As if acne weren’t bad enough, you’re probably here because you’re now struggling with post-acne dark spots and/or scars...ugh! We feel you and are here to help. Read below to learn about what causes dark spots, what makes them worse, and the best ways to treat them (including our favorite Dark Spot Remover and more!)
What causes acne scars and dark spots?
After a pimple heals, we’re sometimes left with remaining spots—scars and dark spots (i.e. hyperpigmentation), which means...that pimple healing process? Yeah, it didn’t really go as planned. You see, when you have a pimple—or any other skin abrasion or wound, the skin usually does an amazing job at healing itself without leaving a trace. However, when that healing process is disrupted (from picking, popping, and touching our pimples even when we know we shouldn’t!), it can leave behind a friendly reminder of its annoying existence—scars and dark spots.
Acne Scars: Depressed, sunken acne scars occur when normal tissue in the skin is destroyed and replaced with fibrous tissue. These scars start to form when the healing process results in vertical collagen fibers (scar tissue ) that pull down on the skin and cause a crater-like lesion.
Post-Acne Dark Spots: Medically referred to as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), these dark spots can range in color from light pink to red, purple, or brown, depending on your skin type and tone. Essentially when the skin becomes inflamed, it produces excess melanin, which ads more pigment to that area of skin.
Five factors that will make your acne scars deeper and darker
There are a few factors that determine the number and severity of acne scars.
Acne severity: Deeper more severe (ex. cystic) acne tends to leave behind more scars and dark spots
Acne treatment: Pimples and cysts that stay untreated for a longer period of time are more likely to leave behind scars. Early treatment of your acne, when it’s still mild is the best way to prevent future acne scars.
Genetic tendency (timing and efficacy): Look at the skin of your parents and uncles. Some families have a greater tendency to have acne that results in scars. In these families, even mild acne can result in long-term scars, making prevention even more important.
Popping pimples: We all know we shouldn’t do this but some of us can’t resist. Popping, squeezing, and picking at pimples is a sure fire way to increase the risk of scars.
Sun exposure: Spending more time in the sun (especially without the right sun protection!) tends to make acne scars and dark spots darker and more prominent.
How to treat dark acne marks?
Some post-acne marks and hyperpigmentation will fade on their own over time. Unfortunately, without additional treatment, this oven takes several months or years for complete clearance. Fortunately, there are a number of treatment options to help speed up the process and fade dark acne spots faster.
What the best ingredients for the treatment and prevention of dark acne marks?
- Hydroquinone: Hydroquinone is the gold standard in medical dark spot lightening. Extensively used by dermatologists, it can help fade the most stubborn brown spots in 4-12 weeks. Combined with salicylic acid, retinoids, and plant-based ingredients, this magical compound will show results even in people with darker skin types.
We love this ingredient, which is why it is the active compound in our Medicated Dark Spot Remover alongside some of the other powerful ingredients below!
- Bearberry extract: A naturally-derived version of hydroquinone. Though slightly less effective than its medical grade relative (hydroquinone) bearberry is a great addition to dark spot correctors.
- Licorice root extract: Licorice contains glabridin, a compound that disperses melanin and inhibits the production of new melanin in dark spots. It is also less effective than hydroquinone but still a safe and effective anti-dark spot fighter. It is also a helpful additive to acne treatment products as it helps treat active acne and prevent future darks post at the same time.
- Salicylic acid: Another important medical-grade ingredient that can be helpful both in treating active acne and post-acne dark spots is salicylic acid. Derived from the bark of the willow-tree, it provides a gentle peel off the outer layer of the skin. Removing some of the excess melanin that causes the brown spots and enhancing the activity of other skin lightening agents – more specifically hydroquinone.
- Vitamin C: Acne medications with vitamin C (ascorbic acid) can block abnormal pigment production and can brighten spots that have already developed. These creams can also help build collagen and promote normal healthy healing of your skin.
- Retinoids: Retinoids work by increasing cell turnover, which in turn helps fade hyperpigmentation by lifting off the hyperpigmented skin cells and replacing it with healthy new cells. You can think of it as pushing the excessive brown pigment upwards, out of the skin. Retinoids come in different “flavors”. First generation retinoids, i.e; adapalene and retinoic acid can be helpful but are also cause significant irritation and sun photosensitivity. A better choice for people with acne and dark spots would be another member of the retinoids family, i.e. retinol or retinyl palmitate that will usually be gentle on the skin and still provide the needed skin brightening effect.
Suntanning as a treatment for acne scars and dark spots?
Not a good idea. As mentioned above, excessive sun exposure or artificial tanning during an active breakout of acne will usually cause darkening of the active acne pimples and post-acne dark spots. Therefore, if you have active acne, post-acne dark spots, or acne scars, be very cautious with your sun exposure! Using an oil-free sunscreen, SPF 30 is key as it will protect your skin and will fade your existing dark spots faster, though we also recommend limiting sun exposure altogether and wearing a hat and protective clothing when you are in the sun!