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Dr. Alpana Mohta Ranka, MD, DNB, IFAAD, is a triple-board-certified dermatologist with over 100 research publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

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How to Remove Dark Spots Caused by Pimples: Dermatologist Explains

Updated: Jun 16

In this article, I will guide you through practical methods to remove dark spots caused by pimples.


We'll cover various topics related to pimple-induced dark spots, from explaining what they are to the professional treatments to get rid of them quickly.


Dark spots or Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation due to acne/pimples summary
 

Table of Contents:

 

Why Do Pimples Leave Dark Spots?

When you have a pimple, the area around it becomes inflamed. This inflammation is the body's response to the acne bacteria and the clogged pore.


During this inflammatory process, the skin is trying to heal itself, and part of this healing involves an increased melanin production, the pigment that gives skin its color. This is known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) and this increased melanin is what you see as dark spots.


These spots can range in color from light brown to deep black and may take weeks or months to fade.


It is crucial to differentiate between dark spots and other skin conditions to address them effectively. While dark spots caused by pimples or acne are temporary and can be treated, acne scars are permanent and require different treatment approaches.


Understanding Dark Spots in Different Skin Tones

Dark spots, or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, can manifest differently across various skin tones. In people with darker skin, these spots tend to be more pronounced and may require specific treatment approaches. It's essential to recognize these differences to provide effective and tailored skincare advice.


Acne dark spots in different skin tones.

Do Pimple Dark Spots Go Away Naturally?

In most cases, hyperpigmentation tends to lighten naturally over 3-6 months.

People with dark skin types usually have a slower recovery because of higher melanin content in their skin and, as a result, proportionately higher in acne spots. Complete resolution can take up to 8-12 months. Using products/medication can help accelerate the lightening of the spots.


However, if there are pitted scars, they would often require medical or surgical treatment and seldom resolve on their own.


Preparing for Dark Spot Removal

Establishing a comprehensive skincare routine is crucial for optimal skin health. Cleanse your face twice daily, exfoliate gently to remove dead skin cells, and moisturize to keep your skin hydrated. Incorporate sunscreen with at least SPF 30 into your daily routine to protect your skin from further damage.


Dark spot removal products generally need to be used right after washing your face and before applying moisturizer or sunscreen. Of course this also depends on your specific skin type. Follow the instructions written on the specific product. Don't worry, depending on what ingredient you choose, you may also find an article based on that on my website.


Products or Medications for Dark Spot Removal

The most effective medication for dark spot removal is hydroquinone, but it's a prescription drug and is not available in all countries. Quite a few over-the-counter products can also help with dark spot removal.


Look for products containing active ingredients listed below in order of effectiveness:

  • Vitamin C serum: Sesderma C-Vit Liposomal Serum or VC15 Vitamin C Serum

  • Niacinamide is proven to reduce hyperpigmentation by preventing melanosomes (these contain pigments) from being transferred from melanocytes to the surrounding skin cells (AKA keratinocytes). My recommendation would be to use the Cetaphil Day and Night Cream combination. Together, the combo works very well. The Healthy Radiance Whipped Day Cream contains both niacinamide and broad-spectrum sunscreen. It's a great way to protect your skin from the sun and, at the same time, fight off hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone.

The Healthy Radiance Renewing Cream contains niacinamide along with bakuchiol. Although the product description might state that this is great for both day and night, I will advise you to apply this only at night. Use the day cream specified above during the daytime, as it helps you protect your skin from the sun and reduces the need for using sunscreen.

When choosing an OTC product, consider your skin type and the severity of your dark spots. Start with a lower concentration of active ingredients and gradually increase as tolerated. Remember to follow the product instructions and be patient, as it may take several weeks to see visible results. And, of course, always start with a patch test.


You may be wondering why I haven't yet talked about any BHA (or Beta Hydroxy Acid) like salicylic acid. Well, salicylic acid is my favorite product for acne prevention, but prevention is where it's most effective. It's not very useful when it comes to dark spot reduction.


Natural Remedies for Dark Spot Removal

There are several natural remedies known for their skin-lightening properties.

  • Aloe vera gel, with its soothing and healing properties, can help fade dark spots. Apply a thin layer of pure aloe vera gel to your skin and leave it on overnight.

