During my time as an esthetician, I have had the pleasure of working primarily with Black and brown folks looking for a safe space and answers to their longstanding skincare concerns. Although, regularly receiving skincare services is still largely outside of our cultural norms, Black folks do indeed buy skincare en masse contrary to what many beauty conglomerates like to argue. I’m quick to push against the concept that darker skin requires special formulas — however, developing my clientele has revealed some of the unique ways our community engages with skincare and beauty altogether. Many of these habits need to be put to bed while others highlight how culture, skin science, and lived experience have the power to drive distinct trends that challenge industry norms.
Hyperpigmentation is Enemy #1
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne is the most common skin concern in the U.S. and, surprisingly, 2021 data recently revealed Gen Z is most concerned with wrinkles and eyebags above all else. Despite these insights, the results aren’t quite the same amongst darker-skinned beauty consumers. The vast majority of my clients are concerned with hyperpigmentation on the face and body, rather than acne itself, which has influenced the product landscape. The recent surge in dark spot treatments marketed toward Black and brown buyers is unmistakable.
Having numerous options to fit various budgets, skin types, and routines is encouraging, but too much choice can quickly lead to product overload. Though tempting, avoid scooping up every dark spot solution in the heat of the moment. Hyperpigmentation treatments typically use active ingredients that, when used too frequently or in too high of a concentration (think, layering multiple products), can lead to new issues like irritation, burning, and increased breakouts. Stick to exfoliating 2-3x per week and wear your SPF!
BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner
Glory Own Your Tone Dark Spot Overnight Treatment
Hero Cosmetics Lightning Wand The Brightening Serum
EADEM Milk Marvel Dark Spot Serum
Aging Routines Are, Maybe Unfairly, On The Back Burner
Although melanin is not an effective form of daily sunscreen on its own (see sunscreen myths next), melanin does offer more protection against aging caused by sun exposure. This means darker skin visibly ages more slowly. Consequently, products and cosmetic treatments that highlight anti-aging benefits are less likely to catch our attention.
While it can be assuring to operate under the mantra that “Black don’t crack,” the best treatment against the inevitable signs of aging is prevention. Practicing good skincare habits like daily sunscreen, using retinol, and strengthening the skin’s outermost layer with hydrating and moisturizing ingredients can make a big difference down the line. My philosophy? Stay ready so you never have to get ready.
KLUR Stellar Restoration Multivitamin + Retinol Nightly Repair
Rose MD Retexturizing Retinol Booster
Epi.logic Master Plan Collagen Renew Growth Factor Serum
We Still Have to Talk About Sunscreen
As sure as I am that many of you are fatigued from the sunscreen debate, we have to keep having it. The typical arguments for wearing sunscreen don’t translate to a minority audience. Sunscreen has not been proven to protect against the type of skin cancers more commonly found in darker skin tones and we’ve just learned that fear of aging is a flimsy skincare incentive. But what sunscreen will move the needle on is hyperpigmentation and acne. Frankly, without proper SPF usage, I can go as far as to say that you won’t see the drastic improvement you’re ultimately looking for.
Sun exposure causes inflammation that keeps your melanin-making cells in hyperdrive and exacerbates angry breakouts. Additionally, ingredients that help lift and heal blemishes and dark spots can make skin more sensitive to sunlight, increasing the risk of irritation. It’s a dangerous cycle that can be easily broken by making sunscreen a part of your morning skincare routine.
For those who are already avid sunscreen wearers, I’ve also noticed a growing interest amongst my clients for mineral sunscreens that don’t leave a white cast. As debates over the safety profile of popular sunscreen filters continue, mineral sunscreens are making a comeback. SPF products for darker skin are a tough nut to crack, but tinted options are my personal favorite trick for skirting around the dreaded ghost-face effect.
Unsun Mineral Tinted Sunscreen
Everyday Humans Resting Beach Face
Melē NO SHADE Sunscreen Oil SPF 30 Broad Spectrum
Bar Soaps Aren’t Going Anywhere
One thing’s for sure and two things are for certain — Black folks love them some bar soap! When taking stock of the indie brands and product types that do numbers amongst Black beauty buyers, bar soap shows out time and time again. There’s a cultural understanding in many Black, Caribbean, and Latinx households that you’re not truly clean unless you’ve used a bar of soap. This has carried on to the point where many clients are more than reluctant to stray from what they know regardless of its effects on their skin.
I get it. Soap is accessible, easy to use, and better for the environment. So instead of prying it from your hands, let’s do bar soap right:
If you’re buying African Black Soap, make sure it’s authentic. Contrary to popular belief, African Black Soap is neither black nor is it hard like the bar soaps we’re used to. True black soap is typically softer and dark brown due to the natural materials that are dried, roasted, and combined to create it.
Syndet bars look like soap but are created through a different process that is gentler on skin. Traditional soaps have a pH much higher than skin’s natural level and lead to dryness or the “squeaky clean” feeling incorrectly associated with a good cleanse. If you MUST use soap on your face, reach for a syndet bar instead like Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar.
And if all else fails, follow your bar soap up with plenty of hydrating and protective ingredients that will help return the skin to its resting pH and replenish what’s been stripped away.
54 Thrones Alata Samina Black Soap Detox Bar
Nola Skinsentials Passion Fruit Hyperpigmentation Soap
No, You (Likely) Don’t Have Oily Skin
Somewhere down the line, Big Beauty convinced everyone they had oily skin. This is something I find particularly common amongst my darker-skinned clients. In reality, studies have shown that Black subjects had lower levels of natural components that keep skin moisturized. So why are we all constantly blotting, clay-masking, and acne-washing?
Drying out the skin in an attempt to treat acne or reduce shine can cause a kickback reaction where the skin overproduces oil to compensate. If you’re the type who never used moisturizer because you think you have oily skin, try out a hydrating serum and a light gel moisturizer for a few weeks to finally discern if you’re actually oily or just dehydrated.
Of course, some of us do in fact have oily skin. In that case, you still need to use moisturizer!
Buttah. Oil-Free Gel-Cream Moisturizer
Rosen Skincare Rose Water Face Dew
Delish Condish Pep Rally Super Serum