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NOW READING These Ingredients Help Fade Brown Spots Caused By Pimples
March 8, 2021

These Ingredients Help Fade Brown Spots Caused By Pimples

The pimples are gone, but they’ve left a not-so-savory souvenir – brown spots. Here’s how to treat them, according to a leading dermatologist.


As frustrating as breakouts are – and we’re all suffering right now thanks to pandemic-related stress and maskne – the skin discoloration they leave behind is a whole other problem. In a recent Beautytap Talks interview, Dr. Tess Mauricio, a Stanford-educated, board-certified dermatologist, explained that post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) can linger for months after a pimple resolves. No one wants to sit back and wait while their skin takes its sweet time recovering, so here are some ingredients that can speed up the lightening process as well as one ingredient you should avoid.


how to get rid of pimples
Here are some ingredients that can speed up the lightening process as well as one ingredient you should avoid.


Tyrosinase Inhibitors Are Your Friends


A little science never hurts anyone, so take a deep breath. I promise this will be simple. Tyrosinase causes dark spots to form on your skin, as well as in certain foods. If you’ve ever sliced an apple or diced a potato and noticed it turning brown quickly, then you’ve seen enzymatic browning in action. Skin undergoes a similar transformation when the cells are disrupted due to blemishes. Healed acne marks often appear red, tan, or brown, and this is a result of a process known as melanogenesis (aka the production of pigment). After your blemishes have healed, you need an ingredient that removes pigmentation safely and effectively. That’s where tyrosinase inhibitors come in, including some “anti-acne products [that] can also speed up the lightening of that discoloration.” 


Azelaic Acid Treats Breakouts and PIH


You probably know about the benefits of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) but most people have never heard of azelaic acid (AA) because the most effective versions are available only by prescription. Dermatologists prescribe it to treat both acne and rosacea because it speeds up the healing process by killing bacteria. Research has shown that azelaic acid also has the added benefit of preventing the body from producing abnormal pigmentation. Before you book an appointment with your dermatologist, be aware that AA is not without its downside. It does initially cause purging, which I’ve experienced firsthand, so your breakouts may get worse before they get better, but the long-term benefits are worth the short-term aggravation. 


Research has shown that azelaic acid also has the added benefit of preventing the body from producing abnormal pigmentation.


Niacinamide Is An Ingredient Powerhouse


Finding a properly formulated niacinamide product is like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but it has so many skin benefits that it’s worth pursuing. Not only does this water-soluble vitamin B3 superstar decrease hyperpigmentation, but it also supports your moisture barrier, balances sebum production, and encourages collagen production. Score! For the best results, choose a serum instead of a cream. My personal favorite – and a product I’ve consistently used for five years – is Shark Sauce from indie brand Holy Snails, a boutique skincare company built on sound science. The original version “contains 5% niacinamide (Vitamin B3) and 3% n-acetylglucosamine, the optimal concentrations for these research-backed ingredients to work synergistically to fight hyperpigmentation.” The Double Shark version has a whopping 10% niacinamide and knocks out PIH lightning fast. 


You Can’t Beat Vitamin C


Extolling all the virtues of vitamin C could easily take up 10 pages, so suffice to say that this go-to product is a “must-have” for all forms of discoloration. Successful treatment of PIH depends on a proper formulation using one of several forms of vitamin C. L-ascorbic acid (L-AA) lightens dark spots “by interacting with copper ions at the tyrosinase active site.” 


L-AA formulas can be relatively unstable, making them oxidize and lose potency, so make sure you keep your serum refrigerated or in a dark, cool location. Dr. Tess recommends many products from No7 Laboratories. Their No7 Laboratories Dark Spot Correcting Booster Serum contains 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid, a form of vitamin C that is more stable than other formulations. It also contains Phyllanthus Emblica fruit extract, which inhibits pigmentation,  as well as Sophora Angustifolia root extract, which has “significantly reduced melanogenesis” in research studies.  Keep in mind, though, that the Skin Cancer Foundation says that vitamin C and many other brightening skincare products “may cause photosensitivity and increase your chances of damage from UV exposure.” So, prepare to apply sunscreen daily to protect your skin. 


