Acne is a condition that affects up to 50 million Americans per year, so chances are pretty high that you or someone you know has gone head-to-head with a pimple once or twice. Despite popular belief, acne is not limited just to teens going through puberty (adults can get acne, too!), nor does it discriminate across various ethnicities and skin tones. And while we know that breakouts can affect all Fitzpatrick skin types, a review published in The Journal of Clinical and Aethetic Dermatology suggests there may be a difference in the way some acne lesions manifest on darker-skinned patients. Which led us to wonder, should blemishes be addressed differently on skin of color?
The answer, according to board-certified dermatologist, and Skincare.com consultant, Dr. Michael Kaminer, is no. “You’d tackle acne on African-American skin the same way you would lighter skin,” he says. “There is no difference, except that darker skin types are prone to hyperpigmentation and that can be addressed separately.” Clinical manifestations published in the above-mentioned review found similar results. Dark-skinned patients have a higher tendency to develop inflammatory papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts, which can promote the development of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and scarring—even amongst those with mild-to-moderate acne.
While acne can appear similar across all skin tones, darker skin types are more likely to experience dark spots that linger even after the acne clears. Here are some tips for dealing with breakouts on darker skin tones.
Tip #1: Address Acne and Dark Spots at the Same Time
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), dark spots induced by blemishes often last much longer than the acne itself. As such, tackle both problem areas at the same time. Talk to your dermatologist about the best way to clear the acne and keep any resulting dark spots under control.
Tip #2: Don’t Delay—Address Blemishes Immediately
Studies suggest that addressing acne in its early stages can help them from getting worse. Target your acne before it enters moderate to severe stages, which can put darker skin tones at a higher risk of developing dark spots or scarring.
Tip #3: Use the Right Products
As Dr. Kaminer mentioned, the treatment plan for acne bears no difference across skin tones. The AAD recommends using products with one or more of the following ingredients in its formula:
- Retinol: This multi-tasking powerhouse ingredient can help unclog pores and reduce the appearance of dark spots. Since it is powerful, you’ll want to start with a lower concentration and frequency. Also, since retinol use can cause skin sensitivity to sunlight, it’s recommended that retinol only be applied at night and in tandem with broad-spectrum sunscreen during daytime hours. Reapply at least every two hours on all exposed areas of skin, seek shade, and wear protective clothing.
- Benzoyl peroxide: This ingredient can help remove acne-causing bacteria from skin’s surface. To prevent skin irritation and dryness, start with a lower concentration of benzoyl peroxide and slowly build up your skin’s tolerance.
- Salicylic acid: This popular acne-fighting ingredient can help to unclog pores and prevent new breakouts from forming.
Tip #4: Be Mindful of Your Habits
Following a proper skin care routine is only half the battle when it comes to addressing breakouts. To help keep your skin under control, be sure to follow the tips below:
- Look for keywords like “non-comedogenic” and “sensitive skin” on product labels. This can help reduce the risk of skin irritation, and non-comedogenic products won’t clog your pores.
- Just because you have an active breakout on your skin, doesn’t mean you have a pass at cleansing your skin. Cleanse twice a day with mild cleansers that won’t strip your skin. Follow up with a non-comedogenic moisturizer to lock in hydration.
- Avoid picking, popping, and/or squeezing zits. Doing so can cause even more irritation to the skin, as well as put you at risk for additional blemishes or even permanent scarring.
- Don’t overdo it with topical acne treatments. Many ingredients found in products formulated for acne-prone skin can be drying, and won’t necessarily accelerate results in more frequent applications. Always use as directed.
Editor’s note: While there are many products on the market that are beneficial for helping to keep breakouts at bay, it’s essential to understand that nothing is going to work overnight. The best thing you can do to improve the appearance of your acne is being consistent with your skin care regimen. Wait at least eight to ten weeks to see signs of improvement.