  • Honey, with its antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, can also reduce dark spots. Mix honey with a few drops of lemon juice and apply it to your dark spots for 15-20 minutes before rinsing off.

Recent studies have also highlighted the potential of natural extracts in treating dark spots. Ingredients like licorice root and mulberry have shown promise in lightening hyperpigmentation. These natural remedies can be a gentle alternative to chemical treatments, especially for those with sensitive skin.


While these natural remedies may help, using products specifically formulated for lightening dark spots will offer a much superior result. Conduct a patch test before applying any natural ingredient to your face, and discontinue use if irritation occurs.


Caution Against Harmful Ingredients in Skin Lighteners

It's crucial to be aware of the ingredients in skin lightening products. Products containing mercury, for instance, pose significant health risks, including kidney and nerve damage. Always consult a healthcare professional before trying new skin lightening treatments, and opt for products with safe, proven ingredients.


Professional Treatments for Dark Spots Removal

If natural remedies and OTC products fail to deliver the desired results, professional treatments can offer more intensive solutions.

  • Chemical peels involve the application of a chemical solution to the skin, exfoliating the top layer and promoting cell turnover. This process helps fade dark spots and reveal fresh, even-toned skin. The most commonly used chemical peels for hyperpigmentation contain glycolic acid, trichloroacetic acid, or kojic acid.

  • Microdermabrasion uses a handheld device to gently exfoliate the skin, removing dead cells and stimulating collagen production.

  • Laser therapy targets the pigmented areas, breaking down excess melanin and encouraging skin rejuvenation. The most commonly employed laser is Q switched Nd: YAG laser or Pico laser.

These professional treatments should be performed by qualified dermatologists or skin care professionals (under the care of a qualified dermatologist) who will assess your skin's condition and recommend the most suitable treatment option for you.


How to Remove Dark Spots Caused by Pimples Overnight?

Complete removal of dark spots caused by pimples overnight is not feasible. However, as mentioned above, lasers and chemical peels like glycolic acid peel and yellow peel can help in the rapid resolution of dark spots at a much faster rate than other topical agents.


Acne and Dark Spots Across Different Body Areas

While the face is a common area for acne and dark spots, these issues can also occur on the back, shoulders, chest, and neck. Understanding that acne and its after-effects can be widespread helps in developing a more comprehensive treatment plan.

 

Check out some of our other related articles:

 

The Impact of Hair Care Products on Facial Acne

Certain hair care products can exacerbate acne, particularly around the forehead and temples. People with long hair can also suffer from neck acne. If you notice breakouts in these areas, consider evaluating your hair care routine and products. Opting for non-comedogenic products can help reduce the likelihood of pimples and subsequent dark spots in these regions.


Melasma vs. Dark Spots Due to Acne

Melasma and dark spots due to acne, while both forms of hyperpigmentation, have distinct differences. 

Melasma is characterized by larger, symmetrical patches of darkened skin, often influenced by hormonal changes, sun exposure, and genetic predisposition. It commonly appears on the cheeks, forehead, nose, and upper lip. 

In contrast, dark spots from acne are due to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). They are typically smaller, irregular spots that result from inflammation caused by pimples. These spots can vary in color and are directly related to the skin's healing response to acne lesions.


The Importance of Sun Protection

Sun exposure can worsen dark spots, making sun protection a critical part of any treatment plan. Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 can prevent further darkening of these spots and aid in the overall healing process.


Lifestyle Changes to Prevent and Minimize Dark Spots

Prevention is key to minimizing dark spots caused by pimples.

  • As mentioned earlier, protect your skin from the sun's harmful UV rays by wearing sunscreen with at least SPF 30, seeking shade, and wearing protective clothing.

  • Avoid picking or squeezing pimples, as it can lead to further inflammation and an increased risk of dark spots.

  • Maintain a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, and antioxidants to support overall skin health.

  • Manage stress levels, as stress can trigger hormonal imbalances contributing to acne breakouts and subsequent dark spots.


I have seen quite a few patients that compulsively pick at their acne, leading to scars and dark spots. This is a condition called acne excoriee. It's a must-read if you or your loved ones are suffering from this: Acne Excoriee: Treatment and Causes

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