Here is our ultimate post acne hyperpigmentation treatment guide for all skin tones! Whether you have fair or dark skin, here are your best solutions.
It can be frustrating to deal with acne itself, but the aftermath can leave you with brown or red scars that take forever to go away. The way we deal with marks and acne overall is typically the same for all skin tones, but for hyperpigmentation, certain types of scarring affect certain skin tones more often than others.
So, when we talk about acne scars and lump them all together under one umbrella this makes treatment difficult since there are many different types. The most effective way to combat acne scars is by determining what type of scar you’re actually dealing with. Here, we’ll break down the different types of hyperpigmentation, who they affect, and the best ways to treat them.
First, what is hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation usually refers to any type of dark mark or uneven skin tone. It’s also commonly associated with acne lesions since they tend to leave marks behind, but pigmentation can also describe conditions like melasma or sunspots.
Pigmentation can be frustratingly hard to get rid of. It’s important to determine which type of pigmentation you have in order to treat it correctly. While it is true that certain types of pigmentation affect particular skin tones more, you can also suffer from one or more of these types at the same time or at different times.
Post Inflammatory Erythema: Lighter Skin Tones
Post inflammatory erythema is a relatively new term in the dermatology world that is described as red or pink spots that result from experiencing acne or any type of inflammatory trauma to the skin. Lighter skin tones are more prone to this type of hyperpigmentation. One way to test and see if you have post-inflammatory erythema is by pressing your skin, and if the mark disappears, it’s likely you’re suffering from PIE. If the mark doesn’t disappear, you’re probably dealing with post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (we’ll get to that later).
Since this is a newer term that’s being introduced to the dermatological vocabulary, it’s safe to say that there’s not enough solid research to determine the best ways to treat post inflammatory erythema. It’s generally thought to be a condition that’s caused by picking or popping a pimple, which damages capillaries underneath skin and results in red spots.
Much like other forms of hyperpigmentation, these tend to go away on their own but can take quite a lot of time to do so. The only known effective way to get rid of these red spots is via laser, particularly lasers that target and disperse the broken capillaries beneath the skin. It’s similar to the methods used to target redness caused in those with rosacea.
While lasers are the most effective form of treatment for this type of scarring, keeping your skin hydrated and your moisture barrier intact will only serve to keep your skin in the best possible condition. Stick with light hydrating layers in your routine like the Neogen Micro Ferment Essence or the Plant Base Quesera Ceramide. These force-feed your skin with hydrating ingredients like saccharomyces ferment filtrate and rice ceramides that instantly plump the skin.
You’ll then want to seal it all in with a nourishing cream that also helps to increase healing while also brightening the skin, like the SkinRX Madecera Cream. This hydrating cream contains madecassoside, a derivative of centella asiatica, which is known to soothe and calm inflammation, while at the same time, niacinamide brightens and adenosine smooths the skin for a plump, hydrated, and more even skin tone.
If you suffer from this form of scarring, you should also avoid anything that could cause more erythema to form, like picking at your spots. Instead, stick with spot treatments like the Dr. Oracle A-Thera Tea Tree Peeling Sticks. These are jumbo sized cotton swabs that are soaked in a highly concentrated blend of AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs to effectively kill acne-causing bacteria and help heal your spots faster so you can avoid picking at them.
Remember: Any kind of trauma to the skin can cause this type of scarring so it’s best to keep your skin plump, hydrated, and acne-free in order to avoid dealing with more erythema.
Sun Spots and Melasma: Light to Medium Skin Tones
Neil Sadick, a dermatologist in New York City, explains that there are other types of pigmentation, including “sunspots [which] are more visible in Asian and Caucasian skin and melasma, and commonly affects Hispanic and Asian individuals.” Sun spots are also known as solar lentigo. “They’re patches of darkened skin, typically in areas of the body that are more exposed to UV like the face, hands and legs” says Sadick.
Melasma, on the other hand, are brown patches and spotchy-ness that’s caused by overexposure to the sun without proper UV protection. Melasma is a bit more complicated than sun spots since birth control, pregnancy or any general change in hormones can also be a cause. These spots are caused by an overproduction of melanin which means that they are best treated with products that work to break down the pigment within the cells.
For melasma, you should stick with brightening ingredients like hydroquinone, vitamin C, and niacinamide, which target and inhibit or prevent the overproduction of melanin. A combination of the COSRX Triple C Lightning Liquid and the Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin E Mask creates an enhanced spot treatment that has double the brightening power. This is because vitamin E increases the effectiveness of the vitamin C, so it can intensely target the spots and the pigments that produce them.
If you have more sensitive skin, then you can stick with a lower concentration of vitamin C, like what’s found in the Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Drop, which contains 5% vitamin C that is just as effective but gentler on more sensitive skin types. This is a great starter serum to use before you move onto more intensive ones like the Triple C Lightning Liquid.
Despite the effectiveness of these ingredients, the most important form of treatment against sun spots and melasma is the regular use of sunscreen! Make sure to use SPF every day in order to prevent the formation of new spots and prevent the darkening of the previous ones.
Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation: Medium to Dark Skin Tones
Sadick tells us that “post inflammatory pigmentation is a temporary condition that typically occurs after thermal burns (for example, after laser treatments) or after inflammatory lesions in the skin (acne).” These can be described as brown, not red spots, that are left behind post-acne. They are more common in medium to dark skin tones as they’re associated with the overproduction of melanin and darker skin tones have overactive melanocytes.
These are completely different from PIE since those are caused by broken capillaries beneath the skin. These are caused by overactive melanin production so you wouldn’t treat these the same as you would the other.
For post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, the most effective forms of treatment are products that inhibit melanin production or those that prevent the transfer of that pigment, therefore decreasing your skin’s ability to create PIH. There are several products that do this. For example, vitamin C, hydroquinone, kojic acid, arbutin and licorice extract work by inhibiting tyrosinase, an enzyme that’s important for the development of skin melanin and essentially decreases the pigment production.
Other ingredients, like niacinamide, slow down the transfer of melanin to the cells and therefore effectively help to stop the scars before they can appear on the skin. You might have read frequently about other ingredients, like AHAs and BHAs, for treating acne scars. These are just as effective since they speed up cell turnover to reveal smoother, brighter cells that take over the pigmented ones that are on the surface of your skin. If you want to target this type of pigmentation effectively, you’ll want to choose products that contain these types of ingredients in them.
The COSRX Triple C Lightning Liquid is a highly-concentrated serum that contains 20.5% of pure ascorbic acid, the purest form of vitamin C there is. Given the high concentration and the lack of fillers in the formula, this vitamin C serum effectively targets dark marks and lightens them over time.
Another effective product to try is the A’pieu Glycolic Acid Cream, which contains 3% of glycolic acid, an AHA, and 0.3% of salicylic acid, a BHA. In conjunction with the pigment-fighting vitamin C, glycolic acid can help to increase cell turnover and work to speed up the skin renewal process to reveal the newer, brighter cells. “Glycolic acid aims to even skin tone and rely on exfoliating the epidermis to remove cells with excess melanin,” says Sadick. Together, these ingredients can help you to achieve brighter, smoother skin in no time.
This information is why it’s important to have a proper understanding about the types of scars you’re suffering from because you could potentially be purchasing products that won’t work effectively.
Looping all types of acne scars under a singular umbrella term can cause confusion on the best ways to treat them. Instead of going straight for brightening products to help heal your acne scars, it’s important to take a step back and determine which kind of scars you have so you can effectively choose the proper form of treatment for them.