What Makeup To Use If You Have Acne Scars (& What To Avoid)

Illustrated by Peter Karras.
If you're guilty of perennially picking at your pimples (try saying that 10 times fast) or you've 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 guys, certain products and application techniques (read: swiping motions) can draw attention to them rather than minimise their appearance.
We tapped makeup artists Jamie Greenberg and Andre Sarmiento to reveal their best tips for dealing with acne-scarring: what to use, what to steer clear of, and the one step you should never skip. Ahead, we divulge the deets.
1 of 19
Prime Time
Before you apply so much as a drop of makeup, you should always prime. Prep your complexion with a primer that will smooth over any problem areas. 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, £24, available at Debenhams.
2 of 19
The newest addition to celebrity dermatologist Dr. Harold Lancer’s eponymous line of skin care, this primer goes one step further to infuse skin with moisture as it diminishes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, smooths uneven texture, minimises pores, and creates the perfect canvas for makeup to go on top. The blurred, soft-focus finish is so good, you might even be tempted to go foundation-free.

Lancer Studio Finish Pore Perfecting Primer, £45.93 , available at Saks Fifth Avenue
3 of 19
This vitamin-rich primer fights against sweat, oil, and dirt, so your makeup stays no matter what you're trying to cover or how much you put on. It's as soft — if not softer — than your moisturiser, so smoothing this over any spot feels hydrating and non-irritating.

Laura Mercier Foundation Primer, £19 available at Space NK.
4 of 19
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 emphasise the difference between the flat skin and the raised skin throughout the scarring," 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, £27, available at Debenhams.
5 of 19
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'Oreal Infallible Pro-Matte 24HR Foundation, £8.99, available at Feel Unique.
6 of 19
This new 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 Comfort Matte Foundation, £34, available at London Loves Beauty.
7 of 19
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 in Gilded Honey, £21, available at Cult Beauty.
8 of 19
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 Luminising Drops, £24, available at Look Fantastic.
9 of 19
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." To finish, he uses whatever is left on the brush to lightly tint the rest of the skin.

It Cosmetics Heavenly Luxe Complexion Perfection Brush #7, £35, available at Selfridges.
10 of 19
For seamless blush and foundation application (no brushstrokes left behind!), pick up this fluffy, lightweight tool.

Real Techniques Stippling Brush, £7.70, available at Just My Look.
11 of 19
Not a fan of brushes? The trusty BeautyBlender is also great when you prefer to stipple on your makeup. 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. (Even makeup powerhouses like this have their downsides: They can trap bacteria!)

Beautyblender The Original Beautyblender, £15, available at Cult Beauty.
12 of 19
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, £22, available at Debenhams.
13 of 19
This matte pencil from Cover FX is another winner because of its texture. It doesn't clump, but covers any and all imperfections in a single swipe.

Cover FX Perfect Pencil, £15, available at Beauty Bay.
14 of 19
For more stubborn marks that still show through a layer of concealer, give colour-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 in Peach, £19.50, available at Look Fantastic.
15 of 19
This colour correcting treatment protects, hydrates, and minimises any redness or dark spots, thanks to the lightly-tinted formula. It works great under concealer or foundation, but also diffuses discolouration alone.

Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Correcting Treatment SPF 30, £30.31, available at Yes Style.
16 of 19
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 All Nighter Long Lasting Setting Spray, £24, available at Look Fantastic.
17 of 19
If you simply cannot give up setting powder, reach for one that's won't accentuate texture on your skin. This one from Laura Mercier is super silky and never looks powdery.

Laura Mercier Candleglow Sheer Perfecting Powder, £32, available at Feel Unique.
18 of 19
If you simply cannot give up setting powder, reach for one that's won't accentuate texture on your skin. This one from Glossier is super silky and never looks powdery.

Glossier Wowder, £18, available at Glossier.
19 of 19
If you're looking for something a little more translucent, opt for this 100% silica formula from RMS. It lightly reflects light, but never draws attention to spots you don't want noticed.

RMS Beauty "Un" Powder, £32, available Cult Beauty.

More from Makeup


R29 Original Series