Black skin care is a subject that many African American women want to know more about. Having spent years in the skin care industry, I have received many enquiries from African American women.
And these curious enquires are easily justifiable. African Americans have naturally darker skin that reacts differently when compared to fairer tones of skin. There are several advantages and disadvantages that come with having naturally dark skin.
Firstly, let’s examine some of the positive attributes of naturally dark skin. African American skin is dark due to a higher level of melanin in the skin. Melanin protects the skin from damage. This gives African American skin an inherently stronger defense against sun damage. Sun damage can accelerate or exacerbate signs of aging. Since African Americans have stronger protection against sun damage, they age more gracefully and are less likely to show severe signs of aging through the quality of their skin.
Unfortunately, people with naturally dark skin also have a unique set of challenges to deal with. Naturally dark skin is more likely to form long-lasting scars. This attribute becomes a nasty issue to content with, especially when skin becomes red or inflamed. So try to avoid any blemishes as they may leave a shadow that is difficult to get rid of.
African American skin also loses its elasticity easily. This problem becomes readily apparent when African Americans lose or gain weight suddenly. This can result in unsightly stretch marks that are difficult to remove.
Due to the unforgiving attributes of naturally dark skin, preventive care is of utmost importance. Should preventive care be neglected, the ensuing marks left on the skin will be difficult to remove.
The fact is that any type of skin condition can happen regardless of the pigment of skin you have. When it comes to African American skin care and others with darker complexions however, there are a few skin care problems that are much more prevalent.
African American Woman Skin Care Guide
5 Skin Care Issues
Here are five of the most common African American skin care issues.
Acne is a chronic disorder characterized by excess production of oil from sebaceous glands causing the hair follicles generally on the face, chest and back to become plugged. Pimples, papules, pustules and comedone, (black heads and white heads) cysts and infected abscesses can be treated in acne. Acne affects most teenagers to some extent. However, the disease is not restricted to any age group; adults in their 20s – even into their 40s – can get acne. In regards to African American skin care, acne may result in long lasting discolorations of the skin. Therapy is the same for all skin types but it is very important to use topical agents that minimize irritation of the skin.
Ingrown Hairs of the Beard (Razor Bumps)
Another African American skin care issue is Ingrown Hairs. African Americans have curved hair shafts and this is true of beard hair as well as other body hair. Often after a very close shave, the pointed hair may curl back into the skin and it may pierce the wall of the hair follicle, causing a reaction resulting in bumps called “pseudofolliculitis barbae.” If you can, growing a beard is a viable option for helping this.
African American men should try different methods of hair removal if they suffer with ingrown hairs, which are also called razor bumps. Shaving with a special type of safety razor that does not permit a very close shave may help. Do not stretch the skin during shaving and don’t shave on a daily basis. If hairs become ingrown, lift them up with an alcohol-cleaned needle (don’t tweeze or pluck) just before shaving. Sometimes using a rough washcloth before shaving can help to loosen hairs about to grow inward.
Hair removal chemicals do remove hair but should only be used once a week. They must be wiped off promptly according to package directions and wash your face twice with soap and water immediately afterwards to guard against irritation.
Permanent removal of hair performed by an experienced Electrolysis Operator may be an effective solution and there are new medicated creams that may slow hair growth and help. Be sure to consult your dermatologist about treatment options.
Variations in Skin Color
African American skin has larger melanosomes (cells that determine skin color ) and the melanosomes contain more of the pigment melanin than those found in white skin. Because of the protective effect of melanin, African-Americans are better protected against skin cancer and premature wrinkling from sun exposure.
Post inflammatory hyper pigmentation is quite common in dark skinned individuals, even after minor trauma. An area of the skin may darken after an injury such as a cut or a scrape, or after certain skin disorders such as acne. To avoid or reduce post inflammatory hyper pigmentation, avoid picking, harsh scrubbing, and abrasive treatments. Darkened areas of skin may take many months or years to fade, although topical (surface) bleaching agents may help. Also chemical peels (using alpha and beta hydroxyl acids) and microdermabrasion can be helpful.”
Vitiligo is a common African American skin care condition where pigment cells are destroyed and irregular white patches on the skin appear. Many dermatologists think that the cause of this common disorder is an autoimmune process, where the cells of the body attack the pigment producing cells.
