Hyperpigmentation vs. Acne Scars

Acne scars come in many forms, and treating them effectively requires understanding their differences and knowing what can help improve their appearance.

Now, while hyperpigmentation is just one type of acne scar, treating it demands a different approach than the type of acne scarring that’s flesh-colored but has changed the skin’s texture due to tissue alteration and even loss in many cases.

Therefore, in this article, we will address the differences between hyperpigmentation and acne scars, help you understand the two conditions better, and provide the best treatment options that can help improve the appearance of both.

What’s The Difference Between Hyperpigmentation and Acne Scars?

The main difference between hyperpigmentation and acne scars is that hyperpigmentation is a pigmentary change in the skin, while acne scars are more of a structural change.

Hyperpigmentation and acne scars are abnormalities in the skin that show up after inflammation due to a skin injury that has previously occurred in the area.

Hyperpigmentation is also a type of acne scar since it is caused by inflammation, such as a pimple or an inflamed cyst.

Acne scars, on the other hand, are a term used to describe textural skin changes, such as indented marks, boxcar scars, or rolling scars that show up on the skin after a pimple or a cluster of pimples has fully healed.

Both skin issues can be challenging to treat; however, many available treatment options can fully eliminate these concerns.

What is Hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is a common skin condition that causes patches of skin to become darker than usual. This type of discoloration often looks like a dark spot, freckle, or a darker patch than the surrounding skin.

Hyperpigmentation can be caused by inflammation due to bacterial overgrowth, sun exposure, hormonal imbalances, genetics, and even certain medications.

How Does Hyperpigmentation Form?

Hyperpigmentation forms when some skin trauma occurs in the area and damages the skin cells that produce the brown pigment called melanin.

This skin trauma will trigger an enzyme known as tyrosinase to be released and stimulate the cells into producing excess pigment in the area of inflammation, which eventually starts to clump up, causing the spot to appear darker than the surrounding area.

This happens because the cells that produce melanin, or melanocytes, are parts of our skin’s immune system, and when the skin is repeatedly damaged in a particular area, it triggers them to produce more melanin as a defense mechanism.

How to Treat Hyperpigmentation?

The best way to treat hyperpigmentation is by applying products that contain ingredients known as tyrosinase inhibitors to the skin’s surface.

Hyperpigmentation starts to develop in the innermost layer of the epidermis, which is an area topical products that contain these ingredients can reach and block the enzyme to prevent it from triggering the melanin-producing cells to create an excessive amount of pigment.

Additionally, regularly applying sunscreen to prevent the hyperpigmented spots from becoming darker is an effective way to create a barrier between the skin and environmental factors that can worsen this condition, such as UV rays which will cause the surrounding skin to become darker and exacerbate the appearance of hyperpigmentation.

Best Ingredients for Fading Hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation can be significantly improved and even fully faded with the right components found in skincare products.

Therefore, if you are dealing with hyperpigmentation that has occurred through any form of inflammation, here are some of the best ingredients you should incorporate into your skincare routine to treat it:

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an excellent antioxidant with melanin-inhibiting properties that interact with the copper ions at the tyrosinase active site and inhibits the enzyme’s action, thereby reducing the amount of pigment secreted by the melanin-producing cells.

Vitamin C can also scavenge free radicals in the skin, which are damaging molecules in the environment that can be behind the inflammation that causes pigmentary skin disorders, making it an excellent ingredient for skin that’s dealing with UV-induced hyperpigmentation.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is the active ingredient in products commonly known as retinoids. Once applied to the skin, this antioxidant binds with retinoid receptors in the deeper layers of the epidermis and teaches the skin cells to behave in a younger way.

This means that the skin will become more resilient and able to bounce back from an injury, such as inflammation, faster and more efficiently.

By making the skin stronger, vitamin A also helps prevent new hyperpigmentation from forming in the first place while encouraging existing dark spots to be shed from the skin’s surface faster, revealing an even and more uniform skin layer composed of young and healthy cells from underneath.

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid is an excellent way to tackle superficial hyperpigmentation once the inflammation has fully subsided.

By dissolving the protein bonds that hold dead skin cells together on the skin’s surface, glycolic acid will encourage them to shed quicker, revealing a layer of new and healthy skin cells underneath that are evenly pigmented and will help reduce the appearance of any dark spots.

Kojic Acid

One of the most efficient tyrosinase inhibitors in the skincare market, kojic acid is a naturally occurring water-loving component that reduces hyperpigmentation by inhibiting the production of free tyrosinase through its antioxidant qualities that scavenge molecules that have led to the abnormality in the deeper epidermal layer.

Excellent for even the most stubborn hyperpigmentation, such as that which appears in thicker areas of the body like the buttocks, and gentle enough to be suitable for even the most sensitive skin types, kojic acid is one of the surest ways to reduce melanin production and reveal an even-toned skin surface.


Niacinamide is a B3 vitamin that offers multiple benefits for the skin, including reducing redness, strengthening the skin barrier, and fading hyperpigmentation.

Niacinamide does this by inhibiting melanosome transfer, meaning that excess pigment produced by the melanin-producing cells won’t reach the skin’s surface, effectively preventing new hyperpigmented cells from forming.

Additionally, the barrier-strengthening properties of niacinamide help the skin become more resilient and deal with abnormalities, such as inflammation due to bacterial overgrowth and UV damage, faster and more efficiently, meaning the skin won’t freak out as much when exposed to potentially damaging components and will have a more subdued response.

This can be great for those dealing with acne, as this inflammatory condition is known to throw the skin into a frenzy where it malfunctions and reacts in severe inflammation to even the mildest of triggers, resulting in acne scars and hyperpigmented spots over time.

