The name for it is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or PIH for short. And depending on your skin type, PIH can look like just a little redness—or it can be as black and blue as a bruise.
Depending on your skin type, PIH can look like just a little redness—or it can be as black and blue as a bruise.
"Everyone’s skin responds to inflammation differently. Some people are more prone to inflammation, which is the redness that comes along with acne lesions, as well as the hyperpigmentation that comes when the lesions are popped," Lana Pinchasov, a dermatology-certified physician’s assistant in New York City, says. "When you pop a pimple, you're aggravating the acne cyst and causing inflammation. Then once the acne cyst clears, just the pigmentation remains. The more sensitive a person's skin is, the more likely they are to get a dark mark or bruise. They can be dark red, brown, and even purple."
While that pigmentation is temporary, it definitely isn't pretty and can be a real feat to cover up during the super-regretful damage-control phase that comes after popping a zit—especially since Pinchasov says they can last anywhere from two days to two weeks. (Even longer if you keep messing with it.)
There is a way to speed up the process, though, and get your skin back to its previous state. "The best was to prevent these dark marks is to avoid picking or popping pimples. Get to a derm for a cortisone injection if you have a pimple that needs treatment—just don’t pop it yourself," she says. "If you do have hyperpigmentation from popping, retinoids work best to clear up the dark marks. I usually recommend starting with a low dose like Adapalene over the counter, which you apply sparingly in a thin layer before bed."
Another smart move aside from using a retinoid for a speedier recovery? Making sure you wear sunscreen on the daily, since those UV rays can worsen the problem, making the hyperpigmentation darker and more noticeable. With a little TLC, those spots will eventually disappear—but in the meantime, they serve as an all-too-vivid reminder of why it's worth waiting out an annoying zit, no matter how bad it looks.
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