What Causes Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation and How to Treat It
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What Causes Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation and How to Treat It

If you’ve tackled a bout of acne and come out the other side, it may feel like the battle has been won. However, whilst a spot may only stay for a maximum of five to seven days, they can often leave their mark on your skin long after the breakout has subsided. Post-acne hyperpigmentation can be tough to fade, but there are a few tactics you can employ to smooth your way back to a bright, even skin tone.

Acne scars or hyperpigmentation?

Acne scarring and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation are both common issues to experience after a breakout, but the two are actually very different. Therefore, they each require a different treatment approach when it comes to fading them.

Scars occur when too much collagen forms in a particular spot where a wound is healing. The scar often develops within the dermis, where the original acne-caused inflammation formed. They can appear as rolling scars (gives a wavy look to the skin, ice-pick (pitted and appear as tiny holes in the skin) and boxscar (sharp and defined depressions in the skin).

When it comes to discolouration, it’s a different story. Leftover brown or red marks after a spot has faded are perfectly normal, and they’re not officially classed as scars as they don’t disrupt the skin’s texture. As with physical scars, hyperpigmented areas can also become worse with picking and a poor skincare routine.

Why does post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation occur?

PIH is a form of skin pigmentation (like sun damage), which occurs as a result of trauma to the skin. Any inflammation can cause this issue, and the colour of the pigment left behind will vary depending on your complexion. In very fair skin, this tends to be more red-toned, whereas in darker skin types, this tends to be brown.

Darker skin types are more prone to hyperpigmentation issues and therefore, should be careful with any skin treatment.

How to treat post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation?
Look for certain ingredients in skincare products.

The key is deep exfoliation when it comes to fading pigmentation. Alpha hydroxy acids such as mandelic, lactic or glycolic acid are an excellent way to exfoliate the skin gently without dehydrating it. They work by dissolving the ‘glue’ that holds dead skin cells together, revealing brighter, fresher skin beneath. Try the Neostrata Daily Peel Pads which fade lingering scars whilst also treating active breakouts.

Vitamin C should be a key weapon in your skincare armoury. Its benefits are endless, including revitalising and brightening the skin while stimulating your body’s natural production of collagen. Not only does it help to fade and lighten pigmentation you may already have, but it also prevents further dark spots from forming in the future. Vitamin C is a known brightening agent, and serums can rarely utilise the ingredient as well as the cult-classic SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic.

Retinol is another skincare ingredient that is well-worth a spot in your bathroom cabinet. It is beneficial for treating acne as it controls the formation of hyperpigmentation by increasing cell turnover rates. This renewal will help to reduce post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

A course of prescription-strength retinoids requires a trip to see your skincare doctor in clinic but there are several excellent over-the-counter options such as the SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5% which is our clinic favourite.

There are a variety of in-clinic treatment options

When tackling post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, never underestimate the power of a chemical peel. For marks left behind after blemishes have faded, having a clinical treatment with a low-pH acid can make a big difference. Using advanced exfoliating acids, they melt away dead, discoloured skin while delivering depigmenting agents deep within the skin to tackle hyperpigmentation at a cellular level.

Always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen

UV radiation causes damage to the DNA of our cells which can lead to dark spots or marks. Sunscreen is the most essential product to prevent this from happening. Always opt for a broad spectrum UVA coverage and UVB protection of SPF 30+, and avoid prolonged periods in the sun.

Be patient

Skincare products can take six to eight weeks to take effect, and many in-clinic treatments often require a series of treatments administered over weeks or even months. The skin also takes several weeks to renew itself and start a new cycle. This can be frustrating, and it can be tempting to over-apply products in the hope that it’ll speed up the process. The key is to sit tight, maintain a consistent skincare regime and trust that the results will be worth the wait.

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    Disclaimer: Please be aware that results and benefits may vary from patient to patient taking into consideration factors such as age, lifestyle and medical history.

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