The Best Makeup To Use If You Have Acne Scars — & What To Avoid

If you're guilty of picking at your pimples, or have battled cystic bumps since your teenage years, chances are you've been plagued by an acne scar or two. The dark marks and crater-like indentations linger, taking weeks — sometimes months — to see themselves out.

Although makeup is the easiest way to hide these dreaded spots, certain products and application techniques (like swiping motions) can draw attention to them rather than minimize their appearance. To avoid that — and anything else that will make our scars stand out rather than blend in — we tapped makeup artists Jamie Greenberg and Andre Sarmiento to share their best tips for dealing with acne scarring: what to use, what to steer clear of, and the one step you should never skip. Check out their advice and a few of our product recommendations, ahead.


At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.

Prime Time

Before you apply so much as a drop of makeup, you should always prime to smooth over any indentations. Sarmiento relies on this one by Too Faced when he's working with clients who have acne scars. "This primer is incredibly smoothing and seems to fill in the scarring while brightening the whole face," he says. Greenberg also highly recommends primers for scarring — she swears by Smashbox's whole line.
Too Faced Primed & Poreless Face Primer, $30.00 Buy
This primer goes one step further to infuse skin with moisture as it diminishes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, smooths uneven texture, minimizes pores, and creates the perfect canvas for makeup. The blurred, soft-focus finish is so good, you might even be tempted to go foundation-free.
Lancer Skincare Studio Filter Pore Perfecting Primer, $58.00 Buy
For a drugstore option, look to this celeb makeup artist favorite: it blurs, fills in pores, and helps makeup go on smoothly.
L'Oréal Revitalift Miracle Blur Instant Skin Smoother, $24.99 Buy
Don't Go For The Glow

"Makeup formulas that have a lot of luminosity, dewiness, or a high shimmer content tend to bring out texture and really emphasize the difference between the flat skin and the raised skin," says Sarmiento. Lesson: Avoid. Anything. Glowy. Sadly, this includes highlighters.

On the flip-side, matte products are the best because of their ability to absorb light and soften the appearance of the textured areas. If you're looking for a high-coverage, super-matte, and ultra long-wear base, Sarmiento recommends Kat Von D's Lock-It Foundation. "If you have oily, pigmented acne-scarring, then this might be your holy grail," he says.
Kat Von D Lock-It Foundation, $35.00 Buy
— PAID —

For a matte foundation that won’t leave skin feeling tight or dry, we love this loose mineral powder from bareMinerals. Formulated with 0.5% salicylic acid, the buildable powder both treats breakouts and prevents future ones. (Because who has time for anything else?) It also contains a mineral complex that balances moisture levels, so your skin will feel nourished and calm — never stripped.
Bare Minerals Blemish Rescue Skin-Clearing Loose Powder , $29.00 Buy
You can also try this super matte, medium coverage formula. It's light on the skin and doesn't feel like a heavy base so you don't have to worry about it looking oily throughout the day.
L'Oréal Infallible Pro-Matte 24HR Foundation, $12.99 Buy
This foundation is called "Comfort Matte" for a reason. It's creamy, blendable, and never looks dry or cakey on our skin.
Too Faced Peach Perfect Foundation, $36.00 Buy
Selectively Highlight

That doesn't mean you have to throw out all your glow-giving products. According to makeup artist Wayne Goss, even those with visible scarring and acne can make use of highlighter — you just need to apply it sparingly. Rather than dusting a highlighting powder all over your face, stick to areas you really want to accentuate like your cheekbones. Just remember: Don't put highlighter on any areas of your face that you don't want to draw attention to.
Laura Geller Baked Gelato Swirl Illuminator, $26.00 Buy
If a powdery finish makes you cringe, try adding some illuminating drops to your foundation, or just use them on their own.
Algenist REVEAL Concentrated Luminizing Drops, $38.00 Buy
Jelly highlighters make for easy, selective application. You can tap it on with your fingers, so ultimately where and how much is totally up to you. There's no highlighter dust flying or falling anywhere. The best part is that jelly formulas like this one from Almay moisturize the skin instead of drying it out.
Almay Make Them Jelly Hi-Lite, $14.99 Buy
Stipple, Don't Swipe

Sarmiento says to stay away from "wispy" or buffing strokes, as they can cause the scalier bits of skin to become more prominent and leave a "grainy" effect.

