Let’s talk about easily accessible, inexpensive, at home treatments for Post-Inflammatory Erythema (PIE), such as good old Vaseline! For those suffering from the aftermath of inflammatory acne, here are a number of topical treatments you can try to help fade PIE faster.
To learn about what PIE is and answers to commonly asked questions regarding PIE, click here.
Now that you have an idea of what PIE is, here are some of the ways to treat it at home, without expensive treatments:
Vaseline For PIE
Have you ever heard of “slugging”? It’s a term primarily used by Reddit users. It involves slathering your face in a thin layer of Vaseline or other thick cream after your nighttime skincare routine is complete. Petroleum jelly, the ingredient in Vaseline, is called an occlusive. An occlusive is a type of product or ingredient that forms a barrier on the skin, which reduces transepidermal water loss (TEWL) ( 1), otherwise known as the loss of water from the skin.
The amount of water in the skin is a factor that influences the health of the skin, including how smooth it is and its ability to prevent dryness (1). When the water content in the skin is reduced, the skin becomes weaker. This can lead to an increase in scarring, redness, and irritation in the skin, as its protective barrier is compromised.
So… Can Vaseline be used to treat post-inflammatory erythema? With PIE, the tissue in the skin has experienced trauma and has undergone a series of inflammatory events. In addition, people who experience PIE are usually incorporating an acne treatment into their routine, which can lead to dry or even dehydrated skin. Adding an occlusive, such as Vaseline, as the last step in your skincare routine can lock in the moisture you need to heal your skin faster and help fade PIE, simply by maintaining the health of your skin.
In order to do this, after you complete your nighttime skincare routine, wait a few minutes for your products to sink in. Then, apply a thin layer of Vaseline all over the face. It is best to do this at night since it’s not very practical or comfortable to do this during the day.
Niacinamide is a type of B vitamin that is well-tolerated when used in skincare products. It exhibits antimicrobial and lightening effects ( 2 ) . It is especially great for reducing redness in the skin. It works by inhibiting an enzyme known as nuclear poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP). This enzyme is activated when DNA is damaged. Unfortunately, when this enzyme is overactive, it actually worsens cell damage (3). The use of niacinamide interferes with the activation of this enzyme, thus reducing cell damage. It is thought that niacinamide can be used to protect the skin from UV radiation, a common factor in DNA damage.
Niacinamide has been shown to sufficiently penetrate the stratum corneum, otherwise known as the outer layer of the skin. This is important, as it shows that niacinamide can actually upregulate certain processes in the skin (4). With topical application of this ingredient, niacinamide has been shown to promote an increase in ceramides. Ceramides are lipids that help the skin stay moisturized. An increase in ceramides and other lipids directly contribute to the function of the epidermal barrier. Use of niacinamide strengthens the skin’s ability to fight against environmental stressors, prevents skin irritation, and equips the skin to be able to handle cleansers or drying acne treatments (4). In turn, this reduces redness and increases the overall health of the skin, thus helping PIE to fade faster.
Did you know that humans are unable to make vitamin C on their own? We are missing a key enzyme to facilitate this process. Therefore, oral supplementation through food is necessary. However, very low levels of Vitamin C can be found in the skin, regardless of how much it is supplemented. We must externally apply vitamin C to the skin to notice the benefits of this wonderful vitamin (5). The most studied form of vitamin C in cosmeceutics is L-ascorbic acid. It is relatively unstable, so it is imperative that this form of vitamin C is formulated with a low pH, and paired with ingredients such as ferulic acid to make it more stable.
Topical application of vitamin C has been shown to have anti-aging effects, and may help with pigmentation in the skin (5). It can protect the skin against photoaging. When the sun’s UV rays come into contact with the skin, they damage the cells and produce reactive chemical molecules known as Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). These encourage proteins to be formed that degrade collagen. Vitamin C has been shown to reduce these proteins, thus exhibiting an anti-aging effect, by helping to prevent collagen from being degraded. In addition, vitamin C has been shown to inhibit the mechanism of action of the enzyme tyrosinase, which plays an important role in melanin (brown or black pigment) formation (5).
As a potent antioxidant, anti-aging effects, and its ability to protect the skin against UV damage and reduce pigmentation in the skin, vitamin C is a great ingredient to use to fight against PIE. It supports the overall health of the skin, and prevents skin from becoming red and irritated in the face of UV rays.
