Dealing with acne — especially for those of us who still see flare ups well after adolescence — can be a daily battle. But it’s a battle that can often leave you with other issues to deal with after your blemishes have cleared: what do you do when your acne is gone, but it’s left dark spots as a fun little parting gift?
Dark spots, or hyperpigmentation, show up when a certain area of the skin is producing more melanin than usual. They can show up for a number of reasons like sun damage, a side effect of medication, hormonal imbalances, or breakouts that leave dark spots after healing. So while you might be tempted to pick at a flare-up, this type of contact can only help to increase the chances of ending up with a dark spot after the acne heals. While pimples are definitely annoying to have to deal with, the good news is that there are also a lot of different options to choose from to help you treat and heal your breakouts. You’ll be free to focus on healing your acne without the additional worry of residual dark spots taking over your freshly-cured skin.
Skincare treatments for dark spots
The first stop on the path toward clear, healthy skin is an upgraded medicine cabinet. There are several non-prescription skincare products that work to help reverse damage from dark spots and leave you with a brighter, more even complexion.
Hydrocortisone: A hydrocortisone cream is a great way to help soothe your skin and act as an anti-inflammatory agent, helping to curb any swelling and redness that can lead to hyperpigmentation in the future.
Vitamin C: A powerful antioxidant and “anti-aging powerhouse,” vitamin C fights free radicals that can come from pollution and sun damage, and is essential for the growth, development and repair of damaged tissues in your skin. But it also has benefits that can help reverse the signs of hyperpigmentation. For instance; vitamin C inhibits melanin production in the skin, brightening your complexion. Using a topical vitamin C booster lets you lighten a targeted area of your skin, which is perfect for dealing with dark spots caused by acne. To learn more about how to properly apply vitamin C, as well as the benefits of vitamin C for the skin, check out our blog post.
Retinol: For anyone wondering how to get rid of hyperpigmentation, adding retinol to your skincare routine is an extremely effective and clinically proven method. Retinol stimulates cellular turnover, pushing your skin to get rid of old dead skin cells, and replace them with new, healthier ones. Using a natural retinol serum will also help inhibit tyrosinase, which is an enzyme that’s responsible for melanin production in the skin. The inhibition of melanin means you’ll see less hyperpigmentation, and your skin will be prevented from making more dark spots.
Chemical exfoliant: Applying a chemical exfoliant two times a week can also be a great way to help fade dark spots. Clearing out the surface level of dead and dull skin helps to brighten and even out your complexion, fade dark spots, and reverse discoloration. Only apply it two times a week, since overuse can make your skin especially sensitive to sun damage.
Sunscreen: Even if acne is the cause of the dark spots on your skin, repeated sun exposure can make them appear darker. UV rays trigger inflammation and melanin production, making it even harder for you to fade dark spots from acne. Always remember to apply a broad spectrum sunscreen of at least 30 before you leave the house — the sun can still damage your skin on cloudy or overcast days, so beach trips aren’t the only cause for skin protection.
Professional treatments for dark spots
If you’re dealing with especially stubborn dark spots, it might be time to turn to the pros. These professional treatments are more of an investment, but a good choice to speed up the healing process of your skin — just remember to check with your dermatologist if you have any skin concerns, since some of these treatments can be too intense for sensitive skin.
Microdermabrasion: My esthetician describes microdermabrasion as a “sandblaster for your skin,” and it’s still my favorite way to explain this treatment. A slightly abrasive tool is used to exfoliate and slough away the thick outermost layer of dead skin, leaving you with refreshed, younger looking skin, and less visible fine lines and wrinkles. Microdermabrasion can also help with skin discoloration, but is best for milder cases of hyperpigmentation (since it’s not as effective as other professional options if you have more stubborn dark spots).
Chemical peel: A more intense form of chemical exfoliant, chemical peels can boost collagen production, further enhance cellular turnover and reduce the appearance of dark spots when used consistently over time. While these treatments are generally very effective, they can also be too harsh on sensitive skin — consult with your dermatologist to get input on how your skin may react.
Lasers: Laser skin resurfacing can improve the overall appearance of your skin’s texture by removing dead skin cells at the surface and encouraging cellular growth in deeper layers of the skin. Like chemical peels and microdermabrasion, this professional treatment is a more targeted approach to healing dark spots.
Microneedling: This treatment involves using a stainless steel roller covered in tiny little spikes to puncture the skin. While it might sound slightly terrifying, these micro-cuts trigger your skin to go into repair mode, boosting collagen production and regeneration of new skin cells. Anti-aging benefits aside, combining microneedling with the application of another topical product (like vitamin C serum) can help to further penetrate active ingredients below the skin’s surface.
If you’ve successfully healed acne on your skin and are experiencing residual hyperpigmentation, don’t stress: there are a variety of skincare products and professional treatments that can help reverse this form of post-inflammatory damage. Just remember to follow a set skincare routine with products that contain retinol and vitamin C, and of course, wear sunscreen everyday, and you’ll be well on your way to healthy, balanced, even-toned skin.
By Lauren Hannel, staff contributor