How to combat hyperpigmentation 101: How to really fade those spots (super long + detailed)

August 21, 2016

Hi there,

YES. ITS FINALLY HAPPENING. I know I promised this post ages ago but it never left my mind as it might just be the single most important posts I’ve ever typed. Without my struggle with acne, this blog wouldn’t exist. If I didn’t hit hard rock-bottom with my skin, I would have never went down the deep Korean beauty rabbit hole and I probably would have missed out on a lot of fun with friends I probably would have never made. Also, I finally moved into my first own apartment in July and I just got internet connection about a week ago so now it’s time to finally get back into the game. Me so happy :‘)
There are many reasons why people develop acne and looking back now, my personal struggle was definitely more on the psychological side. I never had problems with acne before -no one in my family does- so it came quite as a shock when I developed quite severe and painful acne seemingly out of nowhere. Looking back, moving every few months to a new country, missing friends and family, writing two master theses in two different languages, working part-time and going to university in a foreign country………yeah. I now see it might have been a little much, thank you skin for watching out for me. (No, I didn’t feel particularly stressed at that time as I am very stress-resistant but I guess my skin needed to vent about my crappy life choices. I’ll allow it.) 
Which brings me to my first and most important point: Stopping the acne. Obviously, it’s quite impossible to combat hyperigmentation when your skin regularly throws a rage party on your face without thinking of cleaning up after itself. Unfortunately, as manifold as the reasons for acne are, as various are the possible solutions for calming your skin. 
While the root of my problem was mainly psychological, I was also quite oblivious at that time when it came to skincare and just slathered on my face whatever I considered fancy without really thinking about what it did to my skin. Getting in place a well thought-out routine has not only helped me to calm down my acne tremendously, but to also keep it that way without the use of harsh chemicals or even antibiotics (which didn’t help me anyways..).
I got ahead of myself and tried various AHAs that only made my face itchy and didn’t help at all with the acne. It’s definitely a lot of trial and error necessary, but products with good old BHA (beta hydroxy acid or salicyclic acid) did a good job at keeping the more deep and painful pimples at bay. Also, when my skin looked still like this the only thing that helped me is the Duac acne gel that I got as a prescription from my derm. 

Honestly, my skin was in such a bad shape that it was never healing – whenever a pimple would go away the next would just pop up and I was constantly stressed and in pain. My derm wanted to put me on Accutane as other meds have proven to be ineffective (I tried Doxycycline and had devastating cramps for three months with little to no improvement in my skin) but I declined as I was quite terrified due to all the horror stories I read online. I didn’t like the fact that it basically alters your DNA (yeah… does that) and tried every other possibility. The duac acne gel was a HUGE savior for me as it was the only thing that really helped keeping my acne at bay. It dried my skin out like crazy, but it was worth it. After about a month, I hardly had any painful cysts anymore and I used it less regularly (switched from nightly to every second or third night).
I will not talk about the COSRX A-Sol because it’s common knowledge by now that this stuff is and will always be my holy grail whenever I have a bad skin episode (this was before I discovered duac back at home and I still love to use this stuff to this day <3) 
Another thing that really helped me (and I know not many are a fan of) are regular extractions from my dermatologist/aesthetician. Aesthethicians have quite a bad reputation but I was very lucky to find one who has an actual medical background and knows how the skin works (yes, this should be mandatory but sadly it isn’t from the stories I’ve heard.) I noticed that no matter how many acids I threw at my face, my skin seems to be bad at cleansing itself and is very prone to clogging. I got every 4-6 weeks to the derm now and around the 5th week mark, I can feel my skin clogging up. If I don’t go and get the extractions (which stupidly I didn’t for 2+months because I was busy working 50hrs+/week) my skin falls back into bad habits and develops cystic painful acne. So no, my acne is not completely cured but I found a way to effectively keep it in as good a shape as possible. 
Also, I switched to a mostly vegetarian/vegan diet (due to my significant other being a lactose intolerant vegetarian who would murder for cheese – I never cared much for meat so I mostly just adapted even when I’m by myself) and that certainly might have had an impact. However, dietary changes, drinking lots/little water and/or no make-up seem to have only very minor impact on my acne as I’ve tried it all separately. 
Now that my acne was more or less gone I was so happy – except for the fact that NOBODY noticed. Not a single one. Everyone was commenting on my bad skin as I was left with pretty bad hyperpigmentation all over my cheeks which made it hard to tell that my skin was essentially clear and smooth but those red marks would stay with me for quite some time, which brings me to step two:
Let me tell you something: Fading pigmentation needs PATIENCE. And I mean, real patience. Those pictures in the beginning of this post are all MONTHS apart. The first and last pictures are more than one year apart. I am not trying to put you down but please don’t put any unrealistic expectations on your skincare as it can only do so much and will only drag you down if your expectations are too high- I promise you, it will get better. But it will take time.

