The inclusion and consideration of brown skin tones across the beauty industry is a delayed but welcome change. The simple truth is that those with significant amounts of melanin in their skin face a very specific set of challenges while attempting to maintain an even-toned, blemish-free, brightened complexion. All-too-common roadblocks, including hyperpigmentation, cystic acne, or dry skin ailments such as eczema or psoriasis, mean we often have to create routines that may or may not set us up for success.
And we’re spending unnecessary amounts of money in the process of this trial and error to figure it all out. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the skin-care issues facing all black women. However, there is a core set of guidelines that may make the journey a little easier. Ahead, three experts share the game-changing advice that promises to make a notable difference.
Vitamin C Is Key
When your body needs a boost of gentle but effective energy in the morning, nothing satisfies quite like a glass of good old-fashioned orange juice. Vitamin C can have similar effects on your skin. According to Rachel Roff, medical aesthetician and founder of both Urban Skin Rx and Urban Skin Solutions, “topical vitamin C/ ascorbic acid regulates your melanin, meaning that if you get sun exposure or an injury to your skin, it is less likely to overproduce melanin as a response. Overproduction often leads to dark spots or hyperpigmentation.
For skin of color, a 10-percent ascorbic acid or stronger solution, such as the Super C Brightening Serum, is a must for staying even-toned.
How you apply your products is just as important as the products themselves. After all, if they aren’t distributed correctly, they can’t properly function and deliver the results you seek. To ensure that this happens every time, Roff recommends dispensing all of your skin-care products to the back of your hand and then smoothing onto the skin with your fingertips.
“Dispensing to the palm of your hand and then rubbing it on with your full hand wastes product because your palms are so dry and tend to quickly absorb product,” she says.
Cool It Down
Cystic acne, or the presence of large and painful breakouts, is one of the most tramautic skin disorders among black women. Although treatment truly depends on the individual’s specific body chemistry, there is a quick and safe method for treating the blemish and avoiding a dark spot.
“If you have a cystic pimple, hard nodule under the skin,” says Roff, “rub an ice cube on it three times a day for one to two minutes and take Advil every four to six hours to reduce inflammation and help it heal it faster.” After this, you should visit a dermatologist for more specific instruction and if necessary, a stronger medication.
Castor Oil Is King
Anyone with natural hair has probably experienced, or at least heard of, the benefits associated with Jamaican black castor oil. Experts typically cite it as a must-try all-natural product for stimulating hair growth in kinky, curly textures, but according to Lois Hines, cofounder and CEO of Tropic Isle Living, it can also be used to speedily heal sunburns. (Another myth worth debunking: Yes, black people sunburn, too.)
“Aloe vera and Jamaican black castor oil are perfect to help remedy sun damage on skin,” she says. “After being exposed to sun for long or short periods of time, take a cool shower to cool off the skin, and then apply Tropic Isle Living Aloe Vera JBCO to the desired areas.” JBCO can also be applied to the skin after a shave to prevent ingrown hairs and razor bumps.
Toner Regulates Oil
One of the biggest complaints made by fellow brown beauties is that their skin is sometimes so oily that wearing makeup over it feels downright scary. To combat this all-too-common struggle, Jamyla Bennu, mixtress and creator, Oyin Handmade, recommends getting familiar with a skin-clarifying toner.
There are tons of options available on store shelves that you should consult with an expert about before using. But if you’re comfortable with DIYing and have properly researched what does and doesn’t work for you, Bennu says to blend eight to ten aspirin dissolved in 8 ounces (1 cup) alcohol-free witch hazel or a mixture of 1/2 cup organic apple cider vinegar and 1/2 cup distilled/spring/filtered water.
“Aspirin contains salicylic acid, also known as beta-hydroxy acid. It helps clarify pores, exfoliate dead skin cells, and control oil—and is also an anti-inflammatory,” she says.
SPF, SPF, and More SPF
One of the biggest lies to ever be told amongst black women is that they do not need sunscreen. New York–based dermatologist Michelle Henry, MD, says that while the melanin in our skin is very protective, it is not perfect. Skin cancer in skin of color does have a lower incidence than in lighter skin types. However, our outcomes can be much worse, simply often because it’s usually diagnosed at a later stage, due to the lack of awareness.
“I recommend that black women of all shades use a moisturizer with SPF 30 on a daily basis—not just when planning to be in the sun,” she says. “One of my favorites is the CeraVe Ultra-Light Moisturizing Lotion with SPF 30. It blends in seamlessly with even the deepest skin tones and doesn’t leave behind a chalky film. You’ll be left with a moisturized, glowing, and well-protected complexion.”
Black Does Crack
While there is plenty of evidence that proves women of color age gracefully to the point of disbelief (hello, Angela Bassett!) and melanin is protective against accelerated photo-aging, our skin still loses elasticity, forms wrinkles, and becomes dull with time and poor maintenance just like everyone else’s.
“Commit to a basic antiaging regimen that includes a sunscreen, a retinol, an antioxidant, and a great moisturizer to keep your complexion luminous and youthful,” says Dr. Henry. And the earlier you start it, the more effective it will be over time.
Your Scalp Needs Love, Too
The beauty of kinky hair is its versatility. Unfortunately, this has also led to the assumption that it possesses superhuman strength. According to Dr. Henry, this is bona fide fake news that also applies to the skin, or scalp, underneath.
“To the contrary, kinky hair can be quite fragile and requires delicate care for growth. Invest in quality products that will help keep locks well hydrated and the scalp healthy,” she says. “Adopt a low-manipulation styling practice to avoid any unnecessary breakage. Treat hair gently and kindly!”
Don’t Skip Exfoliation
We’ve waxed poetic about the wonders of exfoliation for all skin tones and textures, but according to Los Angeles–based aesthetician Nai Roberts-Smith (also known as the LA Beautyologist), this is an especially important step for those with brown skin.
“The skin cells of deeper-toned skin are more densely packed than lighter skin. This means that the generally recommended ‘once per week exfoliation’ advice isn’t enough for brown skin,” she says. “Exfoliation two or three times per week will even skin tone, brighten complexion, shrink the look of pores, and treat acne.”
Facial Scrubs Are Harmful
Although facial scrubs can feel like they’re sloughing away makeup, dirt, and grime, Roberts-Smith says they can also be overly abrasive. This leads to micro-tears in the skin and increased inflammation, both of which are breeding grounds for hyperpigmentation.
“Those with more melanin in their skin have an increased sensitivity to inflammation,” she adds. “Alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids and fruit enzymes are much safer exfoliation options because they exfoliate at the cellular level.”