Residents’ Corner

Postinflammatory Hyperpigmentation in Patients With Skin of Color

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Chemical Peels

Chemical peels have been used for a number of years, though their benefits in patients with skin of color is still being elucidated. The ideal chemical peels for Fitzpatrick skin types IV through VI are superficial to medium-depth peeling agents and techniques.14 Glycolic acid is a naturally occurring α-hydroxy acid that causes an increase in collagen synthesis, stimulates epidermolysis, and disperses basal layer melanin. Neutralization of glycolic acid peels can be done with the use of water, sodium bicarbonate, or sodium hydroxide to avoid unnecessary epidermal damage. Multiple clinical trials have been conducted to determine the response of glycolic acid peels in clearing PIH in patients with skin of color. Kessler et al15 compared glycolic acid 30% to salicylic acid 30% in 20 patients with mild to moderate acne and associated PIH. Chemical peels were performed every 2 weeks for 12 weeks. The study showed that salicylic acid was better tolerated than glycolic acid and both were equally effective after the second application (P<.05) for PIH.15 Finally, another study conducted for PIH in patients with Fitzpatrick skin types III and IV utilized glycolic acid peels with 20%, 35%, and 70% concentrations. The results showed overall improvement of PIH and acne from the use of all concentrations of glycolic peels, though faster efficacy was noted at higher concentrations.16

Other self-neutralizing peeling agents include salicylic acid and Jessner solution. Salicylic acid is a β-hydroxy acid that works through keratolysis and disrupting intercellular linkages. Jessner solution is a combination of resorcinol 14%, lactic acid 14%, and salicylic acid 14% in an alcohol base. Salicylic acid is well-tolerated in patients with Fitzpatrick skin types I through VI and has been helpful in treating acne, rosacea, melasma, hyperpigmentation, texturally rough skin, and mild photoaging. Jessner peeling solution has been used for a number of years and works as a keratolytic agent causing intercellular and intracellular edema, and due to its self-neutralizing agent, it is fairly superficial.17 Overall, superficial peeling agents should be used on patients with darker skin types to avoid the risk for worsening dyspigmentation, keloid formation, or deep scarring.18


These treatments are only some of the topical and chemical modalities for PIH in patients with skin of color. The patient history, evaluation, skin type, and underlying medical problems should be considered prior to using any topical or peeling agent. Lastly, photoprotection should be heavily emphasized with both sun protective gear and use of broad-spectrum sunscreens with a high sun protection factor, as UV radiation can cause darkening of PIH areas regardless of skin type and can reverse the progress made by a given therapy.18


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