- Men with darker skin tones aren’t immune to sun damage and premature wrinkling.
- Black skin has unique needs that must be specifically addressed in order to stay healthy.
- It’s best to use cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturizing products that are suited for your skin type.
Skin tone is determined by melanin-secreting cells, called melanocytes, found in your skin. UV radiation prompts your body to produce more melanin, which is why skin exposed to direct sunlight becomes darker.
For decades, it was thought that melanin protects skin from UV damage, and that darker skin therefore requires less care and maintenance. This couldn’t be further from the truth. People with darker skin can indeed sustain UV damage and would benefit from a skin care routine that meets the needs of their specific skin type.
How does black skin differ from other skin tones?
In recent years, research into the differences between skin tones by gender and race has made significant progress. For instance, we now know that men objectively have thicker skin than women, thanks to terminal hair follicles that are darker, longer, and thicker than the vellus hair follicles women have. Terminal hair follicles are responsible for men’s beards, and also help to stave off wrinkling.
Not so fortunately, the same follicles also make men more susceptible to accelerated aging due to sun exposure. Gender differences become especially prevalent after puberty, as testosterone increases sebum and apocrine sweat production, making men more prone to acne.
As for darker skin tones, black skin offers some extra protection from UV radiation, amounting to SPF 7 or 8 at the most. However, the greater activity of melanocytes found in black skin means more melanin gets produced as an immune response to skin injury and can result in a condition known as hyperpigmentation.
Darker skin also demonstrates higher rates of desquamation — sloughing off dead skin cells — than does lighter skin tones. This effect reduces the occurrence of facial wrinkles and slows aging overall. In addition to its thickness, the dermal layer of darker skin contains tighter adhesions than does lighter skin, allowing for better moisture retention.
Skin issues specific to African American men
Given the particular characteristics common to their skin type, black men are at risk of experiencing ingrown hairs, razor bumps, dry skin, dark spots, and hyperpigmentation. Accordingly, a skin care routine for black men must account for those characteristics and would ideally use them to its advantage.
First, a face wash without harsh chemicals, formulated by skin type, will adequately cleanse skin without drying it out. Then, regular exfoliation with the assistance of natural desquamation will promote radiant skin while reducing ingrown hairs and razor bumps.
Finally, black men should use a facial moisturizer, not a body lotion, that also provides sun protection of SPF 30 or greater. This will help prevent dark spots, hyperpigmentation, signs of aging, and skin cancer. Also check the ingredients to make sure the moisturizer contains iron oxides, which provide protection against visible light.
Before undertaking any skin care regimen, a few changes in lifestyle can help to support healthy skin. Because these are factors in unhealthy skin as well as aging, it’s best to avoid them as far as possible:
- Poor sleep habits, like staying up late or using electronic devices right before falling asleep, are easy to fall into but can wreck healthy skin, leaving behind fine lines, age spots, and an overall dull appearance.
- Smoking is bad for your health in general, but it takes its toll on skin by weakening its structure and drying it out, resulting in wrinkles and irritation.
- Stress shows on the face by reducing skin’s elasticity and causing acne breakouts.
- Insufficient water intake is something to be mindful of on a daily basis; drinking plenty of water is the most effective way to hydrate skin and keep it looking radiant.
Skin care routines for black men
The best skin care routine for black men is one designed specifically for their skin type. Skin types are typically classified in one of five different ways:
- Normal skin is not particularly oily, dry, or sensitive.
- Oily skin naturally produces a lot of sebum and is prone to acne breakouts.
- Dry skin often feels tight, may peel, and can develop into sensitive or flaky skin.
- Sensitive skin can become dry and itchy, and eventually inflamed, often in reaction to skin care products, harsh soaps, or sun exposure.
- Combination skin is oily in some areas but dry in others.
Though every skin care routine for black men should include cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturizing, each one of those steps is especially important for certain skin types.
Cleansing is even more important for black men with oily skin. In most cases it’s enough to cleanse your skin once in the morning and once in the evening, but people with oily skin may need to add a midday cleanse as well.
Additionally, black men should seek and use a face wash that caters to their normal, oily, or combination skin type. Natural face washes with salicylic acid, free of fragrances and irritating harsh chemicals, are good for any skin type, but they’re crucial when it comes to dry and sensitive skin.
Exfoliation is important to help black men with oily skin avoid acne and the accumulation of dead skin cells. At least once a day they should use a light exfoliator, like SkinMedica’s AHA/BHA and GlyPro cleansers, with a face wash for oil control.
Black men with other skin types can use an exfoliating facial scrub. For dry skin, for example, a light exfoliator by Restorsea even contains a naturally occurring enzyme that breaks down dry skin, leaving out the abrasive acids that often make dry skin worse.
Exfoliation is a key part of a black man’s skin care regimen because it significantly and positively influences the growth of facial hair. Exfoliating before shaving brings ingrown hairs up for smoother results, and exfoliating after shaving keeps newly grown hairs from curling back into the skin and becoming ingrown.
The best face scrubs for black men contain gentle scrubbing particles along with moisturizing ingredients.
Because dry and sensitive skin types are more susceptible to developing dehydrated, flaky skin, they are also at an increased risk of uneven skin tone and hyperpigmentation.
Black men should use a natural facial moisturizer on their face and neck or any other skin they shave regularly. A moisturizing aftershave is especially suitable for its ability to nourish the skin and alleviate post-shave inflammation.
Just make sure the moisturizer doesn’t contain alcohol or menthol as they can irritate any skin type and will also limit the product’s ability to actually moisturize.
Skin care products for black men: Expert picks
Dr. Cynthia Bailey, dermatologist and founder of Dr. Bailey Skin Care in Sebastopol, CA, explains that people with darker skin are at a greater risk of being affected by hyperpigmentation and melasma due to the excess melanocytes in their skin.
“I recommend using an AHA moisturizer daily from head to toe to prevent the chalky appearance of dry skin,” she says.
Dr. Rhonda Q. Klein, from the Connecticut Dermatology Group, recommends the following products for black men.
This 2-in-1 cleanser and toner is a great facial scrub, exfoliator and skin conditioner.
This under-eye cream contains vitamins, antioxidants, and blackcurrant oil.
A simple, dermatologist-tested face wash for sensitive skin.
This vitamin C day serum is effective for discoloration and other signs of photoaging.
A clinically proven and relatively inexpensive sunscreen.
Dr. Bailey adds that “essential oils can be part of an anti-acne skin care routine, but care must be taken because they are common allergens. Using an essential oil ‘neat’ — meaning full strength — risks inciting an allergic or irritant rash.” She recommends that essential oil serums be significantly diluted and mixed with nonallergenic carrier oils. For example:
- Rosehip oil as a dry base
- Jojoba or grapeseed oil as a carrier
- Borage oil for anti-inflammatory effects
- Cypress or tea tree oil for antiseptic effects
As for UV exposure, Dr. Bailey stresses the importance of a broad spectrum sunscreen.
“Sun protection is important for everyone,” Dr. Bailey says, “Especