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Dark Skin, Decoded

Deeper skintones require special care. Learn how to protect and enhance your gorgeous dark skin.

Deep skintones produce high levels of melanin (a type of pigment) and are shared by people of African, Asian, Native American or Latin descent.

Dark skin tans easily and is more resistant to photo-aging than lighter skintones. It also has a tendency to develop hyperpigmentation.

“Dark spots, discoloration under the eyes and uneven skintone are far and away the biggest concern I hear from patients with deep skin,” says Dr. Heather Woolery-Lloyd, Director of Ethnic Skin Care for the University of Miami Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery and creator of Specific Beauty skincare.

Gallery: Skincare Products for Dark Skin

The science: Your skin produces melanin, the brown pigment that gives skin its color, to protect itself from the sun. When melanocytes, the cells that manufacture this pigment, become overactive, they pump out too much melanin and dark spots form. There are three main causes of overactive melanocytes: hormonal fluctuations, irritation and sun exposure.

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Dark Skin, Decoded

Specific Concerns for Dark Skin

Melasma Sometimes called the “mask of pregnancy,” this condition causes patchy tan, brown or blue-gray skin on the forehead, upper lips and cheeks as well as the chin. It’s most common for women of color in their reproductive years and is thought to be caused by sun exposure combined with hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy or from birth control pills. While it generally resolves on its own (after birth or discontinuation of the pill), it can become a chronic condition particularly for women who live in sunny climates.

QUIZ: How Healthy Does Your Skin Look?

Extreme under-eye circles “Women of color tend to have heavier pigmentation around the eyes to begin with, and UV rays only make them darker,” says Dr. Woolery-Llloyd. Physical irritation also contributes to the problem: If you rub your eyes a lot, like during allergy season, this can also irritate the skin into producing more melanin.

Dark spots “Any kind of irritation can leave a mark,” says Dr. Woolery-Lloyd. “Once a pimple heals, it leaves a dark spot that takes an average of four months to fade.” For the same reason, razor rash can take a long time to disappear. Burns, cuts and scrapes have a similar effect on ethnic skin, as does waxing the upper lip or eyebrows, or using abrasive scrubs.

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Tips for Dark Skin

  • Wear SPF 30 (or higher) sunscreen every day of the year, rain or shine.
  • Use a moisturizer with antioxidants like green tea, which have an anti-inflammatory effect and reduce irritation.
  • No picking your skin ever! Besides dark spots, some deeper skintones are prone to keloids, which are tumor-like growths that grow after cuts or scrapes.
  • Tweeze rather than wax unwanted hair on the face.
  • Look for products that contain proven brighteners like soy and licorice.
  • Treat dark spots with hydroquinone cream. You can get two percent over the counter; prescription formulas contain up to three to four percent. Use a cotton swab to apply the product only to the spot you want to lighten. Going outside the spot can result in a reverse halo effect, which is a white ring around the dark spot.

QUIZ: How Satisfied Are You With Your Face?

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