Acne scars on your face can be notoriously difficult to get rid of, even with in-office treatments like lasers, dermabrasion and collagen induction.
"To some extent, time will improve the scars," says Deirdre Hooper, MD, co-founder of Audubon Dermatology in New Orleans.
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But there are some natural remedies for acne scars that may help, too. Just be careful which you use, and keep your expectations in check — many of these remedies can improve the appearance of scars, but they won't erase them altogether.
Here's what we know about ways to help get rid of acne scars naturally, including some methods that aren't worth the time or money.
Textural or depressed scars, such as rolling, boxcar or icepick scars, are harder to treat at home. These natural remedies may improve their appearance somewhat, but in-office procedures by your dermatologist are likely to be more effective.
Specifically, we mean zinc- (or titanium-) based sunscreen.
If you have acne scars, especially dark (hyperpigmented) scars, the most important thing you can do is to stay out of the sun, Dr. Hooper says. This will prevent the marks from getting worse.
Most zinc sunscreens have a white tint, which can present a problem for people of color, who are prone to darker scars, says Dr. Hooper. She suggests looking for a tinted sunscreen, like Supergoop! CC Screen.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends everyone use broad-spectrum (protection against UVA and UVB rays), water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF (sun-protection factor) of 30 or higher every time you go outside. "The sun is very potent," Dr. Hooper says.
Try these facial sunscreens:
2. LED Lights
This may seem counterintuitive given the recommendation to wear sunscreen, but LED (light-emitting diode) lights are anti-inflammatory and don't emit any ultraviolet rays. Look for a combination of blue and red (the different colors represent different wavelengths).
"You have to be diligent," says Diane Madfes, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, who recommends products like the Priori UNVEILED LED Mask, which can be used at home.
LED lights have also shown promise for wrinkles and age spots, although the big studies have not happened yet, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
3. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is an ingredient in Retin-A, a popular prescription medicine for acne, and in retinol products, which are available over-the-counter.
Creams containing vitamin A, which work by helping skin cells turn over more effectively, may also help alleviate minor acne scars over time (though the change is likely to be subtle), Dr. Madfes says.
It's worth noting that studies have found prescription retinoids (which are stronger than over-the-counter products) to help with acne scars over time, but there's no research to show the same benefit for over-the-counter retinol.
It doesn't hurt to give it a try, since vitamin A has other skin benefits. "A lot of them are encapsulated in oil, so they're more soothing to the skin," Dr. Madfes says. But you shouldn't expect it to totally erase your scars.
4. Vitamin C
Vitamin C may be able to help lighten darker acne scars, says Dr. Madfes, who recommends using topical (on-your-skin) formulations twice a day.
Like other antioxidants, vitamin C works by diminishing harmful free radicals and inflammatory molecules, Dr. Hooper says.
Just use them with caution, as they can sometimes cause skin irritation. Try a new product on a small area of your skin at first to see if you have a reaction before applying it more broadly.
Some vitamin C formulas are unstable when they hit air and oxidize. That's why Dr. Madfes recommends the SkinCeuticals and BeautyStat brands:
5. Fruit Acids
"Fruit acids are natural exfoliators that increase cell turnover and can potentially smooth and thin out scars," says Shoshana Marmon, MD, PhD, assistant professor of dermatology at New York Medical College. Examples of fruit acids include glycolic, lactic and citric acid.
Kojic acid, available in over-the-counter products, may also play a role. "It's derived from fungus and helps to lighten dark spots by blocking a key step in the production of melanin," Dr. Marmon says.
Ferulic acid may decrease scar thickness by inhibiting collagen thickness, she adds.
Try some of these products with acids:
What About Aloe Vera?
While aloe vera seems to be an effective antidote for acne (not to mention burns), it has limited use in improving acne scars, Dr. Hooper says.
One January 2016 study in the Annals of Plastic Surgery investigated whether aloe vera could heal scars in rats. It could, but bear in mind that rats are not humans.
What's more, not all scars are created equal. Some folks mistakenly believe that a compound that will fade other scars will also work against acne scars. Unfortunately, this isn't so, Dr. Hooper says.
What About Vitamin E?
Contrary to widespread reports on the internet and elsewhere, there's little science to back up the claim that vitamin E helps heal acne scars.
