A blog that gets nerdy for beauty

How I deal with dark spots from acne (post acne hyperpigmentation)

Being someone who blogs and reads a lot about beauty and cosmetics doesn’t mean I have better skin than most of the human population. On the contrary, my skin frustrations gave birth to the cosmetic nerd that I am today. Though skin products improved my skin condition, pimples still sprout out of nowhere- thanks to my fluctuating hormones. After several attempts to a proactive approach to skin care, I have finally decided to rest the fate of my mortal face to the workings of my womanly hormones. To deal with this, I learned the reactive approach: dealing with post acne hyperpigmentation – or dark acne spots.

Disclaimer: Though all of the products below can be bought without prescription, this shouldn’t replace professional advice. If you have never tried exfoliating before, proceed with caution. I suggest that you patch test first : apply product on small area of the face for at least 3 consecutive days. These products worked for me but like any other skin care product (even the most expensive ones), results vary  from person to person.

Let’s talk briefly about Post-Acne Hyperpigmentation (dark acne spots)

Post-acne hyperpigmentation is just a fancy term of dark spots resulting from acne. It is usually reddish or dark brown in color. It is likely to occur in Asians’ skin (compared to Caucasians) [1] . Hyperpigmentation will lighten with time, but may take months or even years, depending on skin type. So here are the products that WORKED for me.

Chemical Exfoliants

Okay internet people, Let’s get to the real deal right away – chemical exfoliation. If you are not new to skin care, chemical exfoliants are no brainer. This is the main event while the rest of the products in this post, though important, are just part of the support system. I have four particular products to share that falls under this category.

High concentration Glycolic Acid

glycolic acid

glycolic acid

Why I use it:  Glycolic acid belongs to a group of exfoliating chemicals called alpha-hydroxy acids. Among all alpha-hydroxy acids, glycolic acid has the smallest molecular size so theoretically, it will penetrate your skin better. Several studies have been made on glycolic acid where it consistently show improvement on hyperpigmentation. [2] The strength of this chemical exfoliant is very dependent on its concentration. 30% glycolic acid is considered high and very active.

Product I use: 

It contains 30% glycolic acid and smaller percentages of other chemical exfoliants like lactic acid and 2% salicylic acid. It contains more glycolic acid than water, now that’s a lot of product.

How to use it:  You apply a very thin layer of the product after you have washed and dried your face. Take note: skin has to be dry. Penetration of products like chemical exfoliants are very dependent on its initial concentration as it comes in to contact with the skin. Wet skin will dilute your product and may not work as it should.

After applying, grab your nail file or have a cup of tea because you’ll have to wait for a maximum of 10 minutes before rinsing it with warm water. Warm water (not hot, people) has a soothing effect on the skin.

My Face when applied with the Ordinary peeling Solution

TIP: If you have no previous experience with very concentrated chemical exfoliants, I recommend to delay your use until you’ve used a lower concentration exfoliating product for at least a month. This is to minimize risk of peeling like a molting reptile or worse, skin irritation.

How often: My skin can handle this product for twice a week. For starters, I recommend once a week.

Lower concentration Glycolic Acid

Why I use it: Though effective, high concentration glycolic acid can cause extreme photosensitivity (vulnerability to UV damage from the sun). I use glycolic acid with lower concentration for more frequent, mild exfoliation.

Product I use:

It contains 7% glycolic acid. It does not sting when applied to the skin. This can be attributed by the moisturizing ingredients added in to it and the absence of ethyl or denatured alcohol.

How to use it: Use it on a cleansed face. Do not use this product together with a high concentration glycolic acid (or other concentrated exfoliants)

TIP: Do not use this product as a facial cleanser for two reasons 1.) You will be wasting a lot of product because a thin layer from a single stroke is already enough and 2.) Using it to cleanse your face will most likely lead you to scrubbing it hard which would create a risk of irritation.

Hydroquinon + Tretinoin

Why I use it: You might have heard about the dangers of hydroquinone. The truth is, media has exaggerated the risks of hydroquinone in skin care products.  If you want to know more about it, you can read it in my previous blog post. Hydroquinone is an effecting treatment for hyperpigmentation, if used properly. It gives really fast, visible results compared to other lightening products. Though  some people would like to apply it all over their face, for me I use it as a spot treatment. Hydroquinone can cause serious peelings and sun sensitivity which I don’t like dealing with.

