Treating Acne in Skin of Color

Acne Treatment Tips Especially for Your Skin Type

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Acne is arguably the most common skin problem across all skin tones.  But it can cause special troubles in skin of color -- from dark spots and skin discoloration, to sensitivity to acne treatments.

Treating acne in skin of color requires

Here are some acne treatment tips especially for your skin type. 

Ethnic skin varies in tone from light to very deep brown, depending on the amount of melanin found.

Melanin is the protein pigment responsible for coloring the skin, hair, and eyes. It is also the pigment that darkens the skin as it tans. Darker skin contains higher amounts of melanin than lighter skin.

When treating acne in skin of color, special care must be taken. It is often (wrongly) believed that darker skin is tougher than it's lighter counterparts. Actually, brown skin can be very sensitive, and must be treated very gently.

Are you sure it's acne?

Ingrown hairs are really common, especially if your hair grows in curly.  Ingrown hairs can look remarkably like acne -- with red bumps and whiteheads.  The difference is these are caused by the hair growing out of the follicle improperly.  Ingrown hairs are treated differently too.  (Not sure if what you have is typical acne or a case of ingrown hairs?  This article will help you decide:  Is it Acne or Ingrown Hairs?)

Discoloration and scarring is common.

you don't want your acne treatments to cause the very discoloration you're trying to prevent and get rid of.

  They can, if they cause your skin to become irritated. 

Your dermatologist will probably put you on a lower dose of medication or have you use the medication several times a week rather than every day, especially if your skin already tends to be sensitive.

While all skin colors are at risk for developing discolorations, brown skin is especially susceptible because of the higher amount of melanin found.

Skin of color is more prone to dark spots or patches (hyperpigmentation), loss of skin color (hypo-pigmentation), and scarring. Acne and certain acne treatments can exacerbate discolorations.

It is especially important to avoid picking, squeezing, or otherwise irritating acne blemishes. Doing so can easily scar any skin color, but especially ethnic skin. Dark skin tones are prone to developing keloid scars. Keloids are large masses of tissue that develop after a wound heals. Keloid scars grow larger than the original wound.

More commonly, acne causes post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is the natural response of the skin to a wound, such as a cut, scratch, or acne blemish. After the wound heals, a darkened spot or patch remains. This patch can range from very light and faint to very dark and obvious.

It is important to note that certain acne treatment products can cause skin discolorations in persons of color. Any product that causes dryness or irritation puts the user at risk for hyperpigmentation, or darkening of the skin.

Special care must be taken when using retinoids such as Retin-A or Differen gel, benzoyl peroxide, and other such topical treatments. If excessive dryness, burning, or irritation occurs, tell your doctor right away.

You can treat discoloration.

Hyperpigmentation is the most common complaint among people of color who suffer from acne. The discoloration can be quite pronounced and widespread. While most hyperpigmentation will gradually fade over time, it can be severe enough to cause embarrassment and affect the self-esteem of sufferers.

There are many over-the-counter and prescription lightening creams available to help fade discolorations more quickly. Some prescription acne creams can also help lighten hyperpigmentation while healing breakouts. You best solution is to talk to your doctor. He or she will be able to suggest appropriate products to make post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation disappear.

People with brown skin often forgo sunscreen; however, regular sunscreen use may help dark spots to fade more quickly. Many dermatologists find sun exposure increases fading time. If you have hyperpigmentation spots, daily application of a noncomedogenic sunscreen with SPF of at least 15 may be helpful.

Choose your hair products carefully.

Surveys have shown nearly half of all acne patients with ethnic skin use pomade, or other oils and ointments, for their hair. More than 70% of these patients developed acne on the forehead. Oil-based hair products can easily block pores, creating acne breakouts. Pomade-induced acne, or acne cosmetica, consists of blackheads, whiteheads, and general "bumpiness" along the forehead, temples and hairline.

Once the use of oil-based hair products is stopped, acne readily clears. However, many people find hair pomades are a necessity because of dry scalp, dry hair, or to help make hair manageable. If this is the case, avoid applying the product where it can come in contact with the forehead or temples. Doctor Susan Taylor, author of "Acne Vulgaris in People of Color," recommends applying pomade at least one inch behind the hairline, or applying only to the ends of the hair. Use as little product as possible to get desired result.

Dry or "ashy" skin is common among dark skin tones. If you are prone to acne, choose your moisturizing products carefully. Certain creams and lotions, such as cocoa butter, can clog pores and make acne worse. Always choose light, oil-free moisturizers that are labeled noncomedogenic.

See a doctor for help getting your acne under control.

topical retinoids are a first line treatment.  Azelaic acid may be another treatment option

over-the0counter products may work if you have very mild breakouts

Source:

Alexis AF.  "Acne vulgaris in skin of color: understanding nuances and optimizing treatment outcomes."  J Drugs Dermatol.  2014 Jun; 13(6):s61-5.-16. 

Kundu RV, Patterson S.  "Dermatologic conditions in skin of color: part 1.  Special consideration for common skin disorders."  Am Fam Physician.  2013 Jun 15; 87(12):850-6.

Woolery-Llyod HC, Keri J, Doig S.  "Retinoids and azelaic acid to treat acne and hyperpigmentation in skin of color."  J Drugs Dermatol.  2013 Apr;12(4):434-7.

Yin Nc, McMichael AJ.  "Acne in patients with skin of color: practical management."  2014 Feb; 15(1):7.

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