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How can YOU differentiate between PIH or PIE acne marks?

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Acne can do so much damage to your skin. We’ve all been there. But when your acne leaves, they may keep a mark in their place. Remember, marks and scars are not always the same! Here, we are deep diving into acne marks and not acne scars. To know more about acne scars, click here.

It’s important to understand and treat these marks with patience. Here’s everything you need to know to differentiate the two types of marks - Post-inflammatory erythema (PIE) and Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). Don’t let these names overwhelm you. We have got you!

What exactly are PIE and PIH? What is the difference between them?

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Post-inflammatory erythema (PIE) is a term used for scars that you get due to dilation or damage done to the capillaries near your skin surface. They appear red and are generally seen on lighter skin tones.

Whereas when it comes to Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), they are brown or black marks due to overproduction of melanin. Melanin is the pigment that gives color to your hair, eyes, etc. PIH is more common with darker skin tones since they have overactive melanocytes.

But how can you tell which one you have?

A quick test to know if you have PIE or PIH is by squeezing the spot where you have the mark. If the mark disappears or turns white when you apply pressure, it is PIE. If the color remains the same then it is PIH.

What are the causes of PIE and PIH?

PIE can be caused by the following reasons:

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1) Any Trauma to the skin that leads to inflammation

Trauma that can damage your blood vessels will lead to PIE marks.

2) Popping pimples

Anything that includes touching your face for no good reason or just checking if your pimple will pop if you apply enough pressure is not a good idea. That is just going to hurt your skin cells which leads to inflammation and marks at the later stage. To know more about the aftercare post popping a pimple, click here.

3) Over-exfoliation

When you over-exfoliate, that damages your skin cells and the blood vessels near the surface of the skin. This will lead to marks in the long run.

4) Picking on Dry Patches

When your skin is dehydrated, it is fragile. If you pick on your dry patches, it will maximise the damage that picking can cause. It is best to leave the dry patches alone and moisturise it well.

    Whereas, PIH is caused due to the following reasons:

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    1) Sun exposure

    UV rays not just harm your defense layer but also your skin’s structure. That can lead to activating melanin production and give you these stubborn marks.

    2) Hormones/Pregnancy

    The female hormones- estrogen and progesterone can lead to overproduction of melanin which will lead to dark marks.

    3) Ageing

    When you age, your skin’s structure and defense layer starts to wear off. This is when external harmful factors can easily target your skin and lead to marks.

    4) Strong skin treatments like laser, chemical peels

    Strong skin treatments will do you good for a while but it makes your skin more sensitive. This leaves your skin exposed to harmful elements, leading to UV rays.

    5) Picking on wounds like burns and acne

    The area, where the wound has occurred, is fragile due to damage. Further picking on it will only increase the effect of the damage and lead to marks.

    How can you avoid the formation of PIE and PIH?

    1. Gentle Skincare Products

    PIE is caused due to inflammation or trauma to the skin. So simply leave your face alone. Yes, no picking, no zooming in to find imperfections, scratching or touching constantly. If you scratch, over-exfoliate, or use harsh face wash then PIE may lead to PIH. We’d suggest, you opt for a gentle face wash if you have scars on your face. Our choice would be Conscious Chemist Ritual Face Cleanser that has Match Green Tea and Hemp Seed Oil to gently remove the grim and keep your face hydrated. This way you’re preventing the PIE to turn into PIH and give it some time to heal.

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    2. SPF

    When you have scars, they’re more sensitive to harmful elements in your surrounding. If the scars are further disturbed then it leads to a darker mark. To avoid that, swear by SPF that is equally hydrating to your skin’s defense layer. We’d recommend the Ozone Signature Natural Sun Protector that hydrates and calms your skin.

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      When Indian skin tones face scars, it may turn into a PIE mark and in no time it will turn PIH if the mark is not well-protected. Some of the best ways to avoid PIH marks are as follows:

      3. Chemical Exfoliation

      Only chemical exfoliators. Physical exfoliators will just take off the dirt but not do much to your marks. For PIH, chemical exfoliators can help lighten the pigment. Start with mild chemical exfoliators which will not burn your face. The one that we’d recommend is Skinpot.Co Hyper-Repair Exfoliation Peel that has Alpha-Hydroxy Acids like Lactic Acid and Glycolic Acid for exfoliation along with Copper Peptide that will help you repair your skin’s structure. To read more about exfoliation click here.

      This is an image of Skinpot.Co Hyper-Repair Exfoliation Peel on

      4. SPF

      When your scars are left unprotected, skin releases melanin to the site of the scar to protect your skin. This gives you stubborn marks. If you already have dark marks then they may turn darker if you don’t protect them. A rule to swear by is wearing SPF every day even if you’re indoors.

      What is the difference between the ways to treat PIE and PIH?

      Since the causes are different, the treatment for both types of marks is also different. This is why it is super ultra important to first recognise which kind of mark it is!