What Are Acne Scars?

Acne scars are deep indentations that appear on the skin when the collagen, after an inflamed pimple, cyst, or nodule has healed, is damaged and prevents the skin from bouncing back and looking the way it did before the inflammation occurred.

Acne scars can be darker in color, but they typically become flesh-colored once they heal and settle on the skin, which is a process that can last for months after the initial inflammation.

How do Acne Scars Form?

Acne scars form when, similarly to hyperpigmentation, a skin trauma has occurred in the area, but the inflammation was more severe and long-lasting, damaging the collagen levels in the deeper layers of the skin and leaving a hollow pit that drags the skin in the area where the pimple was down like an anchor.

Types of Acne Scars

While indented or atrophic acne scars are caused by the same abnormality or malfunction after inflammation has occurred in the area, they are grouped into three types due to their appearance and the level of skin damage they have caused.

Here are the three known types of acne scars:

  • Icepick Scars: These are the most severe type of acne scars, as they penetrate deep into the second skin layer and form a deep hole that looks like it has been made with an icepick.
  • Boxcar Scars: Slightly more superficial than icepick scars, this type of scarring has a wide and deep appearance marked by sharply defined edges.
  • Rolling Scars: The mildest type of acne scars that are not too deep and wide but has a wave-like appearance that runs along the skin’s surface, giving it an uneven texture.

All three types of acne scars can be challenging to treat and take different time durations to disappear entirely; however, there are many treatment options available that will help eliminate them and restore the skin’s even tone and texture.

How to Treat Acne Scars?

Acne scars are challenging to treat and usually involve more aggressive therapy to be eliminated.

Once they form, they will stick around permanently, and since their root is deep into the skin where most topical products can’t penetrate, treatments that involve damaging the superficial layers of the skin in order to stimulate collagen production to fill out the dents from underneath are the most effective option for treating acne scarring.

Professional treatments such as microneedling, laser therapy, dermabrasion, and chemical peels are among the most popular methods for eliminating acne scarring. In addition to these treatments, high-strength retinoids can also improve some of the texture, which is why combining them with professional treatments can be a good solution for treating these skin issues.

Best Ways to Prevent Acne Scars

Because acne scars are so challenging to treat, it’s always best to prevent new ones from forming, which is a much easier way to manage acne and its side effects.

Here are some of the best ways to prevent future acne scars from forming:

Treat Acne Early

The longer the inflammation lasts, the more severe it will become, which means the chances of the area scarring increase.

This is why treating your acne early will minimize your chances of dealing with permanent deep acne scars.

If you can’t figure it out on your own, and your skin seems to become increasingly inflamed with every product you try, seek professional help and guidance on the best treatment options that could help reduce inflammation and prevent future scarring.

Don’t Pick

Popping your pimples might be satisfying, but this is how you end up with an acne scar, even if the initial inflammation wasn’t so severe to leave one on its own.

When you pop your pimples, you are causing the skin to rupture so that the pus leaks out, which leaves a micro tear that likely won’t heal properly, leaving you with an indented scar in the area where the pimple was.

Additionally, cracking your skin open leaves space for external bacteria to enter, potentially worsening the infection and leading to more inflammation.

Have an Excellent Skincare Routine

Having an excellent skincare routine might not save you from getting the occasional pimple here and there, but it will prevent a majority of them, especially when it comes to minimizing the potential of developing those deep cystic pimples that are likely to leave a scar.

Since the main culprits behind acne are bacteria and inflammation, incorporating products with mild antibacterial properties that will purge the overgrowth of the pathogen and keep your pores clear and free of cellular debris, along with products that will soothe active inflammation and reduce the signs of redness will all help contribute to a balanced complexion.

Mind Your Diet

Your diet plays a significant role in the type of acne you develop because some inflammatory foods can cause a hormonal imbalance that could lead to those deep cystic pimples that take a long time to heal and have the higher potential to leave a scar behind.

This is why minding your diet and eating anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich foods as much as possible could make a world of difference in preventing acne scarring.

If you suspect your diet is causing your acne and, subsequently, scarring, check out GoodGlow’s ebook, a guide packed with information on how to heal your skin by incorporating healthy foods into your daily menu.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does it Take for Hyperpigmentation to Fade?

Hyperpigmentation might fade on its own after several months of appearing, but it can stick around permanently if not addressed through skincare products, professional treatments, or sun protection to prevent it from becoming darker.
Some types of hyperpigmentation, such as sun damage and age spots, can be permanent, while others, typically triggered by inflammatory conditions such as acne, can eventually fade on their own once the inflammation has fully subsided and the skin can heal and recover.

Does Hyperpigmentation Get Darker Before it Fades?

Hyperpigmentation can sometimes get darker before it fades but this is typically the case when treatments such as chemical peels and retinoids are involved in the skincare routine due to their ability to cause initial dryness and make the skin look coarser.

Can Acne Scars Go Away Naturally?

Textural acne scars can improve on their own over time, but they are typically permanent, and unless they are mild, they will likely remain on the skin unless professional treatments such as lasers and microneedling are involved to help fade their appearance.

Originally Published: April 19, 2023

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Analyzed by Simone Sydel

Hi, I’m Simone Sydel, a licensed esthetician and acne expert dedicated to helping others solve their skin issues including acne, eczema, and UV damage. I specialize in testing and reviewing the latest acne treatments and beauty products, offering honest, practical advice for skincare. I’ve helped hundreds of clients clear their skin and my skincare product reviews have been read by several hundred thousand people. Thanks for visiting!

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