Adjusting your skincare routine to your skin type is significant to finding a workable routine: normal, oily, combination or dry. Likewise, it's similarly important to base it on your skin tone or color.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, for example, people with darker skin tones face a unique set of skincare needs.
- Without proper hydration, dry skin can look gray and ashy.
- Hyperpigmentation — the overproduction of melanin in the skin — can be caused by UV rays and is probably the most common concern for people of color.
- Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation — wherein healing skin overproduces melanin — can leave a dark scar where a blemish once lived.
Having said that, there is a slew of skincare products that can help promote healthier skin. To best protect, nourish and treat skin of color, we consulted doctors and experts on some of the best products to get you through your skincare routine.We sorted them through the six essential skincare ingredients experts recommended:
- SPF skincare for dark skin
- Retinol skincare for dark skin
- Skincare with hyaluronic acid
- Skin brighteners
- Skincare with antioxidants
- Vitamin C-infused skincare
Best SPF skincare for dark skin
Every single dermatologist we consulted emphasized the importance of using sunscreen to promote skin health. Sounds obvious, right? People with darker skin are often told they don’t need sunscreen, which is a deeply incorrect and potentially dangerous piece of advice.
“Daily SPF — at least 30 — is critical for prevention and treatment of hyperpigmentation, as well as for prevention of skin cancer,” Sara Perkins, MD, an assistant professor with the Department of Dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine, told NBC News. “This is an absolute must for all skin types, including skin of color.”
Perkins, who’s also the clinical advisor to Hims and Hers, considers EltaMD's SPF offerings her “top choice.”
This tinted, mineral sunscreen protects your skin from damaging UVA and UVB rays to prevent early signs of aging and burning.
Hyaluronic acid is the hero ingredient in this moisturizer that doubles as a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
For those prone to acne or hyperpigmentation, this sunscreen includes niacinamide (Vitamin B3), hyaluronic acid, and antioxidants — which we'll dive into below. Perkins gave an honorable mention to La Roche Posay Anthelios facial sunscreen, as well.
Jared Jagdeo, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and Ever/Body’s medical director, recommended SkinCeuticals’ take on SPF.
“This product is outstanding, blends in perfectly to any skin tone and never leaves that chalky look,” said Jagdeo, who added that what really makes for a great sunscreen is your desire to use it everyday.
This sunscreen is beloved by dermatologists because it was formulated to be fail-proof. “This specific sunscreen was studied in the real world and shown to be more effective in preventing sunburn as compared to sunscreens with lower SPF levels,” Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital's dermatology department, told NBC News.
Best retinol skincare for dark skin
Retinol is pretty much the gold standard when it comes to anti-aging skincare.
"This vitamin A derivative truly has clinically-proven anti-aging properties — but it can also help with pigmentation,” Perkins explained. “It's also very effective in the treatment of acne. These can be quite irritating so I recommend starting with the lower concentrations first.”
As with any skincare product, it comes down to how you use it, and when. Over-the-counter retinols are best used in the evening. Irritation and dryness are common side effects. Pairing a retinol product with a moisturizer can help avoid some of that, Perkins said. Or you can use a gentle retinol oil like MARA Evening Primrose Green Tea Algae Retinol Face Oil.
“This budget-friendly night treatment contains both alpha hydroxy acids, which help to unstick and exfoliate dulling, dead skin cells immediately, as well as retinol, which stimulates cell turnover and new collagen production over time,” Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, a dermatologist in Los Angeles, told NBC News. “Together, these help to reduce the appearance of fine lines with regular use over two to three months.”
The combo of retinol and hyaluronic acid is what makes this one a game-changer. “This retinoid serum visibly fills and reduces wrinkles, giving skin a smoother and more plumped appearance,” says Howard Sobel, MD, New York City dermatologist and founder of Sobel Skin.
Best skincare with hyaluronic acid
Another significant ingredient in skincare for most skin types is hyaluronic acid, “a natural sugar molecule that occurs in our body and helps to attract water, so it functions as a great moisturizer,” said Marisa Garshick, MD, a dermatologist at Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery in New York City.