      While for PIE you must look for products that can deeply hydrate your skin and strengthen your blood vessel walls, for PIH you need to look for products that can increase your cell turnover and inhibit tyrosinase (an enzyme that supports the production of melanin). Now, before we dive into the ingredients list, just remember that we are talking about treating marks that have occurred due to some damage to your skin. So the skin is going to take time to heal. You can speed up the process with the help of certain effective products but you can’t make them disappear overnight.

      A) Ingredients that can help you treat PIE

      1) Vitamin C

      This has to be your go-to ingredient when you have PIE since Vitamin C helps you strengthen your capillary walls which will lessen the damage and help you fade out PIE marks. To know more click here

      Sublime Recommends Skinpot.Co Intense-Repair Hydration Serum which has 3 different forms of Vitamin C along with Copper Peptide that helps you repair your skin and Hyaluronic Acid for intense hydration.

      This is an image of Skinpot.Co Intense-Repair Hydration Serum on

      Another great pick would be Martiderm Dsp-bright 30 Ampoules for those who are just starting with Vitamin C since its strength is 5%.

      2) Niacinamide

      This is a good source of Antioxidants and powerful for hydration. Your PIE marks need both of them. To know more, Click here.

      Sublime Recommends Dr Sheth's Niacinamide & Green Tea Calming Toner that has Niacinamide, Green Tea, and Calendula which gives you the extra boost of Antioxidants to protect your marks and at the same time treat them gently.

      This is an image of Dr Sheth's Niacinamide & Green Tea Calming Toner on

      3) Hyaluronic Acid

      Hyaluronic Acid is great for instant hydration and hence makes it a great pick for your PIE. To know more, Click here.

      Sublime Recommends Aminu Earnest Hydrating Cream for extreme hydration and protection that your marks will enjoy.

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      B) Ingredients that can help you treat PIH

      1) Kojic Acid

      This is a tyrosinase inhibitor that will help you protect the mark from being darker. Kojic Acid is a by-product that you get from the fermentation process of malting rice. They’re widely used in cosmetics since it helps you stay away from marks. You can find Kojic Acid present in rice water too. This ingredient works very well with Hydroquinone.

      Sublime Recommends Amayra Naturals Nyra Rice Face Wash Powder for deep cleansing with the help of Rice Starch and Papaya Powder.

      This is an image of Amayra Naturals Nyra Rice Face Wash Powder on

      2) Hydroquinone

      This is a very potent tyrosinase inhibitor. But anything above 2% of this needs to be only on prescription. You don’t want to harm your skin while trying to do something good. A great alternative to Hydroquinone is Arbutin.

      3) Alpha Arbutin

      This is a safer form of Hydroquinone and can suit Indian skin tones well. This helps to reduce dark spots.

      Sublime Recommends Dr Sheth’s Ashwagandha & Alpha Arbutin Serum for its formulation is perfect for Indian skin. It has Ashwagandha, Vitamin C, and Arbutin to help you achieve even-toned skin. 

      This is an image of Dr Sheth’s Ashwagandha & Alpha Arbutin Serum on

      To know more about Alpha Arbutin, click here

      4) Azelaic Acid

      This ingredient is rich in antibacterial properties, Antioxidants. It is also a tyrosinase inhibitor which makes it perfect for treating stubborn marks.

      Sublime Recommends Pulp Ex-acne Anti Acne Treatment Superfood Serum which has Azelaic Acid, Salicylic Acid, and Niacinamide. All of these ingredients make for a great cocktail to treat your marks.

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      5) Vitamin C

      Yes, this star ingredient can treat both your PIE and PIH marks. It is known for its brightening properties and hence comes in handy for your PIH marks too. Vitamin C has been pretty much like a staple for your skin to address all your skin needs.

      Sublime Recommends Dear, Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Drop Serum. It has 5% Vitamin C to boost collagen production and brighten. The concentration makes it perfect for those with sensitive skin.

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      6) Retinol

      Remember how we said that PIH marks need something that can help you increase your skin cell turnover? Well, Retinol does that job perfectly. To know more about it, click here.
      Sublime Recommends Neemli Naturals Retinol & Peptide Serum that has Retinol and also Liquorice Root Extracts which is another ingredient that helps your PIH marks. That brings us to our next ingredient.
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      7) Licorice Root Extract

      This is again a great tyrosinase inhibitor that helps you to diminish your dark spots. Plus point for its calming property!

      Sublime Recommends, Bliscent Chocolate & Licorice Face Mask this yummy mask not just helps you with the marks but also to makes your skin supple.

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      To know more licorice extracts in skincare, click here

      What is the difference between the time it takes to heal PIE and PIH?

      PIH takes more time to fade than PIE. PIE may start fading away after 3 months if you stick to your skincare routine. PIE marks fade away even if you don’t treat them but effective ingredients will help you fade them faster.

      PIH marks will make you work and so it may take about a year or two to fade. You just need to be disciplined in taking care of your skin.

      One thing to remember is both types of marks need protection. Read that twice or thrice and let that sink in. SPF is not a joke and you need to wear SPF every day!


      PIE and PIH are types of acne marks. You must recognise the type of mark so that you can treat it with the right products. Along with the right products, you need loads of protection and patience. Be mindful of your skin and don’t let your marks define your confidence level!

      -Divya Salvi

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