If you’ve ever had any annoying dark spots hanging around after a breakout, then you’re already familiar with PIH, aka post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. But what is that, exactly?
What is Hyperpigmentation?
PIH refers to darker spots of skin that appear after there’s been some type of inflammation and mild trauma to skin. Here’s the thing - that sounds kind of dramatic, but it perfectly describes what pimples do to skin. They’re inflamed, and cause a super small area of ‘trauma’ to skin.
This kind of hyperpigmentation isn’t exclusive to appearing after acne, either. You’ve probably noticed dark spots lingering after bug bites or ingrown hairs have long healed, too - and here’s how to deal with those pesky hyperpigmentation spots.
How Does Hyperpigmentation Form?
Here’s the thing - these spots appear as a result of our skin’s own handiwork. It’s true! As part of the post-acne healing process, skin releases melanocytes so that the healed skin has pigment in it (and ideally, it matches the rest of your skin).
Melanocytes are the cells responsible for creating melanin - the natural pigments that give our skin, hair, and eyes colour. The thing is, hyperpigmentation is the presence of too many melanocytes, creating a spot that’s darker than the rest of your skin.
And there’s one more thing - the likelihood of this happening can depend on your skin tone. If you’re fair and burn easily, any dark spots you get are likely to be lighter and fade away faster.
If you have a tanned or deeper-toned skin complexion, these pesky spots can hang around for months! They take on a deep brown or even purple-toned shade, especially in the case of deeper, cystic acne.
There’s good news, though. These tenacious little spots can be faded away with the right skincare! Here’s our guide to the best skincare ingredients and products for banishing PIH, once and for all.
Skin Ingredients That Fade Dark Spots
If you asked me to pick one item off of this list, it would have to be sunscreen - seriously! It’s often underestimated, but absolutely crucial. Keeping sun exposure off of PIH, especially fresh spots, stops it from getting darker in the first place.
If you’re using something to lighten PIH, yet keep exposing them to skin-darkening UV light, they’ll stick around for what feels like forever. However, if you can properly protect your skin from the sun plus use one or more of the other amazing pigment-fading ingredients, they’ll be gone in no time. I know which option I’d rather go for!
La Mer The Reparative Skin Tint | $179
This two-in-one makeup and skincare formula shields skin from the sun, while adding a healthy touch of colour and coverage.
This superstar skincare ingredient is good for almost everything - maintaining a healthy moisture barrier, regulating sebum production, and softening wrinkles, just to name a few. But that’s not all niacinamide can do!
This skincare ingredient is phenomenal when it comes to lightening hyperpigmentation, too. A Japanese study found that niacinamide can make a difference in lightening dark spots in as little as four weeks! One of the best things about niacinamide is that it’s great for all skin types - even sensitive. So, if your skin might not be able to tolerate frequent retinol or exfoliation, this is a great option for you.
La Prairie Platinum Rare Cellular Life Lotion | $980
This essence from La Prairie harnesses the power of niacinamide alongside La Prairie's patended Cellular Complex.
Is there anything that this botanical can’t do? Alongside niacinamide, ginseng is incredibly gentle (yet super effective) at fading dark spots left by acne. It works by inhibiting melanin synthesis, preventing the marks from being as dark in the first place and fading them at the same time.
If your skin leans on the sensitive side, ginseng is also a great option thanks to its ability to gently, yet incredibly effectively fade hyperpigmentation.
La Prairie White Caviar Illuminating Serum | $805
La Prairie researchers have created a patented compound that includes Ginseng Extract to fortify skin and fade dark spots.
When it comes to effectively fading dark spots, retinol is one of the best ingredients that you can reach for. It’s the gold standard! This Vitamin A derivative encourages cellular turnover within the stratum corneum - this fades any dark spots over time, and has the added effect of rejuvenating the skin.
Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules | $190
Use the combined power of retinol and ceramide to fade hyperpigmentation and rejuvenate skin.
Vitamin C is another superstar skincare ingredient, and for good reason. Vitamin C works as a fantastic melanin inhibitor - meaning, it can directly affect any excess melanin in skin. Specifically, the excess that’s showing up as PIH! Adding Vitamin C to your skincare routine has the added benefit of giving your skin some serious glow.
Dior Prestige Le Nectar Serum | $520
An antioxidant-rich formula from Dior helps to brighten dull skin and fade dark spots.
When it comes to brightening dark marks, chemical exfoliants (aka facial acids) are another great option to reach for. They encourage skin to renew itself, eventually fading any dark marks over time. A gentle over-the-counter chemical exfoliator will go a long way towards fading PIH - especially if it contains a combination of AHAs and BHAs.
SK-II Facial Treatment Clear Lotion | $121
This exfoliating essence from SK-II uses the power of pitera and a blend of chemical exfoliants to even out skin tone.
Now you know all of our favourites for fading away those pesky dark spots. If you're still trying to figure out your perfect skincare routine, check out our skincare quiz!