"When I’m working on acne scars, I find myself focusing on stippling or pressing motions to really meld the product with the skin and fill in any of the deeper scarring," says Sarmiento. "I love to press on the foundation into the spots that need the most coverage with a Smashbox Foundation Brush #13, and then take the larger end of the It Cosmetics Heavenly Luxe Complexion Perfection Brush #7 to blend the product into place with a bouncing motion."
It Cosmetics Heavenly Luxe Complexion Perfection Brush #7, $48.00 $24.00 Buy
Not a fan of brushes? A BeautyBlender is a great alternative. Use the same strategy as Sarmiento suggests on the previous slide, but whatever you do, don't forget to wash your sponge after each and every use so it doesn't trap bacteria.
Beautyblender the original beautyblender®, $20.00 Buy
Matte It Up

Just like with your foundation, you should opt for a cover-up that's both matte and highly pigmented. Sarmiento is a huge fan of Make Up For Ever's cult Full Cover Camouflage Cream. "It's super-opaque and matte, and it does an incredible job smoothing out the unevenness in the skin texture," he says. "It seems to fill in the deep parts of the scarring." To apply the concealer, Sarmiento dots it onto specific areas with a flat Jane Iredale Camouflage Brush, which allows him to press the product into the skin seamlessly.
Make Up For Ever Full Cover Camouflage Cream, $32.00 Buy
This concealer, which is actually meant to go on your zits, is infused with witch hazel, tea tree oil, and zinc oxide.
It Cosmetics Bye Bye Breakout™, $28.00 Buy

For more stubborn marks that still show through a layer of concealer, give color-correcting a whirl. You can layer a peach-toned concealer like this one under your regular concealer to cancel out any dark spots.
Urban Decay Naked Skin Color Correcting Fluid, $29.00 Buy
This orange corrector makes covering dark spots on darker skin tones a breeze.
Koyvoca Orange Color Corrector, $12.00 Buy
This color-correcting treatment protects, hydrates, and minimizes any redness or dark spots, thanks to the lightly-tinted formula. It works great under concealer or foundation, but also diffuses discoloration alone.
Dr. Jart+ Cicapair ™ Tiger Grass Color Correcting Treatment, $52.00 Buy
Set Your Work

To keep all your hard work in place, set your makeup with a setting spray like this one from L'Oréal. Not only will it extend the life of your base, but it won't leave a dry, powdery effect on the skin like many pressed and loose powders do.
L'Oréal Infallible Makeup Extender Setting Spray, $16.98 Buy
No need to have a makeup meltdown: This setting spray keeps powder, cream, and just about every other formula in place for hours. Your complexion will look smoother than ever.
Urban Decay Long Lasting Makeup Setting Spray, $32.00 Buy
If you simply cannot give up setting powder, reach for one that's won't accentuate uneven texture on your skin. This one from Glossier is super silky and never looks powdery.
Glossier Wowder, $22.00 Buy
If you're looking for something a little more translucent, opt for this 100% silica formula from RMS. It reflects light, but never draws attention to spots you don't want noticed.
RMS Beauty "Un" Powder, $34.00 Buy
You Can Always Airbrush

For a seamless, foolproof application over scarring, Greenberg swears by airbrush makeup. "I love using Temptu airbrush, because it covers really [naturally]," she says. "It lies on the skin, but still looks super-natural."
Temptu Deluxe Signature Kit, $235.00 Buy
Don't feel like investing in a whole airbrush system? Try a bottled version, like this one from Dior. Sure, you're spending almost $70 on a bottle of foundation, but when you notice just how long this water-resistant formula lasts, you'll be convinced it's totally worth it.
Dior Dior Airflash Spray Foundation, $62.00 Buy
Or opt for this option from Sephora that's a bit cheaper, but just as effective.
Sephora Collection Perfection Mist Airbrush Foundation, $28.00 Buy
Load more...