How to deal with some common issues facing darker skin

Heather Stephen

From dry skin to hyperpigmentaiton, coloured skin has it’s own set of issues. Heather Stephen looks at some of the common ones and what you can do about them.  

Darker skin certainly has its advantages. You are better equipped to protect yourself from the sun which means later wrinkles and a lower risk of skin cancer. But having more melanin isn’t all good news as it can bring its own set of skincare issues.

Here are some of the most common problems and what you can do about them.

Pigment problems

People with coloured skin have more pigment which means scars can be more noticeable and you are more prone to hyperpigmentation which causes dark spots on the skin.


What you can do

“Treatment of pigmentary disorders is challenging,” says Dr Rajesh Goel, an associate specialist dermatologist from Northampton General Hospital. “You could try skin lightening agents, chemical peels and lasers but should bear in mind that these treatments could make things worse so these should be used with caution.”

Dr Goel says skin lightening agents such as hydroquinone must only be used on prescription and he recommends sun protection measures such as wearing a hat, seeking shade and a high factor sun block to avoid the sun worsening your condition.

There are various newer cosmeceuticals that contain ingredients that could also make a difference. Speaking to the Aesthetics Journal, NeoStrata’s UK distributor, Lorna Bowes outlined which ones to look for. They include:

  1. Fruit and lactic acids – exfoliate to reduce superficial hyperpigmentation
  2. Vitamin C – a powerful antioxidant that helps reduce melanin production
  3. Neoglucosamine – reduces tyrosinase (an enzyme involved in melanin production) and exfoliates
  4. Tertahydrocurcumin (THC) – inhibits tyrosinase production; antioxidant properties
  5. Oligopeptide 34 – reduces tyrosinase and melanin production; anti- inflammatory properties.

Speaking at a NeoStrata Symposium recently another was added to the list after extensive clinical studies called Sabiwhite – another curcumin extract that inhibits tyrosinase.

Products that contain these ingredients include:

  1. Exuviance’s Pigment Lifting Masque, which contains NeoGlucosamine® and Vitamin C. they act together to break down and help prevent the formation of new spots.
  2. NeoStrata’s Enlighten Pigment Controller. This also contains NeoGlucosamine® and Vitamin C and acts in a similar way.

(If you are interested in these products please email: and we will order them in for you.)



“Acne is not more of an issue in ethnic skin but pigmentation and scarring can be more noticeable and darker,” says Dr Goel.

What you can do

To reduce your risk of acne Dr Goel recommends a daily mild cleanser and avoidance of heavy moisturisers or makeup.

Breathable make up is now available and one that is recommended for post cosmetic procedures and acne is Oxygenetix. It is available in 14 shades.

Dr Nick Lowe’s Acclenz range has a cleanser that is designed especially for acne as it Dr Aamer Khan’s Harley Street Skin Care’s Clean Skin Technology range.

For severe acne treatments range from topical preparations to oral medications, depending on the severity of the condition.

Mild scarring  is can be treated with topical creams such as Science if Skin’s new range of anti-scarring products that contain a green tea extract called EGCG that has been shown to improve the appearance of scars in clinical trials carried out at the University of Manchester.

If you have deeper scarring your doctor may suggest dermabrasion, microneedling, laser resurfacing or chemical peels.

And raised or keloid scars may be treated with surgery or steroid injections.


Dry/flakey Skin

We don’t know exactly why but studies have shown darker skin tends to flake more and has a lower lipid content.  So what can you do to stop dryness in its tracks?

What you can do

  • Switch your long hot bubble bath for a quick luke warm shower
  • Use mild cleansers and avoid alcohol-based products
  • Slather on emollient creams after a shower and before bedtime if very dry
  • Go fragrance free with your moisturiser
  • If these steps don’t work try a product containing AHAs – naturally occurring acids which can help break down dry skin cells, and can also improve hydration.



“The main disorder of pigmentation I see in African and Asian patients is vitiligo – a disorder where white patches appear on the skin,” says Dr Goel. “This is an auto-immune condition which can develop at any age. It appears in all races but is more noticeable on dark skin.”

What you can do

“Widespread vitiligo is often treated with phototherapy – an artificial source of UV light which stimulates melanin production,” says Dr Goel. “For localised legions we prescribe topical treatments. Pigmented skin can be grafted onto problem areas and melanocytes (epidermal cells which produce melanin) can be cultured and transplanted onto the skin.”


Hair disorders

Ingrown hairs are common in African skin, particularly after shaving. As the hair is curly it is more likely to curl back into the skin causing red spots on the face and scalp and this can lead to bumps and scarring.

And people from African communities suffer from alopecia more frequently from putting the hair under stress from braiding and chemical and thermal hair straightening.

One study found 95 per cent of people who use chemical relaxants end up with hair loss and breakage and more than a quarter of women who took part in a study about the effects of braiding lost hair on top of their scalp.

What you can do

To minimise your risk of ingrown hairs Dr Goel advises using electric razors as they leave the hair longer after shaving. And other tips are to moisturise regularly, leave shaving to a minimum and to use mild exfoliating agents such as glycolic acid. One product that is designed specifically for men and their shaving problems that contains glycolic acid is Monroe of London’s Glycolic Serum.

When it comes to hair, Harley Street trichologist Sara Allison says it is possible to reverse hair loss from relaxants and braiding, known as traction alopecia, with hair growing back within three months – if you stop these damaging hair practices.

But she points out: “It is important to identify traction alopecia early as failure to do so places the patient at risk for irreversible alopecia.”


Sun damage

Although incidents of skin cancer are lower amongst people with coloured skin it is still possible to damage the skin through over exposure to the sun and melanoma does occur.

Consultant dermatologist Justine Hextall says: “It is a mistake to believe that darker skins do not need sun protection.

“Although darker skin has a built in sun protection factor there are problems with all skin types and sun exposure.

“One of the most common signs of ageing in darker skin is uneven skin tone brought about by sun damage and, although they are less frequent, we see all skin cancers in darker skins and these individuals are prone to light exacerbated rosacea.”

What you can do

“People with ethnic skin can still get sun burn and develop skin cancers,” says Dr Goel. “The use of sun protective measures such as avoiding the sun between 11am and 3pm, protective clothing, hats and sunglasses and applying sunscreen will reduce damage from the sun.”



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