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. Please read below to learn what causes dark spots, what makes them worse, and the best ways to treat them (including our favorite Advanced Dark Spot remover and the Dermatologist recommended Retinol + Niacinamide treatment system).
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 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 skin area.
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 leaves 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!) makes 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, several treatment options help speed up the process and fade dark acne spots faster.
What are the best ingredients for the treatment and prevention of dark acne marks?
- Arbutin, the b-D-glucopyranoside derivative of hydroquinone, is a naturally occurring plant-derived compound in the leaves of several different plant species, including barberry, blueberry, cranberry, and pear trees. The arbutin molecule is very similar to the hydroquinone molecule with an attached sugar molecule. We love this ingredient, which is why it is the active compound in our Advanced 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 dark spots at the same time.
- Retinol: Retinoids work by increasing cell turnover, which helps fade hyperpigmentation by lifting off the hyperpigmented skin cells and replacing them 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 and 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 that will usually be gentle on the skin and still provide the needed skin brightening effect. For best results, check out MDacne's Retinol + Niacinamide treatment cream. This unique retinol cream combines the power of pure retinol with niacinamide, helping improve results while reducing skin irritation. Pure Retinol works to help fade dark spots, post-acne scars, acne blemishes, and fine wrinkles. The Niacinamide (vitamin B3), a powerful anti-inflammatory ingredient, hydrates the skin, improves the skin’s texture, and helps fade post-acne dark spots.
- 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 other skin lightening agents – more specifically hydroquinone.
- Vitamin C: Acne medications with vitamin C (ascorbic acid) can block abnormal pigment production and brighten spots that have already developed. These creams can also help build collagen and promote normal healthy healing of your skin.
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 the 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 fade your existing dark spots faster. However, we also recommend limiting sun exposure altogether and wearing a hat and protective clothing when in the sun!
To find the right acne treatments for your unique skin, take the free skin assessment by clicking here.