Product I use: 

GT Bleaching Cream contains  2% hydroquinone and 0.05% tretinoin. Combination of both decreases the appearance of wrinkles more effectively than hydroquinone alone – but I’m not in it for that. I used this product because of its safe hydroquinone concentration plus it is formulated into a thick cream- make it an easy product for spot treatment.

How to use it: Apply to area where your dark spot is. I suggest you put this as the last step of your skin care routine. Putting another product right after the spot treatment will cause it to spread to a larger area on your skin. You don’t want peeling on untargeted areas.

Hydroquinone acts fast because it is very reactive. It also oxidize rapidly as it reacts with air once your jar is openend. When it turns yellowish, it means some of product has oxidized. To minimize oxidation, put it inside the refrigerator. Low temperature slows down oxidation reaction.

Vitamin C

Why I use it: I use vitamin C or ascorbic acid serum as a morning treatment as it reinforces sunscreen. Chemical exfoliation makes you more vulnerable to sun damage so you have to put your UV protection to the next level. Vitamin C has also shown to exhibit lightening properties for hyperpigmentation. [3]

Product I use:

How to use it: Use it in the morning right after shower, or before applying your sunscreen. Apply only a small amount, enough to cover the face. This baby is expensive and you don’t want to waste it.

TIP: Vitman C and E makes a very powerful antioxidant. If you want to go hardcore on antioxidant products, you might want to consider product with combination of Vitamin C and E. If I were not broke, I would have bought it. For now, my face have no choice but to settle for this.

Here are products with Vitamin C and E

Product [1]

Product [2]

Physical Exfoliant

Why I use it: Physical exfoliants are exfoliating products that physically removes the outermost layer of your skin by using tiny abrasive material. I use microexfoliants – a fancy term for products with tinier scrub particles compared to other products like apricot scrubs and coffee scrubs. This is helpful for superficial peeling , to assist your deeper chemical peel. Just make sure you don’t use physical exfoliant and chemical exfoliant at the same time.

Product I use: 

This product uses alumina as a physical exfoliant. Alumina has  smaller particle size compared to other “natural” scrubs like apricot, sugar scrub and coffee scrubs.

How to use: Use after washing face with your favorite cleanser. Scrub very gently. Avoid scrubbing too hard and for too long in a specific area.

TIP: This specific product is quite pricey and a bit of a luxury treat for myself. Hyperpigmentation can be reduced without this product. It just gives me an additional advantage of smoother skin and it aids in the superficial peeling caused by hydroquinone. You can try other facial scrub. Just make sure you don’t scrub too hard and too long.


So you may ask : “So many products! How do I fit all of them in my skin care routine?“. I got you internet person. Here is my product schedule (not strictly followed) that may be helpful for your reference. You can modify this according to what suits you best.

This is how I apply my products. Note that though moisturizers and sunscreen are not hyperpigmentation treatment, you should never lose them in your skin care routine.


[1] Davis, E. C., & Callender, V. D. (2010). Postinflammatory Hyperpigmentation: A Review of the Epidemiology, Clinical Features, and Treatment Options in Skin of Color. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology3(7), 20–31.

[2] Desai, S. R. (2014). Hyperpigmentation Therapy: A Review. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology7(8), 13–17.

[3] Telang, P. S. (2013). Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal4(2), 143–146. http://doi.org/10.4103/2229-5178.110593

Article written by:

Anne Porter

Hi! I’m Anne. I am a chemical engineer from Cebu, Philippines. I created Zarins Beautylab because of my love for cosmetics, skin care products and all other stuff that makes me (and you) look and feel beautiful. My semesters of chemistry courses come in handy as I explain the science behind different beauty products: which works and how it works. Well, Sometimes its science and sometimes its just good ol’ common sense.

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    Vaveshka Valentino

    Hello Ms. Anne.I love this article and I learned so much.Thank you and keep it up.

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