Also, whenever I stress about how „bad“ my skin looks, it just gets continually worse as the psychological impact can be quite strong. I accepted the fact that I have good skin weeks and worse ones but that’s totally okay because I have a routine that I can adjust accordingly.

To really help your skin fade the hyperpigmentation, two things are incredibly important and go hand in hand: lightening products such as AHAs and vitamin C and sunscreen (we’ll talk about that in step 3 and why AHAs can only do its work with efficient sun care.)

If you’ve read my blog for a while now, you will know that I had a horrible time with AHAs. All the ones I tried have either broken me out terribly or left my skin quite raw, itchy and just not comfortable. A mistake of mine was that I wanted too much at once in the beginning – I was still trying to get my acne under control and tried to attack it with BHA and AHA while figuring out a skincare routine that would help my skin heal without overwhelming it. Needless to say, it was way too much. So I didn’t use AHAs until I had a solid routine that I knew worked and also knew that my skin was already accustomed to BHAs as I’ve been using them for a few months.

But back to the topic: AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) are the best weapon to even out your skintone and have been widely used for therapy of photodamaged skin. My personal favorite to this day is the Papa Recipe White Flower Clear Up 8% AHA Gel (click for review and see direct before&after) as it has been the only one gentle enough for my skin. I have tried the AHA gels from COSRX and Mizon (see picture above) but both left my skin more irritated than anything, however I did include them here as I know many readers have had really good experiences with either or both of them. They just didn’t work for me and the COSRX scent is honestly the worst, I couldn’t deal with it at all. The Papa Recipe doesn’t dry my skin out at all and feels really comfortable to „wear“. Plus, one bottle easily lasts you like a year! (the one I bought in the winter is still half full)

So I’ve been using the Papa Recipe AHA for over half a year now and in combination with my sunscreen, has had a tremendous positive effect on my skin. It helps to keep the acne at bay but is not enough to combat the acne on its own, so I usually use the Papa Recipe AHA for 3-4 days in a week, a BHA for 1-2 days a week, sometimes the duac gel when I feel a break-up sneaking up on me (usually right before that time of the month….) and give my skin a break every few days/once a week to do it’s own thing. So my usual routine is mostly 2 days AHA, 1 day BHA, 2 days AHA, 1 day just hydration and then BHA….or something like that. I just go along with how my skin feels and adjust this routine accordingly. Sometimes I use the AHA 4 days in a row when my skin feels particularly rough or none at all for a few days or just BHA, there really is no golden rule here except observe and listen to your skin. 🙂

Also, I used to use vitamin C very religiously every night until….I didn’t anymore. I just never ordered a new one when I ran out and I don’t have that much time most mornigs/evenings so I kinda stopped. I did use it for a long time though and even though the results were not as good as the ones I got from religious use of AHAs and sunscreen, I really liked to use it and will likely order a new one in the future. I have to admit though: Even though it did not do any big lightening wonders for my skin it did give me a certain glow that I am missing now. If I had to chose though or if you want to spend money on just one item, I would vote in strong favor of any AHA over vitamin C for my personal experience. If you have the money though, it’s a nice little extra kick for your skin to be the best it can.

