Although, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is one of the top skincare concerns for women of colour, getting rid dark spots and acne scars can seem like an impossible task. DIY treatments don’t cut it and expensive cosmetic procedures can just make matters worse. Below we lay out an effective yet gentle skincare routine for hyperpigmentation, explaining the importance of each step. But first…

What is Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation?

This specific type of hyperpigmentation is the overproduction of melanin where skin has been inflamed or broken, usually because of acne, razor bumps or a cut. Spots that are darker than your natural skin tone remain at the site where the trauma has healed. There are many products promising fast results to clear these spots but many contain ingredients, such as hydroquinone (banned in the EU), that can further damage the skin and have adverse health effects. In recent years, pigment correctors and brighteners have emerged as an alternative providing safer options in the struggle for clear skin. Read our previous post explaining how Skin Brighteners work to clear uneven skin. These products are not meant to be used alone though and should be incorporated into a solid skincare routine to see results.

Skincare Routine

Now that you know what PIH is, here are the 6 key steps in an effective skincare routine to fade the marks and treat the condition.

Note – Before starting any skincare regimen to tackle uneven skin it is important to FIRST treat the underlying inflammatory condition. If you currently have a breakout, make sure the acne is under control otherwise brightening ingredients can cause further breakouts.

Step 1: Double Cleanse (Evening) and Water-Based Cleanser (Morning)

Have you ever used toner and noticed your cotton pad is filled with dirt? If so, that is a good indication your skin cleansing technique is not up to scratch. Clean skin is the foundation to any good skincare routine. Many skin problems can be traced back to improper cleansing and we believe the Double Cleanse method is the best way to make sure all makeup, excess sebum, pollution and dirt are removed. As the name suggests, the process involves cleansing your face twice.

First, use an oil-based cleanser to lift all the surface dirt. Yes, even if you have oily skin. You may have heard the phrase “oil dissolves oil”.  Oil-based cleansers control blackheads and breakouts because the oil in these products penetrate pores and work to life the dirt out of the skin. It is simply the best way to remove excess sebum.

3107 Heart & Soul Cleansing Balm – Oil-based deep cleansing makeup remover

The purpose of the second cleanse is to get rid of any remaining dirt and make sure oil from the first cleanse is removed. For the second cleanse, go with a gentle water-based and sulfate free foam cream, gel or milk cleanser. When drying your skin, make sure to pat dry with your hands or a towel – rubbing can further inflame the skin.

PHB Ethical Beauty Brightening Cleanser for uneven skintone

Double cleansing is best done in the evening to get rid of the day’s makeup, sun cream and pollutants. In the morning, a water-based cleanser alone should be sufficient to clear away overnight oil buildup.

Step 2: Exfoliator (Evening 1 – 2x per week)

To get rid of dark spots, the excess melanin needs to be removed and replaced with new skin cells. Naturally, your skin will turnaround about every 28 days.  But incorporating an exfoliator into your skincare routine will speed up the process and remove dead pigmentation cells from the epidermis.  Getting rid old skin cells will also help your skincare products penetrate properly. Exfoliation can be achieved by using a facial scrub and is only needed once or twice per week. It’s important to use a gentle scrub, otherwise you risk irritating the skin further. Chemical exfoliates are also a great option to remove dead melanin skin cells if you find scrubs too harsh. Look for products that contain Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, citric acid, ascorbic acid, mandelic acid or Beta-Hydroxy Acids such as salicylic acid. Using AHAs will make your skin more sensitive to the sun so it will be incredibly important to apply a broad-spectrum suncream during the day – one of the many reasons we recommend daily UV protection as Step 6 of the regimen.

Neoclaim Purifying Scrub

Step 3: Toner (Morning & Evening)

After cleansing and exfoliation, apply a toner to rebalance your skin and restore its natural pH. There are also a few lesser known benefits to toners. Skin needs to be well hydrated no matter your skin type. By selecting a toner that contains humectants you can draw water into your skin providing it with that essential hydration. This is important because well hydrated skin can better absorb your anti-dark spot or brightening serum and therefore maximize results. Think of your dermis like a sponge. Water may roll of a dry sponge at first, but once it’s wet, it quickly absorbs even more liquid.  For this reason, it’s also good practice to apply serums while the toner is still damp on your skin.

Do make sure your toner is alcohol-free! Alcohol can dry out the complexion very quickly and is often over-used. Many dermatologists believe using alcohol on your face will cause more damage in the long run. And more inflammation leads to more dark spots (yikes!). If you are used to using alcohol based toners, switch to Witch Hazel. It targets excess oil but does not overly dry out the skin. Aloe vera is also great for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Yours Truly Organics Balancing Toner – contains aloe vera, witch hazel and hydrating glycerin

Step 4: Dark Spot Correcting Serum (Morning & Evening)

Here’s where you directly target your dark spots and uneven skin tone. Serums are potent bottles of active ingredients designed to address specific skincare concerns such as hyperpigmentation. When selecting a dark spot serum, you want a high quality, well tested product, that contains safe skin brightening ingredients to lighten the marks. This is the step where decent investment is highly recommended.

Active skin brightening ingredients you want to look out for include bearbeary extract, azelaic acid, vitamin C, niacinamide (vitamin B3), licorice root, retinoids or soy. Each of these ingredients work in various ways to block the over production of melanin at the site of the dark spot. Unlike most skincare serums which can be applied the entire face, it is crucial that serums formulated with brightening ingredients are applied directly to the spots only. Otherwise, you may inadvertently lighten and damage your entire face. Not a good look!

Biolissime Anti-Blemish Serum – contains Niacinamide

Step 5: Moisturiser (Morning & Evening)

After applying your serum, use an emollient moisturiser that is right for your skin type. Moisturisers provide a much-needed barrier over the skin to prevent water from escaping and restore essential lipids to your epidermis that have been stripped away from cleansing and exfoliation. Those with oily skin may find that lightweight or oil-free moisturiser works better. Finding the right moisturizer can be a bit of trial and error, and results can vary based on the amount of humidity in the air. That’s why Melariche offers a Test-It-First service with many of our products – we send a free sample along with your  purchase so that you can ensure the product works for your skin type without opening the full-size version.

Yours Truly Organics Face Balm for oily skin

Step 6: UV Protection (Morning Only)

This is probably the most overlooked yet most essential step for anyone suffering from post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. It is crucial that you apply a broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sun cream every morning – even in cloudy English weather.  Continuous exposure to the UV light damages the skin, making dark spots darker and acne scars persist for longer. There’s a myth that people of colour do not need sun cream because the melanin in their skin provides adequate protection, but this is not true. Everyone is susceptible to the sun damage.  Not to mention, many of the active ingredients in exfoliators and anti-dark spot serums makes the skin even more sensitive to the sun. Seriously, don’t skip the sun cream!

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