Nina Anniston

Nina Anniston

A Comprehensive Guide to Topical Treatments for Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation

  Jan 17, 2024
Reviewed by Dr Saket Srivastava

Key Takeaways

  • Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation can be caused due to various skin issues but is mostly seen in people with darker skin tones.
  • Remedies like the use of Hydroquinone, retinoids, and vitamin C can help in reducing melanin production. 
  •  Hydrolyzed collagen is also beneficial as a supplement to reduce pigmentation. 
  • Make sure to check with a skin specialist before using them, as they can cause side effects when not used correctly.

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) can be caused by various skin issues. However, it is more generally seen in patients with darker skin due to the excess amount of melanin it contains.

These are also known as sun spots or lentigines, meaning flat dark discolorations on the epidermis left behind due to inflammation or injury. Fortunately, many treatments for PIH can help fade the marks and prevent their reappearance. 

The most effective options include topical agents and natural ingredients that inhibit melanin production and promote depigmentation. These include hydroquinone, thiamidol, arbutin, kojic acid, vitamin C and niacinamide.

In this article, we will explore a few solutions that you can opt for to treat post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. 


This skin-lightening agent is also considered the gold standard in treating hyperpigmentation. It can be found in both OTC products and prescription formulations, although a high-potency concentration of the cream is only available with a prescription (see side note below). 

Dermatologists use it to fade dark spots on the face and body left behind by pimples, age spots, or facial melasma—and to even out skin tone.

When applied regularly, the ingredient stops pigment production and interferes with melanocyte reproduction, resulting in a lightening effect on affected areas. 

The post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation treatment can also lighten scars and blemishes, such as those left by acne or rosacea.

Side Effects: The most common is irritation and redness, which can be mitigated by applying the product with a moisturizer designed to calm the body’s outer covering or using it with other topical remedies, like retinoids. 

People with darker tones should only apply hydroquinone under medical supervision, as prolonged use may cause irreversible depigmentation, known as exogenous ochronosis.

The FDA has restrictions on the strength of hydroquinone that can be sold over the counter or in combination with kojic acid and other ingredients. 

A dermatologist can help you decide on the correct dosage and recommend other cures for your condition.



Those with darker complexions are prone to developing PIH, as the condition is associated with an inflammatory response. It manifests as brown marks caused by acne, cuts, cold sores, rashes, or sunburn and can worsen due to excessive UV exposure.

Retinoids are a class of fat-soluble vitamins converted by enzymes in the cell to retinoic acid, a key regulator of melanogenesis and cellular turnover. Retinol and its derivatives are known to reduce fine lines, smooth rough patches, soften the skin and increase blood flow.

Because retinoids can cause dryness, using them with a rich moisturizer and sunscreen is vital. It is also recommended to start with a small amount, every other day at first, and build up to the nightly application. 

As with all topical treatments, you should reduce the frequency and switch to the lower-concentration product if the epidermis becomes too sensitive.

Side Effects: Dryness, change in skin color, sensitivity to sunlight, etc. 

Statistics on retinol

Vitamin C

Vitamin C

A typical skincare ingredient, vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a potent topical remedy for PIH. It prevents melanin production and reduces the appearance of dark spots.

This usually occurs when your epidermis gets irritated and triggers excess melanin production. Various factors can trigger it, including sun exposure, pregnancy, acne, and medical or cosmetic procedures such as chemical peels and laser treatments.

While dark spots caused by it can naturally fade, the standard pigment may take months or even years to return. To help speed up this process, you can use a serum that contains ascorbic acid. 

Many skincare brands enrich their vitamin C formulas with whitening, brightening, and skin-firming ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, salicylic acid, and glycerin.

While over-the-counter these serums are safe, you can also seek a dermatologist to see more dramatic results. 

Side Effects: Tingling sensation upon applying, skin irritation, and itching. 

Do You Know?
 According to the research, the concentration of vitamin C in any skincare product should lie between 10% and 20%. More than this could result in minor irritation. 

Hydrolyzed Collagen

Hydrolyzed collagen (also known as collagen peptides) is broken-down collagen that is easier for your body to absorb. It can be made from bovine, porcine, chicken skin, or fish tissue through denaturation with acid or alkaline treatment. 

The resulting low-molecular-weight amino acids can then be added to skincare products as a humectant or a source of protein.

Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies and is found in connective tissues like skin, bones, teeth, and tendons. Many people supplement with it to help with joint health, and it’s been connected to improved elasticity and healthy nails.

PIH develops after some form of irritation triggers the natural healing response, leading to an overproduction of melanin in the skin to protect it. Typical causes include acne, cold sores, cuts, and sunburn.

Research shows that these can be used to reduce the appearance of dark spots, mainly when applied directly to the area of discoloration. 

It is also thought to improve the quality of the skin, increase hydration, and support the growth of new cells. It can be combined with other ingredients for faster and more effective results.

Side Effects: Allergic reactions, bloating, and cramps. 

Do you know that collagen constitutes 70-80% of our dry skin weight?


All that being said, these tropical remedies do help out in reducing hyperpigmentation, but they come with side effects if not used in the correct way. Make sure that you consult a skin specialist before you add any type of acid to your skincare, to find out if you have any negative reaction to the same.