Hyperpigmentation, or PIH happens when our bodies attempt to quickly heal blemishes; unfortunately our bodies are designed for function, not esthetic and often times after a breakout has healed, we notice red, brown, or even purple spots where melanin has formed to protect new skin.
PIH is not considering scarring, because it will heal on its own as new cells push to the surface, whereas a true scar needs intervention to create new collagen.
Not only can we expedite the disappearance of PIH, we can also take highly effective preventative measures to ensure PIH has the shortest possible lifespan.
1. Whether you have active breakouts or not, wearing daily SPF will significantly shorten the time PIH lingers, if not completely prevent it altogether (not to mention it prevents cancer). My #1 SPF for acne-prone daily use is Paula's Choice Wrinkle Defense ($30). Rain or shine, indoors or outdoors (ironically this blog post is being written during a nation-wide quarantine), SPF EVERY DAY.
2. Vitamin C is a brightening/lightening agent that will not only lift pigmentation, but will even out tone and texture over the entire face. Think oranges, nectarines, tangerines, mandarins, Vitamin C baby! I'm a fan of Pranvera Vitamin C ($54), it contains a more stable formulation that won't go bad as quick as the average Vitamin C serum; it's also specifically designed for easily sensitized skin with a equivalent to a 15% formula of Vitamin C Absorbica (what most Vitamin C serums contain, it tarnishes quite quickly - literally it turns yellow, then brown, then black) If you're looking for the strongest formulation on the market, 'SkinCeuticals' makes a 20% formula. ($140)
3. AHA/BHA's; our lactic, glycolic, tartaric acids (AHA), salicylic, and citric (BHA) acids. BHA's remove debris from the pores, diving deep beneath the surface to prevent breakouts, while AHA's speed cell turnover and prevent signs of early aging. By keeping your cells clear, and consistently turning over new cells, you're promoting new skin growth, exfoliating away existing PIH. I'm a big fan of Face Reality's Mandelic Acid Serum ($46), it's a large molecule, and therefor releases over a longer period of time, and has very mild side effects (acids often causes redness, peeling and dryness). I wear it under my SPF every morning!'
4. Vitamin A, i.e. retinol/retinoids; nothing short of in-office treatments will speed cell turnover faster than this ingredient thats been called "the magic cream". Over the Counter Retinols, or Prescription strength Retinoids (known as Tretinoin) are incredibly potent, sloughing dead, dull skin to reveal a brighter, healthier layer of skin. When used consistently, you should notice dark marks lighten if not disappears within 12 weeks. Because of its strength, you have to slowly introduce it to your routine, starting with 1x weekly, working up to your own tolerance (its going to be different person by person, depends on what other actives you use, your age, your level of melanin, etc). I personally use a 0.05% Prescription Strength Tretinoin ($70) every other night, and experience mild side effects after 7 years of consistent use. The Retinol I used for 5 years before moving to a prescription strength, was 0.5% from SkinCeuticals. ($76)
*There will be a separate blog post dedicated specifically to Retinol/oids*
5. A gentler option that has proven effective for many people is Rosehip Seed Oil, and Carrot Seed Oil. A few drops added to your nightly moisturizer, or used on their own will soak into your pores and lift PIH from beneath the surface. Both can be found on Amazon, ensure they are USD approved and check reviews to ensure they're not watered down!
6. Finally, HYDRATION! Dehydrated skin simply cannot heal itself! Ensure you're using 'humecants' into your daily routine, i.e. ingredients that hold more than their weight in water, and will continue to release moisture over time. examples of humecants: glycerin, honey, ceramides, hyaluronic acid. Cerave Lotion ($12) contains three types of ceramides and hyaluronic acid; I use it under my SPF in the AM and layer it on in the PM. 'The Ordinary' also makes a Hyaluronic Serum ($7), I put a few drops in with my Cerave. A solid facial oil over your lotion will seal in moisture and act as a protectant against air molecules slithering into your pores and causing trouble! I'm a little bias, but my favorite facial oil is Rosery92's Tea Oil ($40).
NOTE: you're skin begins to lose moisture and collagen production slows after age TWENTY-FIVE. these preventive measures will not only fade PIH now, it will prevent age spots, sagging, discoloration, and uneven texture, for years to come. it is never too early to properly take care of your skin!