Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Aheli Sen (Fashion & Beauty Expert)  on 21st Nov 2020

Can Acne Cause Hyperpigmentation? 

Can Acne Cause Hyperpigmentation?

The answer to that is an emphatic 'yes'! Acne leaves behind dark marks, and as the numbers of pimples grow all over the face, the dark spots add to the view. It is super annoying. This occurs in people of all races & all skin types and tones. However, some individuals produce more melanin than others and are affected worse than the rest.  

Here is a list of races that suffer from hyperpigmentation from acne, more so than others: 

  • Asians 
  • Africans 
  • People from the Middle-East 
  • Hispanics 
  • Native Americans 
  • People from the Pacific ring 

If you belong to any of the above-listed races, you now know that it is in your genes to blame for your acne woes. There is nothing you can do to prevent such hyperpigmentation, but certainly are ways to get rid of the same.

Let us now look at exactly what happens to dark spots that are left behind

How does Hyperpigmentation acne occur?

When one breaks down the words' hyperpigmentation', one gets 'hyper,' which means excessive or extra, and 'pigmentation,' which means the skin tissue's color. Together, "hyperpigmentation" implies an excess of pigment being produced in the skin.

When melanin produced in the skin is more than average, it results in dark patches, spots, darkened skin, or discoloration. You can consider it as a term for dark pigmentation in patches on the skin.

The defense mechanism of the skin to environmental trauma causes the production of more melanin on the skin or less of the same. It can occur in multiple forms like a scratch, a cut, wounds, and then stuff like pimples or acne. Environmental pollution and exposure to the sun daily also decide how much melanin the skin needs to produce.

This trauma results in the skin retaliating and stimulating melanin formation by the skin cells to create a barrier for itself from further damage. Melanocytes, the skin cells, upon stimulation, move to the skin's surface, where it then forms patches of dark skin, spots, sunspots, and discoloration. 

Acne, pimples, blemishes, and skin conditions like eczema often causes the skin to inflammations. As a response to inflammation, post-acne hyperpigmentation emerges; it is a way of the skin healing post-trauma. 

Who is affected by this kind of hyperpigmentation?  

Typically, hyperpigmentation caused by acne affects both women and men of all skin tones and types. These pigmented spots can show up in brown, red, or pink color and appear on more than just the face. Sometimes, it shows up all over the body.

Post acne hyperpigmentation is also known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). It is more difficult to lose such discoloration than the actual cause of the same, namely, the pimples. 

Hyperpigmentation Vs. Acne Scars 

Often, a lot of people mistake the term post-acne hyperpigmentation as acne scarring. Acne scarring is for any disturbance to your skin post-spot.

While it is true that both post-acne hyperpigmentation and acne scarring occurs after the skin breaks out, both are very different from each other.

Acne scars cause the skin's texture to alter, but hyperpigmentation from acne only changes the skin color or pigment. 

Why does hyperpigmentation occur after acne? 

Hyperpigmentation acne spots form at the end of the process of healing or once the blemish heals.

Blackheads and whiteheads don't "heal." Instead, the oil and the dead skin eliminate, and the pores quickly return to its normal condition. Pimples and cysts, on the other hand, need some healing. This is when hyperpigmentation comes in.

One of the initial steps in healing is the increased blood flow to the site of the wound. The wound produces certain chemicals that enter the bloodstream and start the healing process. However, it also causes inflammation. It is these chemicals that stimulate the skin cells to produce such pigment.

Both dermats and researchers have agreed that inflammation plays an important role in causing hyperpigmentation. But, there is a lot more to this study of what causes hyperpigmentation acne.

As you read before, melanin produces melanocytes that produce pigment & melanin. More the time a wound takes to heal, the longer the stimulation of melanocytes & more melanin is released.

One of the biggest reasons behind post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from acne is the picking of zits. The best way to avoid post-acne hyperpigmentation is to not pick on them in the first place. 

When should you see a doctor?

