Acne Treatment for Black Skin

People of Color

The term "people of color" has become a catchall phrase for individuals of African, Asian, Latino/Hispanic, East Indian, Middle Eastern, Native American, Pacific Islander and Caribbean ancestry. If you fall within these ethnic or racial groups, you have a wide range of skin tones-from olive to butterscotch, from caramel to ebony. And if you suffer from acne, you face some special challenges that require extra care when treating your skin.

You may also be frustrated with mainstream medicine's approach to your skin, which physicians may treat in exactly the same manner as Caucasian skin. Unfortunately, there are consequences to the "cookie-cutter" approach: Your skin is more prone to "keloids," raised bumps that develop after scarring. Your higher pigment levels may also mean you're not a candidate for certain treatments, such as chemical peels and laser therapy.

The Power of Pigment

As a society, we tend to suffer from "xenophobia": the fear of others who are different from ourselves. This relates to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, culture and all of the demographic distinctions that comprise the global "melting pot." Every modern industrialized country has become more diverse, as immigrants cross borders to achieve a better life. Yet, while we all seem to worship the concept of bettering one's lot in life, human beings seem to have an inherent wariness toward "other-ness."

Our skin is no exception. It can define us. It can lead to discrimination from people whose assumptions dictate how they treat us. It can promote discrimination in the workplace. Unless we are committed to treating each other as individuals-with true respect for our similarities and differences-we are destined to continue the destructive patterns that have catapulted civilizations into wars and social uprisings.

What is the real distinction between your skin and that of lighter-complexioned individuals?

It boils down to one word: "melanin"-the technical term for pigment in the skin. Melanin is a product of "melanocytes," the cells that produce and regulate the amount of pigment in our skin.

Within families of African descent, the darkness of the skin is sometimes viewed as an indication of social class. There is the perception of "good" skin and "bad" skin-a throwback to the days when darker skin was viewed as less attractive than lighter skin.

But when you stop and think about the science behind skin, you realize that the amount of melanin each of us possesses is a biological characteristic, similar to eye color or hair color-nothing more, nothing less. Our social hang-ups are what get us into trouble.

Skin color is genetic, so heredity will determine your skin tone. Acne treatment for black skin is similar to other skin colors, and you have no control over it. While degree of skin color can skip generations, you are likely to have skin tones that resemble those of your parents. Your skin color-and your spouse's-will ultimately determine how your children look. It comes down to simple biology.

The good news is that major cities throughout the world have long been populated by diverse cultures, and this diversity is spreading. In the new millennium, people of color actually outnumber Caucasians in many areas, such as California. Interracial dating no longer carries the stigma associated with it decades ago. And as cultures blend, future generations will truly be a rainbow of colors.

Consider Academy Award-winning actress Halle Berry, often thought to be the most beautiful woman in the world-and a top model for various cosmetic and clothing companies. Berry's mother is white, and her father is black-and her skin is magnificent. Its unique tones are envied worldwide.

Consider Salma Hayek. The gorgeous Oscar-nominated actress from a tiny town in rural Mexico is part Spanish and part Lebanese. You know advertising and worldviews have come a long way when you see that she is the new face for Avon Cosmetics internationally. If you have any doubts about the beauty of your own skin, just pick up a fashion magazine, where you will find models of every ethnicity and race. There is no need to feel self-conscious about your skin color.

Skin with acne, however, invites a lack of confidence. As a person of color, your skin behaves differently. Instead of the white or light spots blemishes cause, you may develop just the opposite: dark spots. As stated in earlier chapters, it's always important to seek a dermatologist's care when acne first erupts-and this is particularly important if you have darker skin. You have a greater likelihood of scarring.

Some people of color don't even realize they have acne. They expect to see the same whiteheads and blackheads that their Caucasian friends must deal with, but acne lesions in people of color may be gray, brown, purple or ashy. A dermatologist will correctly point out that this is how highly pigmented skin manifests acne.

Proper Skin Care

Acne treatment for black skin begins with oil reduction. Because hair tends to be dry, oil-based products are often applied, producing acne along the forehead and hairline. Be sure to protect the skin in these areas from contact with such products. Super-rich cocoa butter, found in many hair products for people of African descent, is often responsible for a greasy buildup.

When receiving a facial or other salon service, you need to make sure the esthetician understands the risks of keloids and hyperpigmentation (a darkening of the skin that occurs as a pimple or other lesion heals).

"The consultation is very important," says IDI's Annet King, "and you should be asked about sensitivity, past problems with hyperpigmentation, family history or personal experience with keloid scarring. The two main areas that can go wrong, during a skin treatment, are the exfoliation and extractions steps. The strength and depth of the exfoliant are very important, as darker skin is sometimes evaluated as being less sensitive, thicker and more resilient. As you know, that's just not true! Extractions need to be gentle, with adequate prepping and softening of the skin beforehand. Piercing the skin is completely unacceptable. Even the amount of steam used in the treatment needs to be minimal, as the risk of hyperpigmentation is higher in heat-stimulated skin. A well-trained person knows how to test for hot spots to find sensitive areas, judge the skin for dehydration versus dryness, and knows that extractions must be gentle. A sunscreen should be used after exfoliation, as discoloration is more likely on newly exfoliated skin.

"Waxing is probably the service that can be most disastrous if not carried out by a well-trained professional," King adds. "Wax must be tested and not too hot, skin prepped and stretched, and soothing lotions applied post-waxing. Home care is very important. The client should not use fragranced lotions, take hot baths or go in the sun."


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