You might notice the dark marks left on your skin after you had a breakout or picked a pimple. But what exactly causes these dark spots? And how can you remove them?
Dark spots that appear after a breakout, inflammation or injury are also known as PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation). People often refer to these spots as scars interchangeably, however, acne scars are a different skin condition and need different treatments.
Unfortunately, acne is commonly chronic and hence can cause chronic skin markings/PIH where a breakout occurs. This hyperpigmentation is often more common in darker skin tones due to their higher amount of melanin. However, there’s hope! Dark marks can be managed and slowly faded with the right treatment.
What is hyperpigmentation?
When the skin is injured, inflamed or otherwise traumatised, it produces extra melanin in that area to protect itself from further damage. Melanin is the pigment that gives our skin, hair and eyes its colour, and hence is more noticeable in darker complexions. This increase in melanin is responsible for the dark marks you see on your skin.
What are acne scars?
It’s important to know that there are various types of acne scars, such as boxcar, ice-pick, rolling and keloid scars, which need specialist treatment. Acne scars happen when too much collagen forms in a spot when a wound or injury heals. If you suffer from cystic acne, the probability of having acne scars increases, especially if you pick your skin.
How to prevent dark spots and acne scars?
When it comes to treatment and prevention, it’s important to know the difference between acne scars and hyperpigmentation in order to ensure you’re picking the right course of action.
The number one thing you can do right now to prevent both dark marks and scarring is not picking at your skin. We know it’s tempting to do it, but it only causes further damage to the skin. And when the skin is damaged, it triggers the body to produce more melanin, leading to PIH. Additionally, that damaged skin can also darken if exposed to the sun without the protection of a broad-spectrum, high-SPF sunscreen.
Treating acne scarring and marking is important, but prevention can prove even more effective! There are plenty of acne-fighting ingredients you can use daily to stop the development of breakouts. These include:
- Medicated cleansers like a Benzoyl peroxide 2.5% cleanser or a salicylic acid exfoliant used two to three times weekly.
- A spot treatment with ingredients such as Azelaic acid or Potassium Azeloyl Diglycinate (also known as Azeloyl Glycine, Azelaic acid’s equally effective and less irritating derivative). Our Azelaic Acid spot treatment and anti-blemish gel contains this powerful Azelaic acid to fight breakouts, and fade those stubborn dark spots, as well as retinol (specifically retinyl palmitate) to increase your cell turnover and sunflower oil and Vitamin E to keep your skin nourished and soothed.
- Retinoids (Retinol, Retinyl Palmitate, etc).
How to fade dark spots and hyperpigmentation fast:
Sun protection, wearing sunscreen and staying out of the sun is a must. Ensure you’re using a lightweight, broad-spectrum sunscreen daily to prevent dark spots from forming due to sun exposure. Overexposure to UV radiation causes further skin damage, which then makes the skin overproduce melanin to protect itself from more damage, resulting in hyperpigmentation.
We recommend the use of an exfoliant (with ingredients like glycolic, lactic, mandelic, gluconolactone or lactobionic acids) two to three times weekly. These chemical exfoliants help to gradually fade dark spots and improve uneven complexion. They also help to mildly exfoliate and decongest your skin if you have acne-prone skin. This prevents the pores and hair follicles in your skin from getting clogged and forming spots.
Use a spot treatment.
Use a spot treatment product directly on your spots, or small areas of discoloration. Our spot treatment Spotless Anti-Blemish Gel has powerful anti-inflammatory action, as well as the ability to help fade dark spots/hyperpigmentation effectively. It is carefully formulated with Azelaic acid's gentler cousin - Potassium Azeloyl Diglycinate, and Retinol (Vitamin A) - an anti-ageing powerhouse that also helps fade dark spots.
Invest in a brightening serum and/or moisturiser with ingredients like tranexamic acid, azelaic acid, potassium azeloyl diglycinate, liquorice root extract, alpha arbutin or niacinamide. These ingredients are known as tyrosinase inhibitors, meaning they suppress and inhibit melanin production. In mild cases of hyperpigmentation, antioxidants like Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid and its derivatives such as magnesium or sodium ascorbyl phosphate) can help lighten dark spots. However, when it comes to stubborn hyperpigmentation, a chemical peel done by a trained skin care professional can bring some relief in conjunction with home treatments.
A chemical peel uses a stronger percentage of acids like glycolic or lactic acid to speed up the fading process. A referral to a dermatologist may also be necessary for unique and severe hyperpigmentation cases. Retinoids (such as Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate) can also be used for treating hyperpigmentation by increasing cell turnover and speeding up the removal of excess melanin from the skin. However, they should be avoided during pregnancy.
Patience and consistency
Be patient and consistent with your skincare routine. You won't see immediate results - with most skin concerns, it takes an average of 4 to 18 weeks to see improvement, even with a robust skincare routine. This is because our skin goes through a renewal cycle - the process of renewing the top layer of the skin with healthy skin cells at the bottom layer of the skin. It might take 3-6 months to see any improvement, and up to a year for discolouration to fade completely - so don't give up too soon!
There are countless ways to treat and prevent pigmented skin and acne scarring. However, ensure you pick the ingredient that fits your skin best, and always wear sunscreen, especially when using acid treatments.
Note: Those with hormonal acne can find it difficult to treat chronic PIH. In these cases, you should seek the help of a dermatologist or qualified skin care professional.