AHAs and BHAs are wonderful warriors, however, they can only do half the fight alone. There is no use of exfoliating your skin but not protecting the skin underneath. AHAs especially make you more susceptible to burning and the long term damage that comes from burning (hyperpigmentation) so in order to avoid that you will want to up your sunscreen game. Truth is, if you already have hyperpigmentation daily sunscreen use is probably the most important thing you can do to really fade the marks,

What happens when you’re out in the sun without protection is that the UV radiation can be too much for your skin to handle, so the skin reacts in a build up of darker cells that act as a protector in that specific over-exposed area (= melanin). As a result, marks that you already have cannot fade or are even getting worse as the melanin inside your skin tries to protect it by building itself up. Sunscreen use is problematic for many people as 1) they don’t really see drastic results in a short span of time 2) think they don’t need it as it’s „really not that sunny today anyways“ 3) they break them out or leave a greasy white cast. However, the trouble of finding a working sunscreen is really worth the trouble – not only for your skin’s appearance, but also in terms of preventing skin cancer and signs of aging. (I’d like to tell myself that I still get carded for booze because of my youthful looking skin and not because of my moon-like baby face and crazy hair colors..)

Anyways! In order to protect all the hard work you put into your skincare, establishing a good suncare regimen is essenital to fading hyperpigmentation and preventing the building of new one. After much trial and error for around 1 1/2 years I found that chemical sunscreens alone don’t help me much when it comes to fading acne marks. I’ve been using the Biosolis Extreme Fluid SPF50+ for around a year now on and off – it’s a pure (Western) physical sunscreen and while it’s not as cosmetically elegant as (Asian) chemical sunscreens, it did a way better job at helping those nasties fade.

Unfortunately, nothing is perfect: I use the Biosolis physical sunscreen in order to protect my skin and it does an impeccable job, however, it is a lot more thick than my beloved Asian sunscreens, leaves quite a white cast (not that that would be a problem for little white ghost me but I would really not advise it for anyone darker than NC20-25 :/ ) and feels more greasy. It is manageable under make-up if you wait long enough for it to sink in but let’s be honest – who has that much time? What I usually do is use my favorite Asian sunscreens from either Biore or Hada Labo (see picture above) daily, let that absorb while I make coffee and then put the physical sunscreen on top only where my hyperpigmentation is the worst (my cheeks). This way I get the protection where it’s most important without sacrifying too much time most mornings. Please note that mixing sunscreens on top of each other can be problematic depending on the ingredients, but the combination with Hada Labo and Biosolis has worked well for me but I try to wait as long as possible between the application.

And that’s really all that is to it. Here is my full before and after with approximately 1 – 1 1/2 years in between from cystic acne to mostly healed and faded skin:

Also see here and here for a bigger resolution of in-between steps. I am definitely happy that I took all those painful to look at pictures because it is so much more easy to track my own progress and to figure out what works for me. If you’re unsure if you’re making progress, take pictures and compare them! Don’t do it too often though as it can be very discouraging – I took pictures only once a month and tried to be consistent with the light source as it can make your skin look vastly different/worse than it really is. Also, don’t be too discouraged if you don’t see any progress sometimes. It happens.

Also, if anyone is still reading (is there..?) a very concise update about why I haven’t been blogging for the longest time: Broke up with my long term boyfriend, had to move in with my cousin for a while, started my first real adult job while working 50+ hours, moved into my first own apartment but didn’t have internet for the longest time – have my own 2-room apartment since July and a really cute girlfriend, so all is well now. Thank you everyone who emailed me about being okay I REALLY appreciated it. It was just a really crazy time for me and I’m doing better now and look forward to blog more regularly like I used to, I missed it a lot!

If I missed anything important in this post, feel free to ask away in the comments! Thank you for being patient and I hope this will be helpful to someone 🙂

Lots of love,


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