First came the acne. Then the onslaught of salicylic acid cleansers, retinoids, and benzoyl peroxide creams. Now all that remains are the ghosts of pimples past: acne scars, and no one warned us that they'd be harder to get rid of than the actual spots that got us to this place.
Here's the hard truth: Nothing you can buy over-the-counter will be as effective for deep-seated scarring as a derm-recommended prescription or in-office procedure — especially when it comes to deep, ice-pick scars.
But the good news is that there are plenty of at-home skin-care products that can do a damn good job of fading dark spots. Ahead, the best scar-lightening serums, peels, toners, and more that can help get you one step closer to the even-toned complexion you had before that massive breakout. Consider those ghosts busted.
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This resurfacing serum is gentle enough that it shouldn't leave any redness or irritation in its wake, yet it's tough on uneven tone and texture — two major characteristics of acne scarring.
Farmacy Honeymoon Glow AHA Resurfacing Night Serum, $, available at Sephora
This potent serum is packed with AHAs and bakuchiol to speed up cellular renewal and lighten dark spots, resulting in a brighter complexion.
Allies Of Skin Mandelic Pigmentation Corrector Night Serum, $, available at DermStore
Don't be fooled by the packaging. This sweet-looking pink bottle is packed with a highly concentrated form of vitamin C — L-ascorbic acid, to be specific — which works to not only brighten the skin, but eliminate redness. As with most Dr. Loretta products, which are all created by a dermatologist with more than 40 years of experience, the moisturizer also protects the skin from environmental free radicals and damage.
Dr. Loretta Intense Brightening Cream, $, available at Nordstrom
These pre-soaked pads are a much more sophisticated, way gentler version of the medicated Oxy pads you probably scrubbed your face with growing up. It's loaded with salicylic and glycolic acids, plus a blend of antioxidants to clear pores and even out your skin tone — in just 60 seconds.
m-61 M-61 Powerglow® Peel, $, available at Bluemercury
This acne spot-fading gel does exactly what it says it will. It won't make a huge difference on existing zits — you'll need Rouleau's other spot treatments for that — but it's specifically formulated to treat leftover dark spots straight away.
Renée Rouleau Post-Breakout Fading Gel, $, available at Renée Rouleau
Vitamin C is best known for its brightening abilities, and this serum features 20% of the stuff, so it works lightning-fast at fading discoloration.
Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Power Serum, $, available at Ulta Beauty
Because breaking up pigmentation with papaya and pineapple fruit enzymes and reducing overall discoloration with a potent brightening blend of vitamins and extracts wasn't enough, this lightweight serum goes one step further with a probiotic-balancing complex that maintains the integrity of the skin's pH.
Dr. Brandt Bright Biotic Dark Spot Minimizing Serum, $, available at DermStore
A retinoid that's gentle enough for sensitive skin, this serum targets spots over time thanks to the addition of lactic acid and niacinamide.
Shani Darden Texture Reform Gentle Resurfacing Serum, $, available at Net-A-Porter
Best known for their unparalleled ability to fight fine lines and acne in record time, retinoids also flex their muscle in the presence of acne scars. This one's gentle enough for sensitive types, and features vitamin C — the perfect package deal.
MD Complete Citrus-C Healthy Complexion, $, available at MD Complete
This incredibly effective new moisturizer was made for brightening, but it goes above and beyond the call of duty with smoothing glycolic and lactic acids, exfoliating fruit enzymes, and naturally-hydrating squalane. It's basically a one-and-done for all your dark spot-fading, dullness-fighting needs.
Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Glow Moisturizer, $, available at Ulta Beauty
A powerful acne-scar fighter that comes in toner form? Believe it. This one is infused with a peony extract, vitamin C, and licorice root extract to visibly brighten, plump, and hydrate.
Fresh Peony Brightening Moisturizing Facial Toner, $, available at Nordstrom
This cult-favorite product — which contains a potent mix of vitamin C, ferulic acid, and phloretin — really brings the big guns: It protects against free radicals, evens out the skin tone, and diminishes both dullness and dark spots.
SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF Gel, $, available at DermStore
Disregard the name; this isn't a skin-bleaching product. But, the kojic acid and licorice root in this mask do fade acne scars and age spots in record time.
Mario Badescu Whitening Mask, $, available at Saks Fifth Avenue
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