What is skin discolouration?
Skin discolouration is a common side effect of the acne healing process where the skin around an acne lesion changes colour from your natural skin tone and is left discoloured after the acne lesion has healed.
Acne lesions can cause skin discolouration in a number of ways. Blood vessels in the area of the lesion may dilate as part of the body’s healing response, leaving the skin looking red or purple. Damage to the skin cells by acne lesions may also cause the cells to release more melanin, which is a pigment that causes the skin to look brown.
Sometimes the body will clear these causes of skin discolouration over time and the skin will return to its original complexion. However, these changes to the skin may not heal and can become permanent.
Skin discolouration as a result of acne can occur anywhere on the body that acne forms and is largely dependent on how your skin heals.
What factors make it more likely that skin discolouration will occur?
Inflammation plays a role in the development of skin discolouration. The deeper that inflammation from an acne lesion reaches into the skin the more likely discolouration is to occur. This is one of the reasons that it is important to treat acne as soon as possible, to lower the risk of deep inflammation.
Picking or squeezing acne lesions can damage the skin and lead to an increased chance of discolouration. It is not advised that you pick at or squeeze your acne. However, in reality many people do this in an attempt to remove pus. If you are insistent on picking at or squeezing your acne to remove pus then please see our guide on how to lower your chances of damaging your skin here.
You are also more likely to develop discolouration if you smoke, as smoking leads to an increased risk of skin damage in general.
People with darker skin types are also at a higher risk of developing discolouration as darker skin also produces more pigment after it has been damaged than lighter skin, meaning that discolouration is more likely.
Skin Discolouration Treatments
There are several treatments that can help to reduce the skin discolouration that can be caused by acne. Some of the more common treatments that are used in the treatment of skin discolouration are listed below.
It is important to remember that discolouration reduction treatments are not readily available on the NHS. If you are thinking about paying for a discolouration reduction treatment privately then be sure to research your practitioner and make certain that they are qualified to conduct the procedure, such as a Consultant Dermatologist or Plastic Surgeon. It is often advisable to use a practitioner who can carry out all of the various forms of discolouration reduction treatments that are discussed above, as they will be able to advise you on the best option for your skin colour and nature of discolouration.
Please note that all of the treatments above have potential side effects, such as burns, skin peeling, irritation, skin bleaching and changes to skin texture. Darker skin types are at higher risk of suffering the side effects of scar removal. Please talk to your doctor to find out more about the risks involved for any treatment that you may be considering.
Topical Retinols and Topical Retinoids
This treatment works by encouraging the production of a protein called collagen in the skin. Collagen leads to the production of new skin cells and the shedding of old ones, this includes the shedding of damaged, discoloured skin cells.
This is where a special tool is used to remove the top layers of skin through friction, not unlike a sanding machine. As the layers of skin are removed the discolouration caused by scarring can become reduced.
This treatment is sometimes known as collagen induction therapy. It works by using a special tool to create several, tiny injuries within a scar. These injuries usually heal within two days and new collagen is formed inside of the scar. Collagen is a protein that help gives our skin strength and elasticity. Through this process microneedling can reduce the discolouration associated with scarring by encouraging old skin cells to shed, including skin cells that have been discoloured by excess pigment. Multiple treatments tend to be required every four-six weeks to gain maximum benefits. It is important to note that reducing skin discolouration is not microneedling’s main purpose and targeted treatments designed for treating skin discolouration may work better.
This treatment works by removing the outer layers of skin using high concentrations of glycolic or salicylic acid. In doing so, it can reduce the discolouring that is associated with scarring. This treatment should only be carried out by a qualified practitioner (visit www.jccp.org.uk).
Ablative laser therapy uses high energy light to remove the outer layers of skin, which can reduce the discolouration that is associated with scarring. There are multiple laser therapies that are available for the treatment of acne scarring. A consultant dermatologist will be able to determine which treatment is right for you based on your skin colour and the nature of your scarring.