You should look for a concentration of vitamin C above 8% in topical formulations. Concentrations greater than 20% may cause irritation in the skin. The preferred form of vitamin C should be L-ascorbic acid. Ensure it is paired with ferulic acid for best stability. Other forms include magnesium ascorbyl phosphate and ascorbyl-6-palmitate (5). However, although these vitamin C forms are more stable, some studies have shown that they do not increase L-ascorbic acid levels in the skin, so may not be as effective in helping you with your skin goals.
Oh, sunscreen! Hands down, this is one of the most important skincare products that you need to add to your routine. Frequent exposure to the sun’s UV rays damages skin cells and promotes erythema, or the reddening of skin (6). Melanocytes (cells that form melanin) are then activated, which leads to tanning. Persistent, unprotected exposure to the sun leads to a reduction in skin elasticity. Not to mention, the sun’s harmful rays can lead to skin cancers. UVA rays are a form of ultraviolet light from the sun and have a wavelength of 320-400 nm. These rays deeply penetrate the skin and cause loss of elasticity as well as wrinkling of the skin.
There are two types of sunscreens on the market; organic and inorganic sunscreens. Organic sunscreens, otherwise known as “chemical” sunscreens contain ingredients such as octisalate and homosalate, and other filters such as avobenzone. Inorganic sunscreens, also known as “physical” sunscreens include titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. The difference? Chemical sunscreens absorb UV energy and convert it to heat in order to reduce its effects on the skin. Physical sunscreens scatter and reflect UV light from the surface of the skin – They effectively block the sun’s rays from getting into the deeper layers of your skin (6).
Sunscreen contributes to the overall health of the skin by reducing cell damage from UV rays, prevents aging, prevents the reduction of skin elasticity, reduces blotchiness on the face, and improves the overall skin colour tone and the number of spots on the skin (7). Therefore, it is an extremely important skincare addition to your routine, and will help protect your skin from further reddening and skin damage, thus providing a supportive environment for your PIE to heal.
To conclude, there are many topical products that can be used to promote visible, scientifically tested changes in your skin. While other options like lasers or microdermabrasion are certainly effective in fading PIE, at home treatments such as vaseline, niacinamide, vitamin C, and frequent sunscreen use can maintain the overall health of your skin and help your PIE fade for a third of the cost.
- Mizuno M, Kunimoto K, Naru E, Kameyama K, Furukawa F, Yamamoto Y. The effects of continuous application of sunscreen on photoaged skin in Japanese elderly people – the relationship with the usage. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2016 Apr 26;9:95-105. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S104392. PMID: 27217789; PMCID: PMC485300
- Wohlrab J, Kreft D. Niacinamide – mechanisms of action and its topical use in dermatology. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27(6):311-5. doi: 10.1159/000359974. Epub 2014 Jun 27. PMID: 24993939.
- Farkas B, Magyarlaki M, Csete B, Nemeth J, Rabloczky G, Bernath S, Literáti Nagy P, Sümegi B. Reduction of acute photodamage in skin by topical application of a novel PARP inhibitor. Biochem Pharmacol. 2002 Mar 1;63(5):921-32. doi: 10.1016/s0006-2952(01)00929-7. PMID: 11911844.
- Levin J, Momin SB. How much do we really know about our favorite cosmeceutical ingredients? J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2010 Feb;3(2):22-41. PMID: 20725560; PMCID: PMC2921764.
- Al-Niaimi F, Chiang NYZ. Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2017 Jul;10(7):14-17. Epub 2017 Jul 1. PMID: 29104718; PMCID: PMC5605218.
- Geoffrey K, Mwangi AN, Maru SM. Sunscreen products: Rationale for use, formulation development and regulatory considerations. Saudi Pharm J. 2019 Nov;27(7):1009-1018. doi: 10.1016/j.jsps.2019.08.003. Epub 2019 Aug 16. PMID: 31997908; PMCID: PMC6978633.
- Mizuno M, Kunimoto K, Naru E, Kameyama K, Furukawa F, Yamamoto Y. The effects of continuous application of sunscreen on photoaged skin in Japanese elderly people – the relationship with the usage. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2016 Apr 26;9:95-105. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S104392. PMID: 27217789; PMCID: PMC4853009.