Most black pimples are caused by the mixing of bacteria, sebum and dead skin cells within the pore. Whether it has a white, or black appearance comes down to a process known as oxidation – which is where the oxygen in the air chemically reacts with the debris and oils. This reaction leads to the black appearance of a black pimple, also known as a “blackhead.”
For reference, the alternative main type of pimples are whiteheads – which are when the bacteria, sebum and dead skin cells are not in contact with any air, so oxidation cannot occur and they stay white in color.
Blackheads & Dark Spots Vs. Scars
Blackheads and dark spots are much shorter term, and easier to treat than an acne scar. Dark spots are areas within the skin where there is hyperpigmentation, which looks pinky-red in lighter skin tones, whereas it may be brown-black in darker skin tones. Hyperpigmentation simply occurs due to the bacterial overgrowth and inflammation triggers melanocytes into overdrive, therefore producing too much melanin – which is the coloured pigment responsible for the dark spots. You can read more about acne marks here.
Scarring actually involves the skin texture changing, where often it is a depression. This is known as atrophic scarring, and the cause comes down to the inflammation of the skin destroying collagen, which is the protein found within skin which is key for its plumpness and ‘youthful’ texture. You’re likely to be familiar with it as an ingredient as it’s a big buzzword within the skincare industry – due to its ability to restore the skin’s plumpness, diminishing wrinkles and fine lines!
Knowing the difference between the type of marks and pimples you have is key, as it allows you to effectively treat your acne. Having been there, there is nothing worse than purchasing an expensive skincare product which claims to help your pimples – but it does nothing!! A lot of the time I was purchasing items for the wrong skin issue, so it’s no surprise to me now that I didn’t see results. Knowledge is power, which is one of the reasons our team created the Clear Skin Guide.
Whilst acne is nothing to be ashamed of, the extra pain (and paranoia of people commenting *insert eye roll emoji*) can be frustrating – especially if you don’t have time to pop to the shops to get some skincare! Let me run through the best (and worst) home remedies to treat blackheads when you’re in a pinch!
- Baking Soda – it is a gentle exfoliant, and can neutralize pH. It also has antibacterial properties, so in theory less bacteria within the pores means less blackheads can form! It’s important to dilute it properly – so mix a smaller amount of the baking soda powder with water. More information about how to use baking soda can be found here.
- Aloe Vera – this is a great ingredient as it has anti-inflammatory and soothing properties. It can also moisturize, so by applying to skin it can reduce the redness, whilst also making the skin look healthier before an event! A great article about aloe vera is linked here.
- Toothpaste – toothpaste often contains baking soda as an ingredient, but also sodium fluoride (the ingredient key for tooth health!) hydrogen peroxide, triclosan and alcohol. This mix of ingredients can often be very drying, and irritating for the skin. Hence it’s better to leave the toothpaste for your teeth, and opt for the baking soda, as a one-off or aloe vera.
The Best Products For Acne Scars and Dark Spots
Treatments for Acne Scars must work on either breaking down the hypertrophic areas, or building up the atrophic areas by inducing the production of collagen. Scarring is such a complex issue to treat, it’s often better to seek professional help for more potent and effective treatments.
If home treatments are the most suitable for your personal circumstances, the below will help decide the best skincare to choose.
For Acne Scars
Peptides and Vitamin C can help to stimulate the production of collagen, so face masks, cleansers and serums containing these ingredients can truly help improve skin condition. Great examples of products which contain these are listed within this article about the best cleansers for acne! There is something for every budget.
For Dark Spots
The key treatment for dark spots is a double-pronged approach; firstly to reduce the intensity of the dark spots, then also to prevent more dark spots from forming.
The latter is fairly straightforward – SPF, SPF and you guessed it, SPF! Yes, that means even on rainy days, as long as you can read a book you need SPF!
I find SPF something hard to find the perfect one, as a lot can trigger acne. If you can, aim to buy mineral based ones (i find chemical ones break me out more!) so look for ingredients like titanium dioxide.
There are now so many incredible serums available for the treatment of dark spots (with some of our favorites ranked here!) The science behind dark spot serums is to inhibit many of the chemical processes which allow the production of melanin, for example tranexamic acid will inhibit something known as tyrosinase – which is involved in the last step of forming melanin. The smaller the amount of melanin produced, the less intense the dark acne spots will look. Other ingredients to look out for include Vitamin C, Alpha Arbutin and Turmeric.
Honestly, I feel retinoids solve most issues within skincare. Fine lines? They reduce them. Acne scars? Lessened. Dark marks and hyperpigmentation? Intensity reduced.
So, how do they work? Retinoids essentially help to speed up the process of cell turnover, meaning that the damaged (or overly pigmented) cells are shed from the surface of skin and the healthy skin cells come to the surface. The increased turnover of the skin cells also benefits active acne, as it’s less likely for the dead skin cells to clog the pores. This reduces inflammation, meaning there is a reduced likelihood of scarring forming in the future.
However they have a reputation which precedes them; used incorrectly they can cause skin peeling, redness and sensitivity. When using retinoids it’s important to go slowly, and keep your skin well moisturized.
Sometimes a treatment performed by a professional may allow you to reach your goals. Chemical peels are perhaps the most well known example of a treatment, which is when a higher percentage of a chemical exfoliant is used, and applied to the skin for a short amount of time. Due to the higher percentage of exfoliant, it will penetrate further into the skin layers. There is considerable downtime from peels like these, as the skin may physically peel! However, once this initial period has passed, healthy skin is revealed with diminished dark spots, fine lines and potentially reduced acne scarring.
Treatments that are more targeted towards atrophic acne scarring include subcision, microneedling, fillers and fractionated CO2 lasers. These treatments all aim to increase the production of collagen, or artificially filling the depression. These treatments often come with a high price tag, so it’s worth having a consultation to ask questions and outline your skin goals.
Either hyperpigmentation due to skin damage, and the melanin production has gone into overdrive, and hence produced the dark spot. Otherwise, it may be a small pool of old blood – something which is more common if you have picked at a spot!
Yes, hyperpigmentation occurs quite easily with frequent pimple breakouts.