Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is the medical term for dark spots caused by pimples, or other types of inflammatory damage, such as burns or eczema.
PIH is common among people of color, with over 65% of African Americans reporting symptoms. It is also more common in Latinx females than Asian, Indian, or white females. The spots tend to be redder in people with pale skin, and brown in people with dark skin.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), although dark spots caused by pimples will clear, it may take months.
The first step is to treat the acne. A person can then focus on preventing further damage and using products, medications, procedures, and supplements to promote healing.
Regular skin care can help people deal with acne and its after-effects. Over-the-counter (OTC) products are available to treat dark spots caused by pimples.
It is particularly important for people of color to find and use appropriate products for their skin.
Learn about treating dark spots on black skin here.
One general tip is to avoid skin care regimens or products that could increase dryness and irritation. People should also use mild cleansers and lotions that will not clog pores. If the skin appears irritated after trying a product, they should discontinue use or consider only applying it every other day.
People can also limit their exposure to the sun and wind to help prevent further damage and promote skin healing. A person can apply sunscreen throughout the year to help reduce PIH.
Although current research is not conclusive, studies have found promising results for:
niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3
- whole soy extract combined with retinol and salicylic acid
- creams or lotions made with vitamin C, or ascorbic acid
natural extracts, including licorice root and mulberry
The AAD recommends that people avoid using skin lighteners that contain mercury due to the risk of kidney damage, nerve damage, and mercury poisoning.
Scientists tested 549 skin lightening products and found that 12% contained mercury. To avoid products that may cause harm, people should get a doctor’s recommendation before purchasing any of these items.
Medical treatments for dark spots caused by pimples include:
- Retinoids: These medications are a common acne treatment. They typically come in topical form, which means a person applies it to the skin. Along with benzoyl peroxide, retinoid can bleach towels and sheets but will not lighten skin. A person should start with a product that contains a 0.025% concentration to check it does not irritate. Doctors typically prescribe tretinoin in 0.025% and 0.05% forms.
- Hydroquinone: Studies show it reduces the size, color, and severity of dark spots.
- Glycolic acid peel: Research suggests that adding regular acid peels to hydroquinone treatments significantly improves results.
Other treatment options include:
A person should speak with their doctor or dermatologist to discuss available options.
Dark spots caused by pimples may occur where the skin is thin and delicate, such as the face and neck. Treatment will usually be the same for most areas of the body and face.
Acne can develop anywhere on the body, but pimples are most likely to occur in places where there are many sebaceous glands that produce skin and hair oil. This includes the following areas:
When acne develops in hard to reach places, it can complicate the treatment process.
If dark spots only occur on the forehead or temples, hair products may be causing the acne. A person can switch hair care products, or use them only on hair ends, to prevent further breakouts and additional skin damage.
Treating and controlling acne is the best way to prevent dark spots from pimples.
Learn about acne treatment here.
Exposure to sunlight can cause spots to darken, so people can use broad-spectrum sunscreen when outside to prevent additional discoloration.
Some authorities state that early and vigorous treatment of potential dark spots can keep them from fully developing. However, it is important not to irritate the skin and make the problem worse.
Experts say dark spots on the upper layers of the skin, or epidermal PIH, may last for 6–12 months. However, it can take years for deeper, or dermal, spots to go away.
People should maintain their skin care and treatment routines to accelerate the healing process.
Individuals with severe acne outbreaks may benefit from seeing a dermatologist. They can help a person find the most effective treatment and lower the chances of developing dark spots.
Although most people with dark spots see improvement without medical treatment, sometimes additional support is necessary. People may choose to see a dermatologist if dark spots interfere with their personal, social, or professional lives.
Dark spots from pimples are a common result of acne. Although they tend to resolve on their own, the process can take several months.
Different treatment options, such as natural remedies, OTC products, and prescription medications, can speed up healing.