Dealing With Acne in African-American Skin

4 Tips For Treating, and Preventing, Breakouts

When it comes to skin color or ethnicity, acne does not discriminate: People with African-American skin (or those with medium to dark complexions due to another ethnicity) are just as prone to breakouts as are folks with lighter skin. However, there are a couple of minor differences in how acne affects skin of color, according to a review published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology in 2010. 

For one thing, in dark skin there's often inflammation present even in lesions that would typically be considered "noninflammatory." And once blemishes in which there's inflammation clear up, they're more likely to leave behind dark spots. This is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), and happens because inflammation triggers skin cells to produce more melanin, the substance that gives skin color, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). 

So if you have brown or black skin that's prone to acne, here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to dealing with breakouts. 

1
Choose your acne treatments carefully.

Got acne?
Acne Tips for People of Color. Yuri_Arcurs / Getty Images

It may seem that brown or black skin would be less sensitive than lighter skin but this isn't the case at all at all. Dark skin is just as prone to irritation from acne medications, such as excessive dryness. Retinoids, including Retin-A (tretinoin topical), Differin (adapalene), and Tazorac (tazarotene) are considered good choices for darker skin tones because they treat pigmentation problems while clearing breakouts.

2
Watch for changes in skin color.

A pimple that would heal completely in someone with light skin often will leave behind a dark blemish on someone with a darker complexion. Some acne treatments and procedures also can lead to darkening or lighting (hypopigmentation) of the skin, such as chemical peels, laser treatments, and microdermabrasion. If you're thinking about going to a salon for a facial treatment, clear it with your dermatologist first. And then make sure the esthetician or skin therapist has experience treating skin of color: Don't be afraid to ask.

3
Don't delay dealing with breakouts.

Make an appointment to see a dermatologist even if you have a mild acne breakout (or any sort of skin problem, such as rosacea). This is the best way to prevent pigmentation problems. In fact, states the AAD, studies support the importance of treating acne when it's just beginning. If a breakout is allowed to become moderate to severe, someone with dark skin is at an increased risk of winding up not only with dark spots or patches, but also a type of raised scar called a keloid.  

4
Be proactive.

As with most health problems, doing all you can to prevent a bout of acne is preferable than waiting for a breakout and then trying to treat it. Here are some tips from the AAD for keeping breakouts at bay geared toward people with dark skin:

  • If you tend to get pimples on your forehead or temples and you use a hair care product that contains oil, apply it only to the middle of your scalp and the ends of your hair, or try switching to one that's made with glycerin or water. If you regularly wear a cap or hat, clean it often to prevent sweat, dirt, and oil from building up on your skin.
  • Don't use skin care products that can clog your skin. Steer clear of oil-based ones containing cocoa butter or shea butter, for example, and instead opt for those labeled "non-comedogenic" or "won't clog pores." 
  • Use a mineral-based or non-comedogenic makeup to cover up blemishes.
  • Show your face some TLC when you wash it. Use a mild cleanser, apply it gently with your fingertips, and after you rinse, pat—don't rub—your skin dry with a clean towel. 

Sources:

American Academy of Dermatology. "10 Tips for Clearing Acne in Skin  of Color." Nov 17, 2016.

Erica C. Davis, MD and Valerie D. Callender, MD. "A Review of Acne in Ethnic Skin." ​J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2010 Apr 3(4): 24-38.

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