- Dark spots caused by acne are known as postinflammatory hyperpigmentation
- They are caused by excess melanin production during the acne healing process
- These spots are not permanent and will fade over time
- You can speed up the recovery process with over-the-counter products and home remedies
Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is the technical term for dark spots caused by pimples. PIH fades naturally on its own after a few months, but if you would like to know how to get rid of acne dark spots more quickly, you have several options. These include over-the-counter products, at-home remedies and professional treatments.
Why Does Acne Cause Dark Spots?
Postacne dark spots develop when the trauma caused to the skin by a breakout triggers the overproduction of melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. It also occurs due to picking at or popping blemishes and is more common in individuals with darker skin tones.
The likelihood of developing postacne dark spots increases with the severity of your acne. For this reason, it is important to treat acne early and avoid squeezing or popping blemishes, which
can deepen infection and inflammation.
Is it permanent?
PIH usually fades over the course of a few months. However, you may wish to treat it immediately to achieve fully clear skin sooner.
Hyperpigmentation vs. acne scars
PIH is not technically a type of acne scarring. True acne scars are hypertrophic or atrophic, meaning they are either higher or lower than the skin’s surface. Hyperpigmentation is a cluster of melanin and not three-dimensional.
Whereas PIH fades after a few months, acne scars will typically remain for life without treatment. An individual may experience both PIH and acne scars over the same area of skin.
Most acne scar treatments that exfoliate the skin or encourage cell regeneration are equally effective on PIH. PIH can also be treated with skin-lightening products that do not affect true acne scars.
How to Get Rid of Acne Dark Spots at Home
For many people, at-home treatments can quickly get rid of dark spots. These take the form of products available over the counter and DIY remedies. Some lighten dark spots by exfoliating the affected area to reveal healthy, unpigmented skin cells beneath. Other products inhibit tyrosinase, an enzyme that triggers melanin production. As the skin cells that form dark spots lose their ability to produce more melanin, they eventually fade.
Hydroquinone, a tyrosinase inhibitor, is an effective treatment for lightening dark marks on the skin by blocking the production of tyrosinase, a required enzyme in melanin production.
It is available without a prescription in the form of a 2% cream, gel or lotion. Hydroquinone requires several weeks of regular use for visible results to appear and is safe to use for up to six months.
Salicylic acid is an anti-inflammatory beta-hydroxy acid and gentle exfoliant. It is available in many formulations, including cleansers, pads, wipes and toners, usually at a 2% concentration.
Azelaic acid inhibits tyrosinase and protects the skin against free radicals, which can darken hyperpigmentation. It is available over the counter in foams, creams and gels at 10–15% concentrations.
Retinoids are a type of topical treatment derived from vitamin A. They reduce discoloration by increasing skin cell turnover rate and collagen production. Retinoids available without a prescription include retinol and adapalene.
Natural DIY remedies
As an alternative to OTC treatments, PIH can be lightened with all-natural remedies. These remedies may work more slowly than commercial skin-lightening products, but each is scientifically proven to work.
Lemon juice can be combined with water or tomato juice and left on the skin for 15–20 minutes, then washed away. Repeat once a day until PIH subsides. The fruit contains citric acid, a tyrosinase inhibitor.
Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid, which lightens the skin by exfoliating the top layer of dead skin cells. Use one part apple cider vinegar to three parts water and apply to areas of PIH. Let the mixture rest for 10–15 minutes before thoroughly washing your face.
Aloe vera contains aloesin, a molecule that inhibits tyrosinase activity. You can use its gel freshly harvested from the plant or in the form of a shelf-stable product. Apply the gel to dark spots daily. It does not need to be rinsed off and is safe for everyday use, although it may dehydrate the skin in the long term.
Professional Treatments for Dark Spots Caused by Acne
Several in-office, minimally invasive procedures are available to treat PIH. These treatments exfoliate the skin or create microwounds in the treated area to encourage healthy cell growth.
This treatment involves the application of a chemical solution to the face to exfoliate the topmost layer of dead skin cells, revealing healthy, unpigmented skin beneath. In the case of mild PIH, a single chemical peel may be sufficient to get rid of dark spots; more stubborn pigmentation may require a series of peels to treat.
Chemical peels generally use glycolic, salicylic, or lactic acid as exfoliants.
In this skin resurfacing treatment, a small handheld device buffs the skin using either a vibrating diamond tip or a spray of fine crystals. It exfoliates the topmost layer of skin, brightening hyperpigmentation and improving the skin’s overall appearance.
This procedure involves a rolling or stamping device that pierces the skin with tiny needles. Microneedling treats dark spots by breaking up melanin clusters and encouraging skin cell regeneration to create healthy, unpigmented new tissue.
The fastest treatment for fading dark spots is a chemical peel. Peels have an immediate brightening effect on the skin, with full results after about three days. Should you ultimately decide to have another peel to treat the PIH further, even one peel will provide an immediate improvement.
Microdermabrasion also has an immediate effect, with full results after 24 hours. However, it is a comparatively gentle procedure and requires multiple sessions spread out over several weeks. The number of sessions required depends on the severity of your PIH; 4–6 is the norm.
Microneedling results are visible after 24–48 hours, but like microdermabrasion, it requires multiple sessions over several months to break up the melanin clusters fully.
The efficacy of any treatment also depends on your skin care routine. While treating PIH, wear a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF every day to prevent dark marks from deepening in color further due to sun exposure.
Removing Dark Spots on Different Skin Types
In darker skin tones, removing dark spots carries a risk of skin discoloration.
Azelaic acid and hydroquinone can cause hypopigmentation, the lightening of the skin beyond its normal color. Glycolic acid peels at high concentrations (>30%) may have the same effect.
When properly performed, microdermabrasion is safe for dark skin; however, if choosing between it and microneedling, the latter may be the safer choice.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation develops during the healing process of inflammatory acne, occurring more frequently in people with darker skin. It is not permanent but can be encouraged to fade more quickly through treatment.
Active ingredients in skin care products that treat PIH include salicylic and azelaic acid, hydroquinone and retinoids. Dark spots can also be addressed with home remedies by applying aloe vera gel, diluted apple cider vinegar or diluted lemon juice.
Chemical peels, microdermabrasion and microneedling are professional procedures that can effectively treat PIH.
Not all treatments are suitable for dark skin. Proceed with caution when using azelaic acid, hydroquinone, strong chemical peels or microdermabrasion devices to prevent skin discoloration.
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