PIH Skincare 101: How to Get Your Skin Back to Luminous After That Nasty Breakout

PIH Skincare 101: How to Get Your Skin Back to Luminous After That Nasty Breakout

Sheryll Donerson
Sheryll D.

Oct 04, 2018

As if a zit isn’t bad enough, post-inflammatory pigmentation, or PIH, is the insult to that breakout injury — a dark reminder of that ugly pimple you had months ago now camped out on your face and taking its own sweet time to fade away. Here, what you can do to say buh-bye to that unwelcome visitor a lot sooner.


I’ve had a consistent skincare routine for going on seven years now, and there is still one arch nemesis that I have to deal with on a consistent basis. Even when I’m having great skincare months, I still have to deal with it, and honestly, I’m over it at this point.


What is that, you ask?


It’s PIH, or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Basically, it’s that big fancy word to describe those pesky temporary dark spots you may get after a bad breakout or any type of skin inflammation. It happens to people with all skin tones, however, those with darker skin tones (like me) tend to deal with it more.


Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (let’s call it PIH from now on) can be a real bummer because your skin can be acne-free and living its best life, but you still don’t feel completely comfortable with your skin because it isn’t completely even toned. At this stage in my life, I don’t *really* care about going out without makeup on, but I’m not going to lie, there are times I am definitely self-conscious about all of my discoloration from PIH.



So let’s get down to basics. PIH starts with acne. If you get whiteheads, there is always a chance it can leave a nasty little reminder of its presence on your skin. The best way to beat PIH is to prevent it in the first place.


How can you do that? For starters, DO NOT PICK AT YOUR SKIN. DO NOT POP YOUR PIMPLES. I know, it’s a hard habit to beat, but I finally weaned myself free of the pull to pop my pimples once I realized the extra damage I was doing. I know you’re going to side-eye the hell out of me, but if you have a pimple, please, just leave it alone. Don’t make it angry. Use a strong AHA product and some pimple patches and just let it do its thing until it’s over. I promise you’ll thank me once you realize that your PIH marks aren’t nearly as bad as they used to be.


Now what I’m going to tell you next is something you’re probably not going to like, but really, the best way to deal with PIH is patience and consistency.


Yup. There is no miracle. All of those products claiming to lighten and brighten and get rid of dark spots in one to two weeks are a bunch of nonsense. They don’t work, and what’s worse, they can potentially damage your skin. So this is what you gotta do:




1. Incorporate some type of BHA and AHA product into your routine, and use it consistently


The consistent part is key. DO NOT give up on it just because it isn’t working in one week. It doesn’t work that way. PIH can take months (speaking from experience here) to heal. And I am ridiculously and insanely thorough about my skincare routines.


My favorite BHA products are the COSRX BHA Liquid, the COSRX BHA Skin Returning A-Sol, and the Purito Centella Green Level All-in-One Pads. My holy grail AHA product is the Swanicoco 10% AHA Coco Peeling Cream (check out my post and my before and after PIH photo!), followed closely by mandelic acid in any form (currently testing out the 10% from The Ordinary).


The BHA and AHA products will work to gently exfoliate your skin, and over time, all of those dark marks will fade into the abyss.


2. Make vitamin C your friend


Vitamin C is a powerful skincare ingredient and antioxidant. Vitamin C will not only protect your skin from environmental elements that may make your PIH worse, it also lightens, brightens, and evens out your skin tone. Vitamin C + AHA + BHA is a winning combo against the PIH fight. I use my vitamin C products in the morning, and save my exfoliants for night. I love The Ordinary 100% Vitamin C Powder (which I mix with rosehip oil or the COSRX Snail Essence), or the Vitamin C serum from Timeless Skin Care.


reapply sun protection pih




I cannot stress this enough. Everyone obviously always needs to use sunscreen, but if you are actively trying to get rid of PIH, using sunscreen is a non-negotiable. Think about it — when you’re in the sun, you’re getting darker. Which means the PIH is also getting darker, which makes it just that much harder to fade and lighten. Not to mention using AHAs makes your skin more photosensitive, so really, you’re just undoing all of your hard work. Sunscreen is like the icing on the PIH fading cake. I love the one from Earth’s Recipe (read why here).


Do you suffer from PIH? What are your tips for fading those post-acne dark spots? Let me know in the comments!



Sheryll Donerson got her start as a beauty writer by writing K-beauty reviews for her blog, The Wanderlust Project. These days, she's lifting heavy weights, eating tacos, drinking (too much) coffee and is 1/4 of the beauty podcast, Beauty Beyond Basics (or Triple Bees for short). You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @sheryllrenata.

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