Sometimes the battle with acne is not always just the existing pimples. Often it is the scarring and discoloration that acne causes that can be more challenging to treat. Following is all that you need to know about the dark spots left behind by acne and what you can do to return your skin to its natural beauty:

What Are Dark Spots?

The clinical name for those dark spots on your skin left behind by acne is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Whatever you want to call them, the spots are a nuisance and sometimes even more noticeable than the acne ever was. This discoloration is the skin's natural response to inflammation. After the skin becomes inflamed, the body produces too much melanin and the dark spots begin their formation. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation can form even from mild cases of acne. Although some cases of dark spots will naturally fade over time, others need specialized treatment to get rid of the discoloration.

How Can You Get Rid of Dark Spots?

Fortunately, there is a myriad of over the counter and prescription options to help you speed up the fading process of these spots if you do not want to wait for nature to take its course. Facial cleansers will work to prevent acne from taking root but they will not treat the existing dark spots. Here are some options if your goal is to treat the existing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation:

1. Alpha Hydroxy Acids

Many people start with alpha hydroxy acid (AHAs) as their first line of treatment. The most common AHA is glycolic acid. By speeding up the skin's natural exfoliation process, AHAs can reduce the appearance of dark spots. Glycolic acid and other AHAs are most commonly found in over the counter treatments that promote their skin brightening properties. Stronger concentrations of AHAs are available through prescription treatment. The leave-on treatments are more effective than the products that are immediately rinsed off.

2. Hydroquinone

The active ingredient in this cream works to block the production of melanin by the body. By blocking this production, the skin will naturally become lighter. The creams also contain ingredients that work in tandem with the active ingredient hydroquinone to brighten the skin. These complementary ingredients include glycolic acid, topical retinoids, and vitamin C. Hydroquinone is available over the counter in strengths of one to two percent. Or choose a stronger three to four percent cream available through prescription. It is important to exercise caution when using this cream and only apply it to the affected areas so that you do not mistakenly lighten other parts of the skin.

3. Topical Retinoids

This strong medication is primarily only available through prescription. Retinoids work by speeding up the process in which skin cells turn over and replinish themselves. Because of the rapid exfoliation that takes place when using topical retinoids, dark spots will naturally begin to fade away faster.

4. Azelaic Acid

Like topical retinoids, azelaic acid also speeds up the cell turnover rate. This medication is only available through prescription because of its strength. The product also decreases skin inflammation. Azelaic acid is sometimes mixed with other acne-fighting treatments such as glycolic acid or tretinoin to deliver more effective results.

5. Vitamin C

The antioxidant properties of vitamin C are well known. What most people do not know is that topical vitamin C is also used to treat a variety of skin care issues. Like many other lightening products, topical vitamin C targets dark spots and brightens their overall appearance gradually. As a bonus, the treatment also improves hydration in the skin, evens out skin tone, and provides protection from harmful irritants and environmental impurities.

Best Cleansers to Prevent Dark Spots

1. CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser

This cleanser is ideal for normal to dry skin. The gentle face wash removes dirt, oil, and makeup while delivering essential moisture to the skin. The product's three types of ceramides protect the natural protective barrier of the skin. The hyaluronic acid attracts essential moisture to the surface of the skin and locks it in. The non-comedogenic, non-irritating, and fragrance-free formula will not irritate the skin. This value-driven product is available at most drug stores.

2. Sebamed Clear Face Cleansing Foam

Formulated for combination skin, this antibacterial cleansing foam delves deep to remove impurities and irritants from the skin. The deep cleansing action travels into the pores to remove dirt and oil to prevent acne. The panthenol in the product provides soothing relief for irritated and inflamed skin. A pH value of 5.5 means the skin's protective acid mantle will remain intact and stable.

3. CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser

This product is most effective on normal to oily skin. The foaming properties work hard to remove excess dirt, oil, and makeup from the skin, leaving a clean feeling in its wake. The niacinamide soothes irritated skin. The hyaluronic acid brings moisture to the surface of the skin and locks it into place. The three types of ceramides keep the skin's natural protective barrier functioning properly. The gentle formula will not over-strip the skin of what it needs.

Other Products to Help Fade Dark Spots:

1. Paula's Choice-SKIN PERFECTING 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant

Formulated with eight percent glycolic acid, this exfoliant sloughs away dead skin cells. By speeding up the natural exfoliation process of the skin, you will encourage the dark spots to fade away at a faster rate. The leave-on gel works long after it is applied to deliver maximum results. The light-weight product will leave your skin feeling refreshed and clean.

2. Paula's Choice RESIST Triple-Action Dark Spot Eraser 7% AHA Lotion

This multi-use product works to lighten dark spots while providing a host of additional benefits. The hydroquinone in the lotion is effective at lightening post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. The glycolic acid gives an extra dose of treatment by working as a rapid exfoliant property. The added dose of antioxidants provides much-needed moisture and nutrients to the skin. This triple threat makes this product a good choice when you have a variety of skin issues to address.

3. Eau Thermale Avène RetrinAL

his retinol cream contains a high concentration of active vitamin A to provide immense hydrating benefits to the skin. The antioxidant protection naturally boosts the skin's appearance while protecting it from harmful free radicals. The paraben-free, fragrance-free, hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic formula is safe for all skin types.

4. The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%

With a concentration of 10 percent azelaic acid, this thick cream brightens the skin and reduces the appearance of dark spots. The product is formulated to help to even out skin tone and deliver a smoother appearance. A little goes a long way with this azelaic acid treatment.

5. NuFountain C20+Ferulic Vitamin C Serum

Containing a formulation of 20 percent topical L-ascorbic acid vitamin C, this serum is ideal for acne-prone skin. The serum also contains hyaluronic acid and panthenol for extra layers of soothing protection. The active vitamin C works to lighten and brighten your skin's dark spots. The product is made fresh with each order, guaranteeing you a powerful delivery of nutrients to the skin.

When to See a Dermatologist

You will know that it is time to consult with a dermatologist when you have exhausted all of the over the counter products without seeing the desired results. A trained professional can help you to devise a treatment protocol suited for your individual skincare needs.


How long does it take a dark spot cleanser to work?

The face washes listed above are preventative treatments designed to prevent new dark spots from forming. They will not treat existing dark spots. The other treatments vary in the length of time that it will take to see results. Depending on the strength of the treatment and how effectively your skin responds to the ingredients, it can take between three and 24 months to see visible results.

Can you use the above products on other areas of your body?

Yes, you absolutely can use any of these products on other parts of the body. The skin on the face is no different than the skin in other areas. Feel free to use any of these products on any part of the body to treat dark spots.