The OTC Ingredient To Avoid


Hydroquinone has been effective in short-term situations, but Dr. Tess rarely prescribes it because “Studies have determined that it can cause cell toxicity and cell death.” Over-the-counter (OTC) versions have been banned in the UK as well as other countries. “It is not a maintenance product,” Dr. Tess explains, “due to the potential for ochronosis – a type of permanent skin damage.” 


If you’re trying to decide which product is right for your skin, ask your dermatologist or your Verified Beauty Expert for guidance. They stay abreast of changes in the product marketplace as well as current research and will guide you toward the best option.

Tracy Ann Teel is a full-time freelance writer and the owner of Finesse Writing and Editing LLC. She’s a tutorial writer for San Francisco Globe’s beauty platform,, covering everything from skin and hair care to makeup and nail art. She writes for skincare companies, dermatologists, and cosmetic surgeons, and proudly taught at her MFA alma mater, the University of California Irvine, as a member of their adjunct faculty in English. She’s been a textbook reviewer for Prentice Hall, been recognized three consecutive years in the Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, and has written professionally for 30+ years. Her poetry chapbook Such Dust was published by Finishing Line Press, and her work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Rattle, Pearl, Kaleidoscope, and Lake Arrowhead Life.



Love this article! Thank you for sharing!

As much as we hate breakouts - scarring and brown spots are the worst. I am currently using an AHA cleanser from One love Organics and can confirm a bit of purging before my skin really got better. During treatment of any kind we need to all remember to patient with our skins healing period.

That's great advice, Sam. Fading dark spots takes patience and, most of all, time.

Preventative is great but when we do deal with the aftermath of a bad break down ingredients like these ones really do help speed up that process and never forget to wear your sunscreen as that(sun) will make the scarring worse.

If only we could truly bottle "preventative" skin care. Even at my age, I still deal with the occasional hormone-related breakout. That's why I keep many of these staples on hand as part of my "911" skincare kit.

You truly have your finger on the pulse of our skin care needs Tracy! I have incorporated niacinimide into my skincare routine on and off through the years, with good results. I am excited to look into Holy Snails and Shark Sauce!

Thank you so much for your kind words. I'm passionate about skincare and researching. Let me know if you try Holy Snails' Shark Sauce. Everything Chel (owner) makes is high quality and very effective.


Such a fantastic and informative article! A must read for teens going through pimples!!

And for all of us dealing with the telltale signs of aging and sun damage, too.

As if things weren't already a rollercoaster in 2020/1 , here comes the mask-ne . So many beauty brands are using the new found concern of the consumer as a way to market their products but how many of these products are really going to be effective all around? Exploring ingredients beyond the common acne fighting ingredients that don't work for everyone is great. A few of my products contain Niacinamide and its really been essential for my skin. If you haven't experienced these ingredients in any of your products and have concerns with discoloration its worth a try. Read more

I'm glad you have niacinamide in your routine, too. Vitamin C has been in my routine for 20+ years, but I didn't know about niacinamide until I started using K-beauty products six years ago. It has made the biggest difference in my sun damage, and I wouldn't dream of going without it.

Omg, the Double Shark version with 10% Niacinamide sounds fantabulous. I love my B3!

Chel Cortes is the creative science wizard behind Double Shark and Shark Sauce. I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of her products and wouldn't dream of going without them. You can even buy miniature sizes to try first.


I absolutely needed this! I got really bad acne because of masks and a ton of dark spots / scars. Excited to try these out.

Right?! My skin rarely breaks out anymore because of my age, but I'm battling mask-related breakouts, too. Reach out to me any time if you need help picking a suitable product. I have a lot of great recommendations to share. :)


Been seeing a lot of The Ordinary niacinamide, I might give that a try

Let me know how it works out for you, Gretchell. Their products are very popular, but I haven't tried their niacinamide.


Wow these are all really good idea. I have definitely had my fair share of acne scarring. Thank you for sharing!

Happy to help, pretty lady. These same ingredients also work wonders on sun damage!