Have you ever looked in the mirror and noticed a few dark spots where your pimples used to be, or just got back from your blissful 10-day vacation in the tropics (I’m totally projecting) only to find darker patches appearing on your face even after your tan fades? Then you, my friend, have battled with Hyperpigmentation or Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH) and probably will again at some point. The two go hand in hand but not to worry, it’s not all that uncommon and usually pretty harmless but man is it frustrating. Stay tuned because we’re going over what hyperpigmentation and PIH actually are, how to treat them, and how you can avoid it altogether.
Well first off, it’s a mouthful. So let’s break it down. The term “hyper” when used in medical terms means “more” or “excessive”. “Pigment” is the color of our skin. So, Hyperpigmentation basically translates to “more pigment” and that pigment is melanin. Stay with me here, Melanin is produced by our cells and is responsible for giving us our skin tone. When those cells overproduce melanin in certain areas, the skin will appear darker than our natural tone.
defining post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (pih)
Now that I’ve given you a Bill Nye style breakdown of hyperpigmentation, let’s get into PIH and how these two are similar but not quite the same.
Post Inflammatory “means after inflammation” and in these circumstances, it just means “after a breakout”. PIH is basically a type of hyperpigmentation you experience after a pimple has run its course. Yup. Those annoying dark spots leftover from last week’s breakout are actually called Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Go ahead, use this term to impress your friends next time you’re talking about skin stuff, I guarantee they’ll think you’re a genius.
PIH is temporary and only occurs after the skin cells have been damaged or irritated in some way. This is why picking pimples will only make things worse and prolong this process, so don’t pick! Hyperpigmentation is not brought on by any sort of damage to the skin and in some cases doesn’t fade on its own.
treating hyperpigmentation vs. pih
Hyperpigmentation and Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation have a few main differences. For instance, PIH is easier to treat with over-the-counter acne products.
Hyperpigmentation is usually caused by either too much sun exposure, hormonal changes (such as pregnancy), certain medications like birth control, and recent studies have shown that even heat alone can cause hyperpigmentation for some of us. Yikes. The safest way you can protect yourself from developing hyperpigmentation is sunscreen. If you’re not wearing SPF every day but haven’t developed any hyperpigmentation, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not there. For some, the effects of hyperpigmentation from the sun don’t show up for years down the road. Always protect your skin with sunscreen. My favorite SPF is Invisible Physical Defense. It’s a 100% physical sunscreen and doesn’t leave a white cast on your skin. For my acne-prone peeps (you know I got you covered) I always suggest Clear Start’s Clearing Defense SPF30. It’s a lightweight, non-greasy formula with a matte finish and it’s also a moisturizer which makes it SO much easier to remember your SPF every day. If you think you might be dealing with hyperpigmentation from a medication like birth control or other hormonal changes, it's best to consult with your doctor so they can really assess your situation. To summarize:
- A direct result of the overproduction of Melanin.
- Occurs in patches or large areas.
- Can be caused by exposure to the sun, certain medications, pregnancy (Melasma), or other hormonal changes and age.
- Can be challenging to treat.
Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation will appear on the skin as small dark spots. Unlike Hyperpigmentation which will appear in larger patches. PIH usually fades relatively quickly and only appears post-breakout. Some ingredients to help fade PIH fast are salicylic acid, niacinamide, Vitamin C, and AHA & BHA. My personal favs for fading dark spots are Breakout Clearing Booster and the new FlashFoliant. They contain all the previously mentioned ingredients, are gentle enough for everyday use and will leave your complexion both glowing and dewy ☺
When it comes to treating hyperpigmentation, a common ingredient is Vitamin A, also known as retinol. Most major skincare companies will have retinol in their line, however, depending on the severity of the pigmentation, you may need something prescription strength. Getting regular chemical peels from your skin therapist can also be extremely beneficial for both PIH and Hyperpigmentation. This speeds up cellular turnover rate, resulting in new cells and a brighter complexion. To summarize:
- Caused by inflammation or trauma to the skin. (Post breakout)
- Appears as small dots. Usually brown, pink or red.
- Not permanent and fades quicker with the help of topical treatments such as Salicylic Acid, Vitamin C, Niacinamide, Glycolic Acid, and more
ingredients to help lighten hyperpigmentation and pih
Relatively new to the skincare world, Kojic acid is a chemical derived from fungi and can also be created during a brewing process of fermented rice. It’s considered a natural brightening agent with its ability to penetrate deep into the skin to prevent melanin production and is more tolerable for those with sensitive skin.
A form of B3 or niacin, Niacinamide can help lighten pigment while also helping with breakouts and can even be used on skin types with rosacea.
A Vitamin A derivative, retinoids are highly effective in helping with not only pigmentation but also acne and fine lines & wrinkles. Its ability to speed up the cellular turnover rate makes this ingredient an all-around great product for anti-aging. Depending on its strength, some may not be able to tolerate certain retinoid creams and may have to discontinue use if irritation occurs.
A Dicarboxylic acid produced from yeast such as barley and wheat. This acid helps to quickly restore skin to its healthy state and can help treat acne as well as lighten darker skin.
A powerful skin bleaching agent, hydroquinone can lighten anything from age spots to post-acne scars to freckles. Due to its strength, hydroquinone is usually prescribed by a doctor and is not meant for long term use, rather than used initially to lighten stubborn pigmentation until desired results are achieved.
Treating hyperpigmentation and PIH definitely presents its challenges but on the bright side, both are treatable and preventable with the proper skin care regimen and a little patience. Remember that preventing is always easier than treating so invest a good regimen now to ensure you always have healthy and glowing skin ☺ Sunscreen is your BFF and hats are essential when spending long days under harsh UVA and UVB rays. Clear Start products make it easy to keep your skin healthy and vibrant so no matter what your face is facing, we’ve always got you covered.