Skin care isn’t one-size-fits-all. Many things factor into whether a product will work for you, from formulation to skin type and even skin tone. If you have darker skin, you may have received questionable advice about how to treat your skin, from skipping sunscreen (don’t) to treating scarring and pigmentation.
To clear things up, we spoke with three board-certified dermatologists who broke down some of the most common skin care concerns they see with darker skin and recommended some of their favorite products for handling each one. Read on to see their expert advice and recommendations.
Hyperpigmentation And Discoloration
Dermatologist DiAnne Davis of North Dallas Dermatology Associates told HuffPost that hyperpigmentation, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and discoloration are some of the biggest concerns of patients with darker skin. She said one of the most coveted goals for those patients is to achieve an even skin tone, “thus I see this concern very often.”
Hyperpigmentation is a general term used to describe darker patches of skin on the face and body caused by increased melanin. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation can be caused by acne and is often confused with acne scarring, which results in textured skin with a raised or indented texture. “When people of color get a pimple, melanocytes rev up and produce more melanin,” said dermatologist Mona Gohara of Dermatology Physicians of Connecticut. “As a result, when the lesion fades, the skin gets darker. The same phenomenon applies for cuts, bruises and resolving rashes.”
To treat discoloration and hyperpigmentation, Davis says, “I always start with recommending a sunscreen because over time, the sun can cause discoloration in any skin tone. I always also try to address what is the root cause of the pigmentation, whether it’s acne, eczema, melasma, etc., because if we are trying to correct pigment we must make sure that we are addressing the primary cause.” She recommends a few affordable favorites you can grab at the drugstore, as well as dermatologist staples.
“Once addressing the medical condition (if applicable), then I may either recommend topical retinoids, or other pigment correctors (such as kojic acid, tranexamic acid, etc.), or chemical peels or even lasers,” Davis explained. “I usually recommend prescription-strength retinoids because I feel that they are the most effective.” Kojic acid is an ingredient that’s naturally produced and derived from certain fungi, and it helps brighten skin. Another acid she prefers, tranexamic acid, can also help brighten skin and is derived synthetically.
If you’re new to retinoids and have heard mixed reviews about these powerful vitamin A derivatives, here’s what you should know: They’re helpful for anti-aging, acne and fading dark spots. We know it almost sounds too good to be true. The downside? Davis explains, “Prescription-strength retinoids can sometimes be a little bit more irritating so I will recommend some over-the-counter options for my patients that include:”
Melasma is a type of skin darkening that affects individuals of African, Latin, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean descent. “Patients with melasma notice brown or gray-brown patches on the cheeks, bridge of nose, forehead, chin or upper lip,” Gohara explained. “Although the exact cause is unknown, it is thought that pregnancy, birth control pills (or other hormone therapies) and some medications, together with sun exposure, may trigger this disease.” She went on to explain that melasma can also be triggered by blue light from computer screens and cellphones, and indoor light bulbs as well. Her recommendations for dealing with the condition is to use an SPF of 30 or higher, as well as products that feature blue light protection.
goodhabit Rescue Me Rest + Reset Mask & Moisturizer, $48 (combats blue light exposure)
Let’s Talk Some More About Sun Protection
We’re back to sun protection because no matter what you’ve heard, sunscreen is essential for all skin tones. Along with preventing skin cancer, proper sun protection can protect skin from premature aging and darkening hyperpigmentation.
People with darker skin can get sunburned, as well. “Darker skinned people experience sunburn less frequently due to increased melanin, which affords them a baseline protection of about 13-15 SPF, however our melanin is not all protective and sunburns do occur with prolonged exposure,” dermatologist Adeline Kikam explained. “In darker skin types, the redness may be less noticeable or appear more purplish than red. Some people may not even realize that they are having a sunburn, which stops them from getting out of the sun, leading to further damage.”
So how do you recognize sunburn in darker skin tones? Kikam explained: “Signs that should clue darker skinned folks about sunburn include: increased warmth to skin, pain and tenderness, tightness to skin, sensitivity to touch, tiny bumps or a rash. In severe cases, swelling and blistering. Peeling days later after the sun exposure should also tip you to a sunburn.”
Experts recommend using about 2 teaspoons of sunscreen for your face, head and arms and reapplying throughout the day.
“A common concern in people with darker skin is scarring, especially keloid scars. Skin of color is more prone to keloid scars due to increased fibroblast reactivity,” Kikam explained. “Fibroblasts are important in wound healing, but overactivity can lead to abnormal scar formation such as with keloid scars, especially with conditions such as acne, post surgical procedures, burns and other injury to skin.”
Keloid scarring can look like raised scarring on the skin that may have some discoloration, redness or irritation. Kikam has a few recommendations for dealing with keloid scarring. If you can make an appointment with your dermatologist, she suggests intralesional steroid injections. For over-the-counter treatment, she likes topical retinoids like Differin (is there anything retinoids can’t do?) and silicone gel sheets formulated to treat scarring. These can help ease the redness and discomfort and improve appearance.
When in doubt, always visit your dermatologist to get a diagnosis and recommended course of action.