Skin care for darker skin tones

Understanding the fundamental differences between dark skin and light skin goes beyond the concept of melanin. So how do we take care of dark skin?

Dark skin is unlike light skin in many ways, understanding the challenges and predispositions that come with it are both cornerstones to providing your skin with the care that will help it to flourish.

Skin concerns in dark skin tones

A darker skin offers benefits lighter skinned people often envy. If you have dark skin, you’ll probably age better, you’re less prone to getting severe sunburn reactions and you radiate a particular glow in good health.

Dark skin also comes with its own set of challenges.

Awareness around these challenges makes it easier to take preventative measures and keep the skin healthy. Some of the challenges you might face if you have dark skin include:

  • Uneven skin tone and hyperpigmentation
  • Raised scars and keloids
  • Increased textural changes
  • Susceptible to acne
  • Prone to getting ingrown hairs/ Pseudofolliculitis
  • Light spots, dark spots and scarring following cosmetic procedures

These conditions can be managed, and better yet, completely avoided in many cases with the correct care that is geared at dark skin and its unique needs.

Sun protection for darker skin

There is a misconception that darker individuals do not need to wear sunscreen. Furthermore, sunscreen tends to leave a grey hue or residue when applied. A common challenge that dark-skinned people battle with is uneven skin tone, or dark and light areas on the face.

A major cause of hyperpigmentation is sun damage.  Dark skin may be more resistant to sunburn, but photodamage to the skin does occur. The UVA and UVB rays from the sun can still cause skin cancer and pigment irregularities.

dark skin

Implement a good sun protection strategy early on in life

Use a sunscreen of at least 15 SPF (sun protection factor). Your sunscreen should also offer broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection. Determining the correct SPF level for you can be done as follows:

If your skin would usually redden after 10 minutes exposure, an SPF 15 would add 100 minutes to the 10. It is important to keep in mind that throughout the extra time you are given, sunscreen gets wiped off through physical activity and perspiration. Replenish your sunscreen every hour or use other ways of photo-protection.

A great way to ensure you are adequately prepared for the amount of sun you’re going to be exposed to is to watch the UV index. The UV index measures the strength of the UV rays that reach the earth each day.

  • UV levels 0 – 2 are not considered harmful. It is recommended to wear sunglasses and sunscreen on brighter days.
  • UV levels 3 – 5 are considered moderately safe, if you wear sunscreen, protective clothing, a hat and avoid midday direct sun.
  • UV levels 6 – 7 These high UV levels are considered dangerous as the risk of UV damage is high. Wear at least an SPF 15 sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat outdoors, protective clothing and sunglasses. Avoid direct sunlight 2 hours before and 3 hours after midday, as the midday sun is the most extreme.
  • UV levels 8 – 10 These levels pose a high risk of UV damage. Avoid the direct sunlight, wear protective clothing, hats, a good sunscreen and if you are in the sun, keep it to a minimum.
  • UV levels 11+ These levels are considered dangerous. Take every precaution when entering the sun and ensure you are indoors for two hours prior to noon and three hours after.

dark skin

Uneven skin tone

One of the consequences of not adhering to the sun protection guidelines is uneven skin tone. Because dark-skinned people have higher levels of melanin (melanin is the pigment that gives your skin colour), the melanin is sometimes not distributed evenly, and this causes pigmentation or darkened areas of the hands and face after sun exposure. It is essential to apply a broad spectrum UVA and UVB sunscreen 365 days a year. Failing this, a dark-toned skin will show the effects of photodamage.

Treating uneven skin tone

The darkened areas of skin can be lightened with products containing Hydroquinone and AHA or BHA. This treatment will take at least 8 weeks to show effect. Niacinamide and Acetyl Glucosamine provide the skin with essential antioxidants. Ascorbic acid, also known as Vitamin C, is also effective at reducing uneven skin tone in high doses. The best treatment remedy is the remedy recommended for you after an evaluation of the skin by a qualified dermatologist, like Dr. Khoza.

Periorbital hyperpigmentation – dark under eye circles

Periorbital hyperpigmentation is the medical term used to describe dark circles around the eye resulting from increased melanin production in that area. Having a dark skin makes you more susceptible to this condition.

Other causes include:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Atopic eczema/ periorbital eczema
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Ageing
  • Sun damage
  • Post-inflammatory pigmentation
  • Insulin resistance/obesity/ acanthosis nigricans
  • Infraorbital swelling
  • Facial structure
  • Thin skin
  • Allergies
  • Hormone therapy (hormone changes during pregnancy are included)

Treating this condition can be challenging. It is important to establish the cause of the condition before treating it, as this would affect the approach used.

dark skin

Acne in dark skin tones

Acne is not limited to one age group or ethnicity. Many people find that they start to develop acne for the first time in their 20s or even in their 30s. People with dark skin often battle with the post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation that follows the acne, darkened areas of skin.

Acne is caused by various factors, like:

  • Blocked pores
  • Increased oil production
  • Inflammation
  • A bacteria known as Propionibacterium acnes

Acne is classed as mild if there are a few comedones (black or whiteheads) with some inflammation. It is classed as moderate when there are more comedones, pustules (pus-filled bumps), inflammation and papules (small bumps). Severe acne is identified by a combination of pustules, comedones, cysts, severe inflammation, and pain.

Acne is treated topically with antibiotics to remove the bacteria. Retinoids provide essential vitamin A which assists in unblocking the pores. This can be taken orally or applied topically. Some women may benefit from hormonal medications to control the oil production on the skin. It will have to be carefully considered, as hormonal treatments in dark-skinned people can lead to hyperpigmentation. Treatment of Pigmentation can be started concurrently with the acne treatment or reserved for later stages. Excessive picking of the skin worsens the hyperpigmentation and scarring.

Chemical peels and cosmetic treatments for darker skin tones

Treating dark skin requires a thorough understanding of the risks involved.

Chemical peels and laser therapy have been associated with longer periods of recovery and carry the risk of causing complications, such as dyspigmentation, scarring, and end results that are not remarkable. This is not always the case, depending on the condition you are treating. To find out whether you are a good candidate for any of these treatments, consult Dr. Khoza to have a proper evaluation done prior to any procedures.

Take good care of your skin, and it will take better care of you.

Book a consult with Dr. Khoza today!


  1. […] There is no vitiligo diet, as such, although a healthy lifestyle is always important. Caring for your skin is an important part of stabilising vitiligo, if you have dark skin, you can learn more about caring for your skin here. […]

  2. […] with treatment, it can take up to eight weeks to see noticeable results from treatments for acne, pigmentation and even longer periods in patients with hair loss and vitiligo. Camouflaging technologies provide […]