How to fade acne scars: PIH & PIE

Breakouts are the worst…until you realize that they’ve left a mark that’s going to stick around for a very long time. To know how to fade acne scars, you first need to know what you’re dealing with. So we’re breaking down how to identify the mark you’ve got and sharing tips on how to treat their leftover pigmentation.

Kinds of acne scars

There are two main kinds of acne scars:

Physical scars

These kinds of acne scars leave a physical indentation or bump on the surface of the skin. Atrophic scars are the ones that dip into your skin and are referred to as icepick, rolling or boxcar scars. On the other hand, hypertrophic scars have a raised surface. These physical scars can be difficult to treat with skincare products.

Pigmented spots

The second kind of scar is a flat spot of pigment that may be reddish, purple, or brownish. These surface-level spots can be Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation or Post Inflammatory Erythema. Unlike atrophic & hypertrophic scars, these will usually resolve by themselves with enough time. These pigmented scars are more easily treated with the right skincare ingredients, so that’s what we’ll focus on today.

What is Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH)?

PIH are brown or black spots that form when the skin responds to inflammation or injury by overproducing pigment—specifically, melanin. You might see this kind of hyperpigmentation after you get a cut. “Sun spots” and “age spots” are also a form of PIH that appear when the skin is exposed to too much sun.

Pregnancy can also trigger PIH. After the “pregnancy glow” some expecting moms get splotches on their cheeks and forehead. This is known as melasma, aka the “pregnancy mask.” Finally, PIH can also result from acne; this usually happens in darker skin tones.

How to treat PIH


It’s critical to remember that PIH is often the result of sun exposure, so the best offense in a good defense. If you really want to fade these acne scars need to wear sunscreen every day.


Products that increase skin cell turnover can be really useful as they help to slough off the pigmented cells. Retinoids and products with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like Glycolic acid or Lactic acid all fall into this camp.


There are also a number of ingredients that can work to lighten the appearance of PIH. Vitamin C, Azelaic acid, Licorice root, Niacinamide and Kojic acid are all great options.

What is Post Inflammatory Erythema (PIE)?

PIE is usually the result of acne and occurs because of damage to blood vessels near the surface of the skin. These marks are red or purplish and are generally less likely to affect darker skin tones.

How to treat PIE

Be gentle

PIE is the result of damage and inflammation, so a best practice for dealing with it (and acne of any kind for that matter) is to not mess with it. No squeezing. No picking. It will only make matters worse.


Time is a surefire remedy. However, treatments that help to reduce inflammation and strengthen the skin have been found to help marks resolve faster. We’ve found Vitamin C, Rosehip oil, Niacinamide and Ceramides to be helpful. Keeping the skin well-hydrated and away from irritants may also speed skin repair.

How to tell whether it’s PIH or PIE

There’s a simple way to tell whether your dark spot is PIH or PIE: grab a clear glass (like for drinking water) and press down on the spot. If this pressure test causes the spot to disappear then your spot is PIE. If the spot doesn’t disappear it’s PIH.

Of course, a dark spot on your skin may be something else entirely, which is why you should get your skin checked out for abnormalities once a year.

Final thoughts

If you’re still looking for a skincare product for your boxcar scars, most skincare companies won’t tell you this truth: physical scars can be difficult to heal without professional treatments. A strong retinoid can—at most—smooth indentations but won’t resolve them. Your best course of action is to consult a medical professional who can administer fillers, lasers or peels that deliver results skincare alone simply can’t.

If you’re dealing with Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation or Post Inflammatory Erythema, the right skincare can go a long way to help fade acne scars. If you’re looking for help selecting the right products, we can help. We created a simple quiz and a smart algorithm to match you with the best ingredients for your individual needs.

To get started with routine built around you, create a skin profile at and we’ll take care of the rest.

For more tips on how to take better care of acne-prone skin, check out our posts on how to wash your face (you’re probably doing it wrong), how to avoid ingredients that clog pores, and how your pillow may be making your breakouts worse.

Team Kura