“It keeps the skin looking fresh and hydrated," Garshick told NBC News.
“In darker skin tones, dryness frequently manifests as an ashy or grayish appearance of the skin,” dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, told NBC News. “Hyaluronic acid is a go-to ingredient to pump all skin types, and is particularly useful in those with darker skin. It acts like a sponge binding to 1000 times its weight in water.”
And let’s not forget dark skinned men who, yes, also need to take care of their skin. Jagdeo recommends the DefenAge Men's Kit, its key ingredients including a proprietary peptide blend, along with soothing niacinamide and hyaluronic acid, designed to help users achieve a smooth, well-hydrated and improved complexion.
He says it’s “ideal for the man who wants to look his best with an easy-to-use, all-in-one regimen,” adding that the “comprehensive kit addresses most skin concerns.”
Best skin brightening products
A lot of serums formulated to brighten skin also have the bonus effect of treating hyperpigmentation and dark spots.
Zeichner recommended Neutrogena’s Bright Boost Serum. “Pigmentary disorders are extremely common among patients with darker skin types,” he explained. “Turmeric extract has long been used in skin care because of its ability to brighten unwanted pigmentation and even skin tone.”
Bradley Bloom, MD, of Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York, recommended SkinMedica Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum. “It combines some of the most effective brightening ingredients, including niacinamide, in a non-irritating formula,” he said.
Jagdeo said he recommends SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense for one specific reason: “Discoloration defense is specially formulated with a combination of anti-pigment agents designed to even out the tone of the skin.”
Best skincare with antioxidants
Another heavily recommended ingredient by the dermatologists we consulted: antioxidants. To briefly summarize: "Antioxidant serums help protect your skin from the free radicals you're exposed to on a daily basis. They also aid in the prevention of fine lines and other visible signs of aging, and can heal and repair skin," Dr. Debra Jaliman, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and author of the book "Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From a Top New York Dermatologist," told NBC News.
Sapna Palep, MD, of Spring Street Dermatology recommended the ALASTIN Restorative Skin Complex. "It’s chock full of potent antioxidants to help even skin tone while also plumping the skin and combating fine lines and wrinkles.” Palep explained. "It’s so versatile for all skin tones, including darker complexions.”
Hadley King, a board certified dermatologist, is a fan of The Everything Oil. “It contains cold pressed, organic prickly pear seed oil, organic avocado oil, organic sweet almond oil and organic aloe vera. These ingredients both hydrate and moisturize, and they have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as well. And it's vegan, organic and cruelty-free and it's formulated without water, alcohol or silicone. It's also a great option for brightening, which is often a plus for dark skin tones. The ingredients work together to brighten the skin by offering antioxidant protection, anti-inflammatory properties, increased cell turnover, hydration and increased collagen production. There are no potentially irritating ingredients to lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.”
Best Vitamin C-infused skincare
Vitamin C, or L-ascorbic acid, is a substantial antioxidant that stimulates collagen production and fights UV damage and pigmentation — not to mention helps stave off colds. You can get your Vitamin C from certain foods — or you can wear it on your face.
“Formulation, packaging and storage are key here as it oxides quickly when exposed to light,” Perkins said about what readers should keep in mind. Vitamin C can go from useable to dysfunction seemingly overnight.
Both Jagdeo and Palep recommended the C E Ferulic serum, which Jagdeo uses for both himself and his clients, and called “the hero product by which the rest of the cosmeceutical industry is measured.”
It’s an investment — one Palep said is worth it, as it remains active for multiple days and the included dropper keeps you using precisely how much you need to with little waste.
“It’s packed with antioxidants that work great on darker skin tones for brightening and destroying free radicals,” she added.
King recommends Schaf Revitalizing Serum, which was formulated specifically for dark spots and fine lines, making it a great fit for dark skin tones.
“Vitamin C boosts brightness through its antioxidant properties, hyaluronic acid hydrates the skin, and peptides help stimulate collagen production to diminish fine lines,” she said. It’s also vegan and cruelty free.
The ultimate result everyone wants is one thing: Great skin. Skin care is self-care so treat yourself well.
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