In Ask a Dermatologist, Cosmetic, Skin Care

The way to a glowing complexion for individuals with skin of color requires tailored skincare approaches and expertise. All skin is different due to genetics, hormones, lifestyle and the environment. While no one’s skin will always be perfect, there are ways to make dark skin healthier, smoother, more hydrated, and more even-toned. 

People with skin of color have different skin care needs than lighter-skinned people. One reason is that darker skin contains more melanin, a pigment that gives skin, eyes and hair its color.

More melanin in the skin results in darker skin tone. It also offers greater protection against UV damage and sunburn, delaying signs of aging. Increased melanin also boosts the likelihood of hyperpigmentation. 

Common problems for dark skin

Hyperpigmentation affects people of all skin tones, but it is more prevalent in African Americans and other people with dark skin. Hyperpigmentation happens when the skin produces excess melanin, making patches of skin darker than the surrounding skin. It can occur from any skin injury, acne or inflammation of the skin. 

Acne on dark skin is challenging. For people with skin of color, acne causes the initial annoyance of the blemish, and it can leave behind spots of hyperpigmentation after the bumps are gone. Dermatologists recommend addressing acne quickly and aggressively for people of color to prevent the potential of residual dark spots. 

Ashiness is another common problem for dark-skinned individuals, especially during colder months. It occurs in all people but can be more noticeable on darker skin. Ashiness occurs when dead skin cells build up on the surface of the skin making it appear gray. 

7 tips for luminous skin of color

1. Cleanse your face twice a day with a gentle cleanser

Washing your face in the morning and evening cleans off excess dirt, oil and makeup that may cause acne or breakouts. What cleanser you choose for darker skin tones matters too. Avoid harsh soaps or abrasive scrubs that will strip your skin of natural oils. Instead, choose a gentle non-comedogenic cleanser that will not clog your pores. 

First, wet your face. Then massage the cleanser into your skin with clean fingertips or a soft washcloth for a minute or two. The gentle massage of your face will also increase blood flow and wake up your complexion. Rinse the cleanser off with warm water and pat the skin dry with a clean towel. 

2. Moisturize your skin twice a day with a non-comedogenic moisturizer

Darker skin seems to dry out faster than other skin tones, so prevent dry, ashy or flaky skin with a lightweight, non-greasy moisturizer. Apply the moisturizer immediately after you wash your face. This will help to seal in moisture, reduce ashiness and provide a natural-looking glow.

3. Use a broad-spectrum SPF every day

Protection from the sun is important for everyone to use every day. A broad-spectrum sun protection factor, or SPF, protects your skin from both UVA and UVB rays. It helps to prevent wrinkles, uneven skin tone and melasma. 

While people with darker skin tones do not burn easily, melanin-rich skin can still be damaged by the sun. Wear sunscreen to keep skin healthy by preventing sun damage, hyperpigmentation and dark spots.

If possible, choose a moisturizer with SPF included. The SPF should be between 30 and 50.  

4. Add some vitamin C

Vitamin C has been proven to lighten up brown spots (or pigment) and slow down the aging process for people with darker skin types. It also helps your sunscreen work more effectively, preventing hyperpigmentation. Vitamin C can improve your skin tone and texture by reducing skin redness and stimulating collagen.  

Vitamin C drops are somewhat effective, but it is best absorbed as part of a balanced diet.

5. Avoid picking at acne

Picking at acne can cause larger breakouts, scarring and hyperpigmentation in darker skin tones. Be aware that not all acne treatments work well on skin of color. Discuss your specific problems with a dermatologist at Columbia Skin Clinic. 

For dark skin tones, dermatologists recommend treating acne with skin care products that contain a retinoid, salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. 

Retinoids unclog pores, reduce inflammation and help to eliminate pimples. 

Salicylic acid exfoliates the skin, clears mild acne and prevents future breakouts. 

Benzoyl peroxide removes acne-causing bacteria from the skin. It does not lighten skin, but it can bleach clothes and sheets, so be careful when using this product.

If you have acne on only your forehead or temples, you may have pomade acne. The oil in hair products causes this acne. Switch to products that do not have oil as the main ingredient, but instead use water or glycerin. 

6. Develop healthy habits like eating well, staying hydrated, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep

Healthy skin starts from the inside out. Nutrition is a significant part of healthy skin for all skin tones. Choose a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats to give skin the nutrients it needs. Watch out for highly processed or sugary foods, which can cause breakouts. 

Glowing skin of color requires adequate and healthy hydration as well. Drink plenty of water and use a good moisturizer for a brighter and smoother skin tone.

Adequate sleep is highly important for a luminous complexion. Aim for 7 to 9 hours a night.

Moderate exercise of 30 minutes five times a week (150 minutes a week) has been proven to strengthen and tighten skin tone. Plan ways to stay active. 

7. Seek help from a dermatologist

Columbia Skin Clinic’s dermatologists and cosmetic and aesthetic experts have experience helping people with different skin tones. Our staff is well-versed in methods to help you achieve glowing, luminous skin.

Our offices can also assist with acne prevention and management, reducing dark spots or hyperpigmentation, melasma and more. 

Some of the services we offer include:

  • Microdermabrasion mechanically breaks up pigment, resurfaces the skin and removes dead cells, leaving the skin soft and smooth.
  • Chemical peels exfoliate the superficial layer of the skin, chemically breaking up skin pigments and improving skin tone.
  • Microneedling kickstarts the body’s natural collagen and elastin production with a minimally invasive treatment to improve texture and reduce pigmentation.

Discuss any plans for chemical peels, microdermabrasion or other treatments with your dermatologist. At-home versions of these treatments may cause permanent dark marks or light spots in skin of color.

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