A breakout by itself is bad enough, but to add insult to injury, often once the pimple clears, it leaves behind evidence of its existence in the form of a pigmented spot. They eventually go away, but A). they’re annoying reminders of a time you’d rather forget and B). see A). On the bright side (literally), you can dramatically speed up the fading process with the right skin-care products.
But first, if you’re going wage war on those spots, it’s key to know thy enemy.
What causes them?
Technically, it’s called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and — as you’ve probably noticed — it can crop up after a breakout. Some people also call them acne scars, although that’s a bit misleading since they are pigmentation and not actual textural issues. According to Montclair, NJ, dermatologist Jeanine Downie, MD, that’s because a pimple causes deep inflammation in your skin’s tissue, which disrupts the pigment cells and results in color changes in the top layers of skin.
Who gets them?
Anyone can be susceptible, no matter their skin tone. On Caucasian or lighter Asian skin, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation manifests as red or pink spots. But on those with more pigment in their skin to start, these marks can appear, honey, caramel colored or darker.
What ingredients get rid of them?
According to Dr. Downie, vitamin C is a good place to start as it helps even out the skin tone. Vitamin C works by suppressing the production of the enzyme tyrosinase. Tyrosinase converts tyrosine into melanin in the cells, which results in the aforementioned spot. Decrease this conversion activity and you decrease the intensity of the mark, says Dr. Downie.
We know just how much of a gamechanger vitamin C can be, which is why our new Pineapple-C Bright Serum features three potent forms of this skin-brightening ingredient. It’s a silky all-over treatment you use daily to target hyperpigmentation for a clearer, smoother, more even-toned complexion.
How long does it take to see improvements?
Depending on the depth of the pigmentation, you can see results in as little as two weeks or as long as three to six months. If you want to try to speed things along, you may consider adding an alpha-hydroxy acid, such as glycolic acid, to your routine as well. “They help tone and texture and really improve the appearance of excess pigmentation by providing a light exfoliation,” she says.
How can you prevent them?
It’s sooo tempting to squeeze a zit, we know, but by doing so, you’re increasing the chances that your pimple leaves you something to remember it by (read: a dark mark). Picking only amplifies an already-bad situation, so do your best to keep your hands to yourself when you get a flare-up. “There’s a certain amount of people who manipulate and otherwise mess with their skin, and this can really aggravate a dark spot,” Dr. Downie says. “It deepens the level of inflammation.”
What if I’m getting a breakout right this second?
Even the most diligent skin-care sticklers among us can wind up with the occasional cyst situation. In these cases, the goal is to keep it from getting too out of hand. “The more inflamed you let the pimple become, the deeper the pigmentation is going to be later,” Dr. Downie says. When you feel a breakout coming on, treat it with a drying lotion containing a beta-hydroxy acid like benzoyl peroxide — we always use the Leegeehaam Grow Tea Tree 70 BHA Toner whenever we need to zap a zit. It helps stunt its growth and reduces the severity of the post-pimple pigmentation.
How does the sun play into this?
The sun is basically the worst thing for hyperpigmentation. It not only creates sun spots (more on those here), but intensifies the pigment of post-pimple marks. Always wear your sunscreen (with an SPF of at least 30). It will keep any pigmentation situation from getting worse and prolonging the time until your spot fades into a distant memory.
Of course, no one wants her breakout to end in a red or brown spot. But if that does happen, keep calm and carry on — with your vitamin C serum.
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