The best way to treat hyperpigmentation, especially conditions when nothing has worked out, and you have tried everything, is to see the doctor and ask for advice on the same. There are medications and ways of getting rid of the same unknown to the common man that a dermat can help you out with. 

Commonly used types of medications include: 

1. Antibiotics 

Antibiotics are taken to clear out bacteria from the skin and to reduce inflammation. These can be applied topically or ingested. Examples of topical antibiotics are benzoyl peroxide, erythromycin, and clindamycin. Oral medicines may include minocycline, tetracycline, or doxycycline. Consulting a doctor before taking such medication is a must, as has been mentioned before, as your underlying conditions may worsen from them. 

2. Retinoids 

Are a type of vitamin A. It helps in exfoliation of the skin and in unclogging pores, which is amazing for preventing and treating upcoming comedones. Examples include tazarotene, tretinoin, or adapalene. Retinoids in a pill (isotretinoin) can help treat severe acne. 

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3. Hormonal Agents 

Hormones such as androgens play an important role in acne. Androgens promote oil production in pores that contribute to clogged pores. Oral contraceptive pills are common agents of hormones that reduce such activity and affect most females. 

How to treat hyperpigmentation caused by acne?

No treatment can entirely remove hyperpigmentation marks caused byv in a day. However, the first approach is to address the issues that cause acne.  

1. Sunscreen 

Even though the sun is not behind hyperpigmentation caused by the acne on our skin, it certainly makes matters worse by aggravating the hyperpigmentation problem by darkening regions that are already severely affected. It is thus, best to use sunscreen to prevent further spotting.

The best creams for acne hyperpigmentation are physical sunscreens with an SPF of 20 or higher. 

2. Regular use of Anti-Inflammatory Skincare 

Skincare products with anti-inflammatory ingredients are a good way to help soothe and heal hyperpigmentation caused by acne. Such products do not aggravate the situation by triggering it to break out or break into hives, which would mean more dark spots to recover from. Skincare sans ingredients that irritate the skin is always the way to help calm the skin and prevent further hyperpigmentation. 

3. Micro-Needling 

Micro-needling is the process in which a stainless-steel roller covered with several tiny spokes is used to make a series of small or micro-injuries on the skin. It makes the skin produce new and healthy elastin and collagen.

When the skin's barrier is broken, it is easier and faster to incorporate ingredients to heal. A good cream is always suggested to be used for micro-needling for the best outcomes. For good results, one needs at least three or more treatments every six weeks. 

4. Chemical Peels 

Chemical peels are the best way to get rid of hyperpigmentation and probably one that makes a big difference. It helps eliminate darkened, dead cells from the top layer of the skin. It helps diminish dullness and makes it more radiant than before. However, these treatments are ideal in the form of monthly or as prescribed by the doctor. There are plenty of peels available that can also be used at home. However, be very careful while reading the "how to use" section. 

5. Vitamin C 

Known for its brightening properties and its ability to reduce dark spots, vitamin c is a great way to treat hyperpigmentation caused by acne. It also is beneficial in preventing the skin from hyperpigmentation in the future. 

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6. Retinol 

Retinol (vitamin A) reduces hyperpigmentation by increasing the skin's cell turnover rate. It means that it allows the skin to shed older, dead cells to generate new ones and make sure that there are no dead cells left behind to clog out pores.

The most common type of hyperpigmentation is post-inflammatory, which is caused by clogged pores. A significant factor lies in lightening and evening out the skin tone by clearing the pores & stimulating cell regeneration.

Visit your dermatologist (dermat) to get the right strength of retinol for yourself. 

7. Lasers 

Pigmentation in the second level of the skin is like a tattoo. It is tough to get rid of.

Lasers use low energy and heat to break up pigmentation particles in the skin, thereby removing dark pigmentation. Your dermatologist or laser technician will be the best guide on the kind of treatment you need.

Like other procedures, anticipate six treatments or more with a gap of three to four weeks between each sitting for the best results.