Q: I have reached a standstill in clearing dark spots on my skin. Since the age of 10, I've had scarring from chicken pox and I've tried mild over-the-counter lighteners which didn't work. As a last resort, I decided to try all natural products such as shea butter, but in the end I still do not have blemish-free skin. Please help me! -Lola
A: Lola, sweet Lola. If there is anyone who can relate to what you're going through it's ME. I suffered adult acne three years ago which left behind severe scarring. Thankfully I had a great dermatologist who guided me in the right direction back to clear skin. As a result of my experience, I'm a huge proponent of putting your skin in the hands of experts which is why I reached out to Dr. Mona Gohara of Advanced DermCare Dermatology to get a few pointers for you. Dr. Gohara assured me that it is possible to have clear skin again— to which I can attest from my own former scarring— and shared these expert tips to help your skin start anew.
Step 1: Learn The Lingo Most of the time, when people talk about “scars” they are referring to a condition called post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). PIH occurs when the skin makes more melanin in response to injury (acne bumps, bug bites, chicken pox, etc). Those with darker complexions are most likely to get PIH. Thankfully, PIH will fade with or without treatment-it’s just a waiting game.
Step 2: Choose The Right Wash Anyone dealing with PIH should use a mild, granule-free cleanser each morning. Washes that contain granules (those tiny beads found in exfoliants) cause little micro-tears on the face, which signal the skin to crank out more melanin. Try Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser or Cetaphil Antibacterial Cleansing Bar for optimal results.
Step 3: Establish Morning Routine Musts Topical vitamin C is great at ushering PIH to the finish line. It is actually best if used in tandem with a retinol product (see step 4). Each morning, apply a vitamin C gel, serum, or cream, depending on your skin type. Also, do not leave the house without putting SPF on - this is essential! The sunrays that you capture through windows in your car or at work are enough to worsen PIH. Even light coming from bulbs in the office can darken facial spots- surprising but true! Multi-task by applying cosmetically elegant products, that won’t leave a white, chalky, film on your skin such as Murad Essential-C Day Moisture SPF 30, Origins Brighter By Nature SPF 35 Skin Tone Correcting Moisturizer, or Oil of Olay Regenerist UV Defense Regenerating Lotion with SPF 15.
Step 4: Pigment Proof Your Skin in the PM Products containing retinol and hydroquinone are critical in the fight against PIH. Retinol, a vitamin A derivative, is a supreme skin exfoliator, which helps to correct blotchy, uneven complexions. It is also great at preventing pimples. Hydroquinone actually has the ability to stop melanin from forming in problem areas. To avoid irritation, use a pea size amount of each to the affected area on the face. Also, using them on alternate nights can help quell potential skin aggravation. Try Bliss No Zit Sherlock Oil Control Moisturizer as a retinol containing PM cream. No success? Ask a derm about prescription strength retinols and hydroquinone which can make a huge difference. If you have sensitive skin, retinol and hydroquinone may be too irritating. Instead, keep it simple with soy, a natural antidote to unwanted brown marks. Try Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Cleansing Pads with soy extract.
Step 5: Use At-Home Peels
Mild, at-home chemical peels are a nice complement to the treatment of PIH. They help by exfoliating the skin and fading spots. To avoid over drying, redness or unintended worsening of PIH do this one time every two weeks. Try Philosophy Microdelivery Multi-Use Peel Pads or Neutrogena Advanced Solutions Acne Mark Fading Peel. Both are gentle enough to get the job done without a hitch!
I hope Dr. Gohara's advice was helpful to you, Lola! —Nicole
Have you dealt with dark marks and found your way back to clear skin? Share your tips in the comments section!