In fact, there's little evidence to suggest it can resolve any scars. September 2010 research in the Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery found that vitamin E did help post-surgical (not acne) scars in children, which may be where this pervasive myth comes from. Another study a decade earlier, in Dermatologic Surgery, found that vitamin E had no effect on scars from skin cancer.
Bottom line: "I don't recommend it," Dr. Madfes says.
What About Black Seed Oil?
Also known as Nigella sativa, black seed has been used for centuries to treat not just skin disorders but also bronchitis, rheumatism and diarrhea.
The evidence for any dermatological use is slim to none.
One report from July 2015 in the Journal of Dermatology & Dermatologic Surgery found that the oil helped clear acne, but the authors did not look specifically at acne scars. A study 20 years earlier concluded that Nigella sativa oil might reduce inflammation (which contributes to scars), but the study was only conducted in rat cells.
What About Rosehip Seed Oil?
The authors of a June 2015 study in the Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications concluded that rosehip seed oil could speed recovery from post-surgical scars. Again, though, the study did not look specifically at acne scars, which can be different from other types of scars.
There's also little evidence that chamomile oil and other essential oils clear acne scars. Nor do honey and other natural remedies shown to help open wounds including acne, Dr. Hooper says.
What About Chamomile Tea?
Although tea in general has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, you'd probably be better off drinking it than applying it to your skin, says Dr. Hooper. Chamomile tea, then, doesn't help with acne scars. Neither do chamomile tea bags.
In order to heal acne scars, you have to stimulate collagen, a protein which helps your skin stay strong and tight. Vitamin C may help, but not tea.
What About Lemon?
Another resounding "no" for lemons, lemon juice and other citrus fruits and derivatives.
"Lemons and limes have some antioxidant properties, but they can't penetrate deep enough to make a difference," Dr. Hooper says.
Lemon, an exfoliant, is also irritating and makes your skin more sensitive to light, says Michele S. Green, MD, a dermatologist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. This brings us back to zinc, which will prevent sunburn and won't aggravate your scars.
What About Baking Soda?
Baking soda is a natural exfoliant and may help acne when applied judiciously to pimples (as opposed to your whole face), says Chris G. Adigun, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Dermatology & Laser Center of Chapel Hill. But there's no evidence that it smoothes scars.
Like many other supposed natural treatments, it can't penetrate to the deeper layers of skin that are damaged by acne scars. "When the damage is so deep, we have to find other ways to stimulate collagen production," says Dr. Madfes. "That's the really hard part."
Rice powder along with oats and egg fall into the same bucket: No good reason to try them for acne scars.
What About Apple Cider Vinegar?
Apple cider vinegar contains lactic acid, an exfoliating agent that may help improve the appearance of acne scars, says Dr. Marmon.
But there's one big caveat to ACV and other natural remedies: You may waste valuable time.
"There's a magic window from six to 12 weeks when you want to use lasers to realign the collagen and get scars to fade faster and heal better," says Dr. Madfes. "Sometimes you can sit on it too long."
- Scars, Burns & Healing: “A systematic review of treatments for acne scarring. Part 1: Non-energy-based techniques” 2017
- American Academy of Dermatology: “Acne Scars: Diagnosis and Treatment”
- American Academy of Dermatology Association: "Acne Scars.”
- Scripps: "Acne Scar Treatment Options.”
- TeensHealth: "Can Acne Scars Be Removed?”
- American Academy of Dermatology: “Sunscreen FAQs”
- American Academy of Dermatology: “How Do I Know If I’m Using the Right Sunscreen?”
- Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy: “A retrospective study on the clinical efficacy of the intense pulsed light source for photodamage and skin rejuvenation”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “LED lights: Are they a cure for your skin woes?”
- Annals of Plastic Surgery: “Topical application of aloe vera accelerated wound healing, modeling and remodeling: An experimental study with significant clinical value"
- Dermatologic Surgery: “The efects of topical vitamin E on the cosmetic appearance of scars”
- Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery: “A prospective study in children: Pre- and post-surgery use of vitamin E in surgical incisions”
- Journal of Dermatology & Dermatologic Surgery: “Dermatological effects of Nigella sativa”
- Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications: “Evolution of post-surgical scars treated with pure rosehip seed oil”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Collagen”
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