How to treat acne scarring and hyperpigmentation on dark skin

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Kiran Meeda
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Skincare conditions such as acne and hyperpigmentation can be tricky to differentiate. Stylist investigates what this difference is, how it affects darker skin and what products we can use to help.

It’s fair to say the world of skincare can be confusing. And while we’re aware of the main skin concerns including acne and hyperpigmentation, how do they affect those of us with darker skin

In order to find your course of action, it’s important to know the difference between each skin condition. Although they may appear to be the same thing, acne scars are more to do with the inflammation that our skin experiences. Hyperpigmentation involves some areas of skin becoming darker than other parts. And both conditions appear more exaggerated on darker skin.

Stylist probed director of Joyful Skin Clinic, Dr Kemi Fabusiwa to find out more.

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What is acne scarring?

Acne can lead to inflammation of the skin. “When the skin’s tissue becomes inflamed, the result is damaged skin and breaks in the tissue,” says Dr Fabusiwa. “The skin attempts to heal the damage by laying down collagen fibres at the site of the tissue injury and this dysregulated healing process leads to uneven skin and scarring.”  

What are the main types of acne scarring?

There are four types of scarring. “Hypertrophic scars that are raised due to excessive healing, boxcar scars which are well-defined deep depressions in the skin, rolling scars which are poorly defined deep depressions in the skin and icepick scars, which are narrow impressions in the skin that look as though the skin has been stabbed with an ice pick,” she says.

What is hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is where patches of skin become darker, creating an uneven skin tone. “It occurs due to an increased production of melanin at certain places in the the skin,” explains Dr Fabusiwa. 

While there are many factors that contribute to hyperpigmentation, sun exposure is the biggest risk factors to consider.

“Melanin protects our skin from the sun. When we’re exposed to high levels of UV-radiation, the skin’s response is to produce excess melanin.” 

Inflammation is another big cause of hyperpigmentation. “When the skin is damaged, melanin gets deposited along the site of the injury. Even minor trauma to the skin can lead to significant post-inflammatory hyperpigmenation,” says Dr Fabusiwa.

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Why is hyperpigmentation on darker skin different from those with lighter skin?

“The cells that produce melanin are called melanocytes. Darker-skinned individuals have much bigger melanocytes that are capable of producing much more melanin,” she says. 

“The high levels of melanin mean that not only are dark-skinned individuals much more likely to experience hyperpigmenation, but they are also more likely to experience severe hyperpigmentation. When an individual with darker skin experiences inflammation, the resulting scar is more likely to be very dark and highly noticeable when compared to lighter skin because of this.”

Is it harder to minimise the look of acne scarring and hyperpigmentation on darker skin?

In short, yes it is. “There are much higher levels of the pigment in the areas of uneven skin and so the intensity of melanin being so much higher, means that the areas of hyperpigmenation will take a lot longer to fade,” explains Dr Fabusiwa.

“As well as this, many treatments that are used to reduce acne scarring and hyperpigmentation are unsuitable for darker skin as even the mild inflammation caused by these treatments can be enough to exacerbate hyperpigmenation. For this reason, treatments that work well against acne scarring and hyperpigmentation on white skin, such as microdermabrasion are totally unsuitable for darker skin types.”

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Which products should we be using to treat acne scarring and hyperpigmentation on dark skin?

“Managing acne scarring and hyperpigmentation is a marathon and not a sprint. With hard work and dedication, the appearance of scars and hyperpigmentation can be reduced over time,” says Dr Fabusiwa.

With that being said, there are four types of products to keep in your skincare arsenal.

SPF: Daily SPF is vital for hyperpigmenation. “As always, prevention is better than cure. UV-radiation directed onto the surface of our skin, causes the melanin-producing cells to release more melanin, creating dark-pigmented scars. La Roche Posay’s Anthelios factor 50 and Glossier’s Invisible Shield factor 30 are both excellent sunscreens with a high sun protection factor that do not leave behind any white streaks when protecting from the sun.”

Vitamin C: this enhances wound healing and reduces hyperpigmentation, which makes it a great addition to those battling uneven skin. “Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution glosses over the skin and contains activated Vitamin C and is clinically proven to reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation.”

Retinols: they’re both prevention and cure for acne. “Retinols prevent acne formation in the first place, which can reduce the likelihood of scar formation but they can also help fade the scars once they arrive. La Roche Posay’s Retinol 0.3% + Vitamin B3 Serum is a great starting place for retinols.”

Acid treatments: Exfoliating acids such as glycolic acid and salicylic acid are great ways to improve hyperpigmentation and one of the best methods of reducing hyperpigmentation are advanced skin treatments that you get can from an aesthetician. 

“But it is important to have a practitioner who understands how to use them safely in darker skin types. Darker skin needs to be primed with lower concentrations of the acid before the peel, so that the skin can gradually adapt to the higher strengths of the acid without leading to inflammation. Neostrata glycolic acid and citric acid skin peels are a great monthly treatments to manage hyperpigmentation.” 

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