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What Causes Discolouration from Acne Scars?

The imperfections left after acne, commonly known as brown blemishes or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), are caused by an overproduction of melanin, the pigment cells that gives skin its colour. This hyperpigmentation is the skin’s natural response to inflammation and injury, such as that caused by acne. Here’s a breakdown of why it happens and what to do about it.

Inflammation:

When acne lesions form, they cause inflammation (redness and swelling) in the skin. This inflammation is part of the body’s natural healing process. One of the aims of treating acne is to prevent inflammation. This can be done with botanicals such as tea tree (Carbon Cleanser) and Manuka Honey (Hydra Lotion) which calm the organism associated with pimples (Cutibacterium acnes) and low molecular weight Hyaluronic acid and Vitamin B (niacinamide) which both have an anti-inflammatory effect (Vitamin A & B Serum). But when inflammation is strong and/or continues, the skin sets up a strong defence. Enter melanin.

Melanin Production:

As a response to this inflammation, the skin cells (melanocytes) produce more melanin. This is a protective mechanism, as melanin helps to absorb ultraviolet (UV) radiation and protect skin cells from further damage. One way to reduce the stimulation of melanin is to use a protective moisturiser every morning that has zinc in it to protect and calm (Hydra Protect Moisturiser). This acts as a mask to prevent the brown cells from being stimulated and coming to the surface.

Distribution of Melanin:

In some cases, the excess melanin is not evenly distributed and accumulates in certain areas of the skin, leading to the appearance of brown or dark spots where the acne lesions were located or the skin has been consistently irritated. The use of Triple Vitamin C Serum  products with ingredients such as Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate 10% Terminalia Ferdinandiana (Kakadu Plum) Fruit Extract , and Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate are helpful to prevent this from happening as it calms those cells down.

Skin Types:

The likelihood and severity of PIH can be influenced by skin type. It’s more common and often more pronounced in individuals with darker skin tones (Fitzpatrick Skin Types III-VI) due to their skin’s natural propensity for producing more melanin. For this group, sun protection and the reduction of irritative ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and alcohol, is paramount.

Exacerbating Factors:

Certain factors can exacerbate PIH, such as picking or squeezing acne lesions. Here are my top ten tips for getting on top of this:

  1. Avoid mirrors or stay at least a metre away from them.
  2. Try not to touch your face.
  3. Keep your skin clean and keep using your skincare products.
  4. Put any utensils you might use like extractors, tweezers, or cotton tips out of sight and reach.
  5. Alternate a warm and cold compress, 20 minutes on, 10 minutes off for each one.
  6. Apply a very light dab of Exfoliant.
  7. Do something to distract yourself for one to two minutes.
  8. Do a light-emitting diode (LED) treatment.
  9. Cover it with non-comedogenic makeup, that is a cosmetic that is formulated so as not to block pores.
  10. Have fun and get on with your life.

It’s important to note that while PIH can fade over time, this process can take months or even years. Effective treatment and prevention strategies include the use of sunscreen to protect the skin from UV radiation, avoiding picking or irritating acne lesions, and using skincare products containing ingredients that help to lighten hyperpigmentation, such as Vitamin C, and niacinamide (Vitamin B3). As always, it’s advisable to consult with a skin expert for personalised skincare advice, especially for persistent or severe cases of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. To find your nearest expert, click here.