What you can do

Acne-related hyperpigmentation occurs when dark patches develop after a blemish has healed. Although hyperpigmentation is harmless, it can be frustrating to deal with.

If you’re experiencing acne-related hyperpigmentation, you aren’t alone. Talk to your dermatologist about your options for over-the-counter (OTC) and professional treatment.

The exact treatment you choose will depend on the severity of your condition, as well as your skin type and tone. Your dermatologist can help you find the best option for your skin.

Read on to learn more about how you can fade this form of hyperpigmentation with OTC products, prescription creams, and more.

1. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps keep both the inside and outside of your body healthy. It’s known by many names, including ascorbic or L-ascorbic acid.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, l-ascorbic acid can help reduce the appearance of scarring and even out your skin tone by boosting collagen production.

Vitamin C is considered safe for all skin tones.

Products to try

You may reap the benefits of vitamin C as a lightening agent in both pure and combination form.

Popular OTC options include:

2. Azelaic acid

Known for its anti-inflammatory benefits, azelaic acid may be a good option if you’re dealing with both active acne and related hyperpigmentation. This may also work well for raised brown spots.

However, there is a risk for hypopigmentation. You may be more likely to develop hypopigmentation if you have dark skin.

Products to try

Stronger forms of azelaic acid are available via prescription.

You can also look for the ingredient in the following OTC products:

3. Mandelic acid

Mandelic acid is a type of alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that’s made from almonds. It’s often used in combination with other ingredients as an anti-aging treatment for wrinkles and uneven skin tone. This acid may also be used to treat inflammatory acne.

Products to try

Popular OTC options include:

4. Kojic acid

Derived from a type of fungus, kojic acid is considered a natural bleaching agent. It’s often used for age spots, so it may work best for brown-colored pigmentation from acne.

Products to try

Popular OTC options include:

5. Niacinamide

Niacinamide is an ingredient made from niacin (vitamin B-3). It’s commonly found in wrinkle creams and other anti-aging products because of its ability to aid in water retention. It can also increase collagen production.

Products to try

While niacinamide may be useful if you have both wrinkles and hyperpigmentation, it likely won’t treat the latter concern on its own. You may find it more beneficial to look for the ingredient in combination products.

Popular OTC options include:

6. Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is a bleaching agent that gets rid of dark spots while also slowing down the release of melanin. This ingredient works best for darker spots on all skin tones, but you may need to avoid it if you have sensitive skin. Some people are also allergic.

Products to try

Hydroquinone is available as a prescription, but you might consider less harsh OTC options first.

Popular OTC options include:

7. Retinoids

Retinoids are compounds made from vitamin A. Although they’re considered tried-and-true remedies in the anti-aging skincare world, there are also certain products used for acne and related hyperpigmentation. These work by going deep beneath your skin to even out skin tone and texture.

Products to try

Like hydroquinone, retinoids are available via prescription and OTC remedies.

Before trying a stronger prescription retinoid, consider one of the following:

8. Chemical peel

Chemical peels use acids to help “peel” away the outer layer of your skin, revealing smoother, more toned skin underneath. They contain either AHAs, such as glycolic acid, or beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), such as salicylic acid.

No matter which acid you choose, know that peel versions contain higher concentrations than OTC serums and creams.

For acne-related hyperpigmentation, chemical peels work to reduce the appearance of dark spots. OTC versions remove the epidermis only. If you have extremely dark spots, then you may need to get a professional peel from your dermatologist that can also target the dermis (middle layer).

According to the Mayo Clinic, chemical peels work best for fair skin. The products may lead to scars or post inflammatory hyperpigmentation in people with dark skin if not pretreated.

Products to try

If you’re interested in an at-home chemical peel, check out the following:

9. Laser peel

Considered a resurfacing treatment, a laser peel uses light energy to rework the surface of your skin. New skin grows back more evenly toned and smoother than before.

Laser peels are used in more severe cases of hyperpigmentation. They also tend to work better for fairer skin. Some laser beams could inadvertently cause more brown spots in darker skin.

You can’t buy a laser peel. You’ll need to see your dermatologist if you’re interested in this procedure for acne-related hyperpigmentation.

Be sure to ask your doctor about ablative lasers — these are more intense and remove the outer layer of skin. They may also be less likely to cause inadvertent darkening.

10. Microdermabrasion

Microdermabrasion is a less-potent form of dermabrasion. It uses small crystals or a diamond-tipped handpiece to remove your epidermis, which can work well for flat spots of hyperpigmentation from acne. You may need weekly treatments to see results, and it tends to work best on fair skin.

Microdermabrasion can be done at your dermatologist’s or skincare specialist’s office. OTC products are also available. Although OTC products are often more affordable, they typically don’t produce the same results as professional microdermabrasion.

Is hyperpigmentation the same thing as scarring?

It’s possible to have both hyperpigmentation and scars left over from a breakout, but these are two different skin concerns requiring very different treatment approaches.

Scarring occurs when there’s either an excessive amount of tissue leftover from a blemish (hypertrophic), or if there’s a depressed area in the skin from a lack of tissues (atrophic).

Some procedures, such as laser resurfacing, can be used to treat both skin concerns.

If you’re unsure of what your blemishes are, talk to your dermatologist. They can help diagnose your concern and discuss options for treatment.

When to see your dermatologist

Talk to your dermatologist before trying any hyperpigmentation treatments at home. They may be able to recommend a more effective treatment method for your individual skincare concerns.

Consistency is key with whatever treatment you and your dermatologist choose. It typically takes about three months to see results. You’ll also need to keep up with regular treatments or else hyperpigmentation may return.

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