascorbic acid/ethylated ascorbic acid), or The Ordinary Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic Acid 3%.
Related Post: The Ordinary Aloe 2% + NAG 2% Solution Review
BONUS: The Ordinary Blemish Control Bundle
If you want to try three The Ordinary products that target the blemishes that cause acne scars, consider their Blemish Control Bundle.
This set contains:
- Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% (1.0 oz)
- Salicylic Acid 2% Anhydrous Solution (1.0 oz)
- AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution (1.0 oz)
Why Do You Get Acne Scars?
There are factors that increase your chances of getting acne scars.
If you have inflammatory acne (like acne cysts, papules, pustules, and nodules), you are more likely to get acne scars since this type of acne causes a stronger inflammatory reaction.
If inflammatory acne is left untreated, acne scars are more likely to occur.
Picking or squeezing pimples and acne exacerbates inflammation, increasing your chances of scarring. Genes also play a role in whether or not you will get acne scars.
Please note that if you meet all of these criteria, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will develop acne scars.
How To Get Rid Of Acne Scars
Getting rid of acne scars can be a lengthy process, and the approach often depends on the type and severity of the scars. Here’s a general guide to help you understand the various treatments available:
- Retinoids: Products containing retinol or its derivatives can increase cell turnover, promoting new skin growth and improving skin texture. Prescription-strength retinoids, like tretinoin, are also available.
- Vitamin C: This antioxidant promotes collagen production, which can help with scar healing and hyperpigmentation.
- Chemical Peels: In addition to at-home options, a dermatologist can apply stronger exfoliating acids to your skin to remove dead skin cells and promote new skin growth.
- Aloe Vera: Aloe vera may help in scar healing due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
- Honey: Recognized for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, honey might help minimize acne scars for some.
- Sun Protection: It’s critical to protect your skin from the sun when undergoing scar treatments or using topical solutions, as your skin may be more sensitive and prone to pigmentation. Always use sunscreen (with an SPF of 30 or higher) and avoid prolonged sun exposure.
- A Consistent Skincare Routine: Keeping your skin clean and moisturized supports the healing process. Avoid picking or squeezing acne, as it can lead to further scarring.
Here are a few of the dermatological procedures that can help with acne scars. There are also surgical procedures that treat acne scars, so be sure to speak to your dermatologist about all of your acne scar treatment options.
- Microdermabrasion: This is a minimally invasive procedure that uses a special device to gently sand away the outer layer of skin.
- Dermabrasion: More aggressive than microdermabrasion, this procedure buffs away the damaged skin to make way for new skin. It’s effective for deeper scars but requires more downtime.
- Microneedling: A device with tiny needles creates micro-injuries to the skin, stimulating collagen production. It can help improve the texture of the skin.
- Laser Resurfacing: Various lasers can remove the top layer of skin or stimulate new skin growth. CO2 and fractional lasers are among the popular choices.
- Fillers: For deep, atrophic scars, dermal fillers can be used to elevate the sunken skin.
- Radio Frequency (RF) Treatments: RF treatments use radio wave energy to heat the skin’s deeper layers, stimulating collagen and elastin production. Benefits include skin tightening and acne scar reduction.
Remember, everyone’s skin is different, and what works for one person may not work for another.
It’s also essential to set realistic expectations. While many treatments can significantly reduce the appearance of scars, it might be challenging to remove them entirely.
Consulting a dermatologist or skincare professional can help you determine the best treatment plan for your specific scars.
FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions
The best The Ordinary serum for acne scars will depend on your skin type and the severity of your acne scars. For a gentle but effective The Ordinary serum that is specifically designed for acne scars, try The Ordinary Aloe 2% + NAG 2% Solution.
The Ordinary products are especially effective for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation resulting from acne. These are dark spots or discoloration that appear on the skin after a pimple has healed.
Ingredients like azelaic acid and alpha arbutin target the overproduction of melanin while exfoliating acids promote cellular turnover and, as a result, fade hyperpigmentation.
While they can help with discoloration and hyperpigmentation, it’s best to consult a dermatologist for deeper scars like icepick, rolling, or boxcar scars.
Yes! When using The Ordinary products for acne scars, especially those containing AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids), retinoids, or other exfoliants, your skin can become more sensitive to the sun. It’s crucial to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to protect your skin from UV damage. Daily sun protection can prevent further hyperpigmentation and protect your skin while it’s healing and renewing.
Results can vary depending on your skin type and the severity of your scars. Generally, with continued use, you may start to see minor improvements after a few weeks, but significant changes may take months. Consistency is key!
Final Thoughts on The Ordinary for Acne Scars
Fading acne scars can be challenging, but for those acne scars that leave hyperpigmentation and redness behind, these The Ordinary skincare products are both effective and affordable, as many products are under $10.
Many of these The Ordinary retinol products will target hyperpigmentation and offer additional benefits, from hydration to anti-aging benefits.
None of these products will produce results overnight. It is important to be patient and consistent with your skincare routine to improve your chances of success.
If you are, you should see a gradual improvement by using The Ordinary for your acne scars.
Thanks for reading!