Taming an acne flareup is often a two-part deal. First, there’s quelling the breakout itself. And then, if you’re so inclined to do so, there’s fading the leftover scarring. If that’s a priority for you, the best face masks for acne scars, which should contain some sort of chemical exfoliant, can help. To learn more about acne scarring and what to look for in a good face mask, I spoke to Dr. Francesca Fusco, a dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology in NYC, and Dr. Erin Gilbert, an NYC-based dermatologist and Vichy medical consultant.
According to Dr. Gilbert, scars can form as acne lesions heal; and the deeper the pimple, the more severe the scar. “In scarring acne, the walls of the follicle break at deeper levels in the skin,” she tells Bustle. “Deeper breaks release infected material lower in the skin layer, and the skin attempts to heal these breaks by forming new collagen, which results in a more severe scar.” Dr. Fusco adds that picking at spots makes them more likely to scar — so if you’re hoping to prevent scars from forming in the first place, keep your hands off your face. Dr. Gilbert notes that another way to prevent scarring is to treat acne the instant it appears, which curbs the formation of nodular or cystic acne (i.e., the kind that's more prone to scarring).
In terms of face masks, Dr. Fusco and Dr. Gilbert agree that retinol, vitamin C, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) are effective for resurfacing your skin and spurring collagen production. All together, they work to diminish the look of scarring, encourage new skin cells to develop, and prevent pimples from sprouting up in the future.
Full disclosure: At-home face masks may not be able to entirely banish intense or very deep scarring — for that, a visit to your dermatologist is really the best course of action. But with the six face masks for acne scars listed ahead, you should see brighter, calmer, and more even-looking skin after just one use.
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1. The Best Face Mask For Red Scars
Dr. Fusco recommends soothing ingredients like green tea and aloe vera for counteracting red scars and calming post-breakout inflammation. This Peter Thomas Roth Cucumber Gel Mask is packed with pretty much every comforting ingredient that distressed skin could ask for, like aloe, cucumber, and chamomile. Allantoin and glycerin are also included in the formula to impart moisture back into dry, peeling skin — a common side effect of intense acne treatments. And AHAs derived from papaya, mango, sugar maple, and pineapple gently slough away dead cells on the surface of your skin, revealing a clearer, more radiant, and smoother complexion underneath.
Pro tip: Store this gel mask in the fridge for an extra refreshing treat.
2. The Best Face Mask With Retinol
Retinol is a catch-all ingredient for treating so many acne-related skin care concerns. According to Dr. Fusco, retinol encourages cellular turnover, helps fade hyperpigmentation, and can “stimulate collagen in depressed scars” for brighter, more even, and plumper skin overall. (It can also be an acne treatment in and of itself.) You’ll get the best, longest-lasting results from retinol if you use it regularly, so try working a retinol serum into your weekly routine.
But for a bigger dose of the stuff, use this overnight retinol and collagen mask from Image two to three times per week. Retinol isn’t typically known for its soothing qualities, but the marine collagen in here gives this mask a refreshing, hydrating feel.
3. The Best Face Mask With Healing Propolis
Adding a propolis ampoule to my breakout-recovery skin care routine has been a total game changer. My skin looks firmer, clearer, and brighter the literal instant I press it into my skin, and a few days of consistent application dissolves the most stubborn dark spots. Next, I’m trying this COSRX Ultimate Moisturizing Honey Overnight Mask. It’s packed with over 87% propolis — a comparable concentration to what you'd find in most ampoules — plus beeswax and hyaluronic acid for an added dose of moisture and hydration. It’s multifunctional, too: You can wear it as an overnight or wash-off mask, but it’s lightweight and blendable enough to be used in lieu of your usual moisturizer.
4. The Best Face Mask With Strengthening Probiotics
If you’re hoping to dull acne scarring now and prevent breakouts from occurring in the future, start working topical probiotics into your regular routine. These healthy bacteria help balance your skin’s microbiome and strengthen your natural protective barrier, which in turn staves off the aggressors that can cause acne. You can’t go wrong with any of TULA's probiotic-packed products, but their exfoliating treatment mask is a good choice if you’re currently battling a breakout. Along with probiotics, the formula contains bentonite clay to extract pore-clogging impurities, lactic acid for gentle exfoliation, and turmeric root to calm inflammation.
5. The Best Affordable Natural Face Mask
This Andalou Naturals mask has a lot going for it, and it’s all right there in the name. First, pumpkin enzymes act as a natural exfoliator for brighter, glowier skin and a more even tone and texture. Then there’s manuka honey, which is anti- all the things: anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antimicrobial, antioxidant, and antimicrobial, to name a few.
But glycolic acid is the major player in here. Dr. Gilbert says that AHAs, like glycolic acid, “can help improve the appearance of acne prone skin by reducing future breakouts by exfoliating the skin, and helping to stimulate collagen production to heal more superficial acne scars.” Finally, vitamin C works to fade dark spots and protect your skin from sun damage that can exacerbate scarring over time. Just $11 gets you a 1.7 ounce jar of this incredibly powerful mask. (For some context, that’s the same size as Image’s $75 retinol mask.) And it's vegetarian, non-GMO, hypoallergenic, and made of clean, naturally derived ingredients.
6. The Best Luxury Natural Face Mask
If you’re looking for clean, vegan skin care products from a prestige brand, it doesn’t get much more prestigious than Tata Harper. Go for the brand’s 100% natural resurfacing mask if you’re concerned about boosting your skin’s radiance and evenness, and you have a little extra cash to burn.
While most other masks on this list contain AHAs, this one is packed with BHAs: They’re also naturally derived exfoliants, but these work at a deeper level to cleanse your pores of acne-causing bacteria to prevent future breakouts (and by extension, scarring). That deep-clean offers the added bonus of minimizing the appearance of congested pores, too. Since this mask is free of harsh, potentially irritating synthetics, it’s gentle enough to be used up to three times per week until you see results.