Photo: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images
Chances are you’ve dealt with the occasional breakout, especially during those teen years. It’s such a common problem that it’s now considered almost a rite of passage as you move from childhood into adulthood. But, sometimes, after a breakout clears, you’re left with dark spots on the skin. While these spots are the result of pimples, they’re not actually acne lesions. Instead, the spots are something known as postinflammatory hyperpigmentation. Unfortunately, they don’t often respond to over-the-counter acne treatments, so the Clearasil products you used to manage your breakout won’t likely help them fade.
The inflammation associated with acne can increase the activity of melanocytes -- cells responsible for producing melanin. Melanin, of course, gives your skin its color. But when melanocytes start to produce an excess of melanin, dark spots can form along the areas of the skin where there’s some residual inflammation. Acne isn’t the only cause for postinflammatory hyperpigmentation, or PIH. You can also develop dark spots from allergic reactions, skin trauma and skin infections.
Although Clearasil creams are made with benzoyl peroxide, which can act as a lightening agent, it isn’t strong enough to break up the clusters of melanin causing the spots. The same can be said for the salicylic acid -- a peeling agent -- in most of the Clearasil face washes and scrubs. If you’re hoping to fade PIH, another treatment option is necessary.
Given enough time, PIH will fade on its own -- at least according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The fading, however, can take months, so you’ll need the patience of a saint to wait it out. If you want to speed up recovery, you can try using a fade cream with the active ingredient of hydroquinone. This skin-bleaching agent helps break up the deposits of melanin under your skin. Look for products that contain a concentration of 2 percent hydroquinone. It’s less likely to cause adverse reactions, such as hypopigmentation, or loss of too much pigment.
Stronger creams are available, but you’ll need a prescription. These products do contain higher concentration of hydroquinone, which are best used under medical supervision, or a combination of hydroquinone, tretinoin and corticosteroids. The tretinoin and corticosteroids help improve fading while reducing skin irritation. Additional skin irritation can actually encourage more spots to form, warns the American Academy of Dermatology. Chemical peels, laser therapy and microdermabrasion are also effective for PIH.