The extent of color loss differs with each person; some people lose pigment over their entire bodies. Some patients with vitiligo do not regain skin color, however some cases of vitiligo do repigment. See your dermatologist as soon as possible, as the extent of the disease will determine the appropriate treatment. .
Several skin care methods are used to treat vitiligo, but none have been perfected. Topical medications, including corticosteroids and new non-steroid anti-inflammatory preparations are commonly used. In cases where vitiligo affects most of the body, it is sometimes best to destroy the remaining normal pigment. A dermatologist can determine what treatment is best based on the extent of the disease.
When the scar from a cut or wound extends and spreads beyond the size of the original wound, it is known as a keloid. Keloids may vary in size, shape, and location. They occur more often in brown or black skin making this a very common African American skin care issue.
Keloids are a common skin care issue on the ear lobes, neck, chest, or back, and usually occur after an injury or surgery. Occasionally they occur spontaneously, especially on the mid-chest area. Keloids often follow inflammation caused by acne on the face, chest, and back.
Keloids may be painful both physically and emotionally (from a cosmetic perspective), but it’s important to address keloids primarily as a medical, rather than cosmetic condition.
Depending on the location of the keloid, skin care treatment may consist of cortisone injections, pressure, silicone gels, surgery, laser treatment, or radiation therapy. Unfortunately, keloids tend to return and even enlarge, especially after treatment with surgery.
Salicylic Acid to Treat African American Skin
Salicylic acid is a gentle betahydroxy acid that is used to treat acne and deliver superficial chemical peels. Skin treatments can be hard on your skin, especially if you’re African-American. That’s because darkly pigmented skin contains more melanin, the substance responsible for giving skin its color. The more melanin your skin has, the more vulnerable it is to injury.
Uses of Salicylic Acid
Salicylic isn’t just a chemical peeling agent. It has anti-inflammatory properties, and has long been successfully used to treat acne. Salicylic acid removes dead skin cells from the surface of the skin and clear pores. As a chemical peeling agent, it can improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and leave skin fresher, brighter and firmer.
Risks of Using Chemical Peels on African-American Skin
Because African-American skin is darkly pigmented, it’s more susceptible to injury. While any skin peel carries risks, these risks are higher if you have dark skin. The risks of using salicylic acid on darkly pigmented skin types include:
- Hypopigmentation, or lightening of the skin
- Demarcation lines
- The deeper the chemical peel, the higher the risk. That’s why dermatologists recommend that African-Americans, and others with dark skin types, stick to using only mild skin peels.
How Safe is Salicylic Acid on African-American Skin
While salicylic isn’t the only peeling agent that can be safely used on darker skin, it is one of the gentlest. You don’t really need to worry about over-the-counter acne products, since they contain very low concentrations of salicylic acid. (If you are pregnant or have an aspirin sensitivity, however, avoid salicylic acid products altogether). If you are using a prescription salicylic acid product to treat acne, talk to your dermatologist about your concerns before you use the product.
Benefits from Chemical Peel
If you’re African-American, you can still benefit from a chemical peel. You may want to have your peel done in-office. That way, you’ll be under the care of a qualified dermatologist who knows exactly what to do.
Home chemical peels, while risky for everyone, are riskier for those with dark skin. If you’d like to try a home chemical peel, talk to your dermatologist first, and follow the instructions carefully. Remember to always perform a test patch, in which you dab the acid in an inconspicuous place, such as behind the ear, to see how it will affect your skin. Wait 24 to 48 hours for any pigmentation changes or skin injury to manifest. If the skin of the test patch appears normal after 48 hours, you may proceed with the home chemical peel.
If you have darker skin, don’t use a strong peel solution. Dermatologists recommend using a light salicylic acid peel of no more than 20% strength. As with any mild skin peel, you’ll need a series of peels to get the results you want. Mild peels can be repeated at every three to four weeks until you’re satisfied with the results.
Since salicylic acid can dry skin, you may need to moisturize more thoroughly while your skin recovers from the peel. Your skin should recover in about 24 hours. You should also wear a sunblock with an SPF of 30 on the treated area. Salicylic acid can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, and increase your risk of skin cancer.