The color of our skin is hereditary. It is part of our genetic make-up and determined by the amount of the melanin in our skin. Having different skin tones is what makes everyone uniquely beautiful. It would be quite boring if we were all the same color. We ALL know that, regardless of our skin color, we should be taking care of our skin. Did you know skin type matters when it comes to the products you should be using on your skin? I treat men and women of every ethnicity and skin color in practice. In this blog I will highlight some of the distinctions of skin of color as well as which products and treatments I find are most effective.
The Fitzpatrick Scale
In my practice, I use what’s known as the Fitzpatrick Skin Scale. This is to categorize levels of melanin and how the skin responds when exposed to sunlight. This scale is just a basis to get the process started. The scale starts at 1 (for very light skin that always burns – never tans) and goes up to 6 (the deepest level of melanin-rich skin which naturally provides more built-in sun protection – although you still need sunscreen). Skin of “color” typically refers to those within the 3-6 range, but it’s not as simple as putting a number on a skin tone given there are varying skin tones within different populations, cultures, and demographic areas. For example, did you know that when it comes to skincare and skin treatments, Asian skin should be treated similar to the darkest of skin types due to the way their skin responds to sunlight and heat? Asian skin type is known as an olive skin tone.
It is anticipated that, by the year 2050, people with skin of color will constitute at least 50% of the U.S. population. These individuals already make up the majority of the global population and include those of Asian, East Indian, Malaysian, African, African American, Native American, and Hispanic descent. It is important to understand that darker skin types require different treatment protocols than lighter skin types. Knowledge is power, and the more you know about safe and effective skincare and treatments, the faster we can get you to your goal skin.
Hyperpigmentation is when the skin color is darker than normal and happens with an excess of melanin in the body. Those with darker skin are more prone to hyperpigmentation that may be caused by a variety of contributing factors, such as hormones, skin injury, acne, sun damage, and even the routine buildup of dead skin cells. All of these problems can lead to variances of uneven skin tone, ashen skin, darkening of skin, and specific types of stubborn marks/masks.
There are many products that can help prevent and resolve these symptoms but not necessarily cure them. In particular, kojic acid & retinol stand out for their ability to target this concern in darker skin, as well as lighter skin complexions. The ingredients you should look for are concentrated vitamin C, arbutin, retinol, niacinamide, and tranexamic acid because they have research to back up their skin-brightening and tone-evening capabilities. It’s helpful to use more than one of these superstar ingredients, as a synergistic and multi-faceted approach. These work in different ways to target some of the same concerns.
Sun Protection for Skin of Color
While melanin-rich skin naturally offers more of a built-in protection from sun damage than lighter skin, that does not mean sunscreen is optional. Darker and deeper skin tones are at risk for the same damaging effects of sun exposure as those with lighter skin tones, including increased fine lines and wrinkles, it’s just that it may take a little longer to show up. Applying sunscreen 365 days a year, rain or shine, is essential for everyone. The trick for deeper skin tones is finding a sunscreen that provides good protection without leaving a skin-dulling cast. For that, I highly recommend a mineral sunscreen with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, such as the Elta MD brand. Regardless of how light or dark your skin color is, sunscreen is essential to ensure the uneven tone doesn’t get worse. Even the best ingredients won’t be able to tackle the issue if you’re not protecting skin from ongoing UV exposure with SPF.
Pro Tip: Use a tinted version of SPF for a little bit of extra glow! The tint is universal and honestly blends in and gives glow to the lightest of light and the darkest of dark skin tones. In fact, the iron oxide pigments often used to tint mineral sunscreens provide an extra measure of environmental protection, which is crucial for anyone dealing with skin discolorations.
Certain ethnicities are more prone to dark undereye circles. Unfortunately, this is a particularly challenging issue to completely resolve because it is often genetic and goes beyond the reality of what topical skin care products can address. Skincare – especially SPF – can help minimize and reduce pigment, but in some darker skin types, the skin will always remain a few shades darker.
Skincare and, in particular, eye cream, is going to hydrate, plump, and anti-age the skin. However, true undereye hollowness is an anatomical issue that can sometimes be corrected with fillers. Read more about ways to treat the undereye here: Say Goodbye to Aging Eyes. If the dark circles have deepened in color due to UV exposure, the same types of tone-improving ingredients mentioned above can help.
Acne + Texture
When it comes to acne and skin texture, I do find that darker skin tones can react differently to breakouts and are much more likely to leave behind PIH (post inflammatory hyperpigmentation). My go to product is Retinol because of its ability to reduce texture, especially in more oily skin types. For treating PIH, we should refer back to my protocols listed in the Hyperpigmentation section of the blog.
Hydration is Key! Keeping the skin’s lipid barrier intact is so important. Darker skin types naturally contain lower levels of ceramides and therefore, are more likely to be dry. Darker skin types will often take on an ashy appearance when not well hydrated. When skin lacks natural hydration, skincare can help bridge that gap by replenishing those substances. Moisturizers & serums that are packed with antioxidants and skin-replenishing ingredients help keep the skin healthy by preventing water loss and keeping water retention healthy. I love HydraLipid Moisturizer as a great solution to directly hydrate, soften, and smooth skin. By using a blend of non-fragrant ceramides, fatty acids, and cholesterol it can help your skin find its natural balance. For a nice hydrating serum, I love our HA Peptide Serum. I like to apply it in the morning, brush my teeth or do my hair (giving it time to soak in), and then apply Elta on top of that. It sucks into the skin like a big drink of water and is hydrating, skin plumping, and anti-aging. You can also use this in the PM by itself on nights when you would like more moisturization.
Top Products for Dark Skin
One of my top recommended products for dark skin is our Lux Cream. This product is very effective due to the TCA it contains and people start to see a difference in just 2 weeks. TCA is Trichloroacetic Acid which helps with reducing pores and texture and is also 7-8x stronger than any other hydroxy acid – high exfoliation. The Lux Cream has 5 brighteners that help even out skin tone and is also a great cream to use for prevention & maintenance once your skin is in optimal shape. This is the one product that has everything you need for corrective ingredients: Antioxidants, Hydroxy Acid, Retinol, and Brighteners for pigment control.
If you are suffering from major pigment issues, I still love my Koji-C Pads, but using the two products together can really give your skin that 1-2 punch.
Some of my other favorite products include:
Lumify Pads (once a week tightening treatment)
Radiant Vitamin C Serum (overall skin health)
Retinol (for improving texture)
Lux Cream (one cream does it all!)
HydraLipid Moisturizer (moisturizer)
Koji-C Pads (for pigment or melasma issues)
Example Of A Skin Protocol:
This is an example of a recommended protocol for darker skin. As you may know, skincare is definitely not a one size fits all so if you want it tailored more to your specific skin I would love to work with you virtually. You can fill out a form on my site and I will customize a plan just for you based on your specific skin type and needs
Morning: Cleanser + Vitamin C + Moisturizer + SPF
Evening: Cleanser + Lux Cream
*If you are using Koji-C Pads to correct pigment: do it in PM on same night as Lux Cream. Pad first, then cream.
*For a booster to your plan: 1-3x per week use Lumify Weekly Pads
*For an aggressive night treatment: Lux Cream + Retinol
*If your skin gets too dry, take a night off and use moisturizer. Make sure to read this blog about adjusting to medical grade skin care. There is lots to watch for in the beginning and listening to your skin is super important.
Switching Skin Care
Changing up your skin care routine can be very daunting but if you have the right education and products it can make a world of a difference. I love educating everyone whether you are my client or not and I believe there is not enough good information being taught on medical skin care. Skin care is so important and no one is omitted. If you are struggling to find the correct skin care for your ethnicity, and skin tone please reach out. No one should feel they have to fumble their way through trying to figure out what works best!