The color of your skin can change after acne heals, which can leave behind dark spots long after the lesion has healed. Hyperpigmentation due to acne is also called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Although many people confuse this condition with acne scarring, the American Academy of Dermatology explains that these dark spots are not a type of scar. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation often resolves after a long period of time without the need for treatment.
More About Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation falls under the broader definition of hyperpigmentation that's caused by other factors, such as sun damage, hormonal changes due to pregnancy (melasma) and oral contraceptive use and some types of surgeries, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation that lingers as a result of acne lesions occurs when excess melanin, the pigment that produces your skin's natural color, collects in one area of your skin–a process common to all types of hyperpigmentation.
Risks and Complications
Anyone with acne can experience post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, regardless of race. However, those with darker skin tones are more likely to experience more problematic post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, which goes onto state that in some cases, dark spots are permanent and cause more distress than the acne lesion itself. Hyperpigmentation in itself isn't medically threatening, but it's often made more pronounced by exposure to ultraviolet rays, says the American Osteopathic College of Dermtology. The melanin in the pigmented spots absorbs UV rays from the sun (or a tanning bed) to protect the surrounding skin. As a result, areas of hyperpigmentation become darker.
Protecting Your Skin
If you have hyperpigmentation due to acne, exercise smart sun protection whenever you go outdoors. The American Academy of Dermatology advises applying a broad spectrum sunblock with a sun protection factor of at least 30 about 20 minutes before you go outside, regardless if you have dark brown or black skin. If you still get acne, look for a sunscreen that's oil-free. The product packaging might also specify that the product is “non-comedogenic" or that it won't block or clog your pores.
Over-the-counter bleaching creams to fade post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation are available, but these should be used with caution. The American Academy of Dermatology points out that by law, these topical solutions can contain no more than 2 percent hydroquinone, the product's active agent. If the product you plan to purchase doesn't specify the amount of hydroquinone it contains, it's best to avoid using it, as applying a topical that contains too much hydroquinone can result in discoloration of the skin that may not be possible to treat.
What a Dermatologist May Advise
The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology states that one treatment for hyperpigmentation due to acne may include a prescription cream that contains twice the amount of hydroquinone than found in drugstore products. Sometimes this medication is used in conjunction with a topical tretinoin and cortisone cream. The treatment can be a timely process, taking 3 to 6 months to complete, and may cause irritation to those with sensitive skin. Other medical procedures used to treat post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation include a series of light chemical peels and microdermabrasion. Laser treatments can also be used, but the American Academy of Dermatology notes that these are used on people with darker skin tones only when other methods fail.