With the first official day of fall just a couple of weeks away, many of us have already started reminiscing about those longer days filled with vacations, lazy poolside weekends, and sun-soaked good times. However, it’s not just fond memories we’re bringing with us into fall—for many people, it’s also new patches of hyperpigmentation that represent the physical cost of all that fun in the sun. Whether from blemishes due to excess oil production in the hotter weather or from general sun damage, dark spots are a sure sign that too much sun exposure has left its mark for another season. This perfect storm of increased acne and hyperpigmentation may leave you wondering, are dark spots the same as acne scars? But the answer is: no. While healing blemishes may leave behind dark spots, acne scars are a whole different issue altogether. And the reason it matters is that effective treatment (and prevention) of hyperpigmentation issues depends largely on the root causes.
How to Spot Dark Spots vs Acne Scars
Hyperpigmentation refers to all types of skin discoloration that arise from an increase in melanin production, but the truth is that there are several skin issues represented under that broad term, and each one means something different for treatment. As summer draws to a close, however, there are two basic types of hyperpigmentation that most people are left to deal with: dark spots due to sun damage from healing blemishes and blemish scarring. So what’s the difference between dark spots and acne scars? Here’s a quick rundown to help you spot the difference.
Melanin production is the body’s response to sunlight as it attempts to protect the dermis from harmful UV rays. This means that many inherent skin issues can be exacerbated by repeated sun exposure, causing dark spots. In the case of blemishes, dark spots can be left behind as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, where the skin has produced too much melanin during the healing process. These areas of discoloration often present as flat, dark patches of uneven skin tone which can fade on their own over time, but often respond well to topical treatments that can dramatically lessen their appearance.
If blemishes are particularly bad, or have been made worse by popping, picking, infection, or other disruptions to the normal healing process, the body is forced to send collagen to the wound site to aid in the repair of damaged tissue within the dermis at the source of the initial inflammation. This leads not only to hyperpigmented areas, but also patches of uneven texture that are difficult to disguise.
- Hypertrophic Scarring- If too much collagen is produced in one spot, a hypertrophic (raised) scar is formed. Examples of this include keloid scars that are caused by a buildup of tissue, often from blemishes forming in the same spot over time. While hypertrophic scars are typically formed to be the same size as the original blemish, keloid scarring can often form larger than the original blemish.
- Atrophic Scarring- If too little collagen is produced, an atrophic (pitted) scar is formed. Examples of this include boxcar scars (box-like depressions with defined edges), ice pick scars (narrow indentations that point down into the skin’s surface), and rolling scars (depressions of varying depths with sloping edges that leave a wavy appearance to skin).
Unlike dark spots, blemish scars will not eventually fade on their own and can be difficult to treat without the help of a dermatologist. However, there are J-beauty formulations that have been developed specifically with blemish treatment and prevention in mind. Read on to learn more.