Skin hyperpigmentation can occur after inflammation, like acne breakouts. Learn how to spot it and what to do to help.
Have you ever had a terrible breakout that eventually clears but then you are left with tan, brown, or pink dots where your break out once was?
The break out was stressful enough, but now you have to deal with the aftermath too? Ugh!
These spots might be what is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH).
In this article, we will outline how you can tell the difference between acne scars and PIH spots, and what you can do to help treat them.
Also Read: 4 Approaches To Fade and Get Rid of Acne Scars
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or PIH is a temporary discoloration of the skin. Post breakout, PIH generally consists of small dots under the surface of the skin.
These spots resulting from an acne flare are flat, and depending on your skin color, can range from pink, purple, tan, and brown.
This hyperpigmentation occurs because the body provides melanin as a protectant for healing skin.
PIH is very common and can happen as a result of any skin injury or trauma. Acne induced PIH is very common.
Darker complexions are more prone to PIH because of the naturally higher levels of melanin.
When the body begins to heal an acne breakout, the melanin-producing cells (melanocytes) begin making melanin to help with the healing process.
Learn More: Mild, Moderate, and Severe Acne: How To Tell Acne Severity Levels
Although both scarring and PIH can happen as a result of an acne flare-up, the treatments differ from each other.
Before treating, it’s important to understand what you are dealing with. Let’s talk about spotting the difference between acne scarring and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Scarring from an acne breakout can be caused by the overproduction of collagen.
Our bodies produce collagen in an effort to help the healing process.
However, too much collagen in one area can change the texture of the skin, resulting in a scar.
Acne scarring could occur due to aggressively squeezing or picking at pimples.
Your body will consider a popped pimple an open wound and will send both collagen and melanin to the rescue.
While our bodies are master healers, this increased melanin and collagen production can leave unwanted scars and pigmentation behind.
Spotting acne scars: If your acne breakout aftermath has a raised texture, that isn’t inflammation, it could be an acne scar.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is caused by the overproduction of melanin.
As the skin heals from inflammation, it also can produce too much melanin.
The dark spots left behind are just areas of excess melanin.
The more inflamed the breakout is now, the more likely it is you’ll experience some degree of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation later.
Spotting post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation: PIH is characterized by flat discolorations. As opposed to scars which are raised or indented discolorations. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is just a form of skin pigmentation, sort of like sun damage.
The body can actually resolve post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation all on its own. It can take 3 months to 2 years to fully fade, and in some cases, even longer.
However, with various types of treatment, people may not need to wait that long to see an improvement of PIH.
If you’ve determined your acne breakout aftermath is PIH, let’s talk about tips and treatments that might help fade this discoloration faster.
Exfoliants fall into two categories: physical and chemical.
Physical exfoliation can sometimes be too harsh. Scrubbing can slough off dead skin, but chemicals can effortlessly unglue dead skin and aid in cell turnover.
Chemicals run deep. With a chemical like glycolic acid, it can remove surface skin cells but it can also disperse melanin in the basal layer of skin, reducing the appearance of discoloration.
A word of caution: chemical exfoliants can be very powerful. The idea of “more is more” does not apply. Try consulting with a doctor or dermatologist before using chemical peels or exfoliants.
There are many chemical exfoliants that could be helpful for PIH. Strut Health backs the use of the antioxidant retinoid tretinoin for the treatment of PIH, and we use it in our Acne Scar Formula.
Tretinoin is another way to say “retinoid acid” or “vitamin A derivative”.
The superpower here is cell turnover rates. It is often used in the treatment of acne, acne scarring, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Retinoids can be very powerful, this is why some of them require a prescription.
Learn More: Tretinoin for Acne Scars: Can Tretinoin Improve Your Scarring?
In a study involving 54 participants, researchers found the use of topical tretinoin (0.1 percent retinoic acid cream) significantly improved the appearance of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation within 4 weeks.
At the end of the full 40-week treatment, the participants using tretinoin saw a 40 percent improvement while the group not using this acid only saw an 18 percent improvement.
The conclusion of this study was “the topical application of tretinoin significantly lightens post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.” The benefits of tretinoin can be observed within 4 weeks.
However, a longer course of treatment will be needed to see the full benefits of tretinoin.
When it comes to fading acne scars or PIH, these treatments generally take a considerable time.
However, it is definitely faster than allowing the discoloration to resolve on its own over time.
Sun exposure naturally encourages the production of melanin, which is what creates a nice summer suntan.
However, sun exposure can also further darken hyperpigmentation spots. To avoid this, use daily broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher to protect your skin and hyperpigmentation spots from the sun.
When using chemical exfoliants like tretinoin, which can sensitize your skin to UV rays and increase your chance of burning, it’s recommended to use sunscreen and protective clothing like hats.
The use of moisturizer creams that improve the skin barrier is also recommended as a protectant.
Dealing with an acne breakout aftermath? It’s okay, you’re in good hands.
Here at Strut, you can enjoy a free online doctor’s visit to see if our specially formulated acne scar and skin brightening products would help reduce the appearance of your post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Try Strut Acne Scar Formula Formulated by dermatologists and pharmacists, this formula harnesses the power of Tretinoin.
This prescription cream can help reduce the appearance of dark spots and reveal smooth healthy skin.
Try Strut Brightly Formula A proprietary blend of moisturizers, vitamins, peptides, and epidermal building blocks.
This formula is a unique blend of Vitamin C, Acetyl Hexapeptide, Panthenol, and Hyaluronic acid. It works to brighten the skin and reduce fine lines. If working on reducing PIH, this can help brighten the overall appearance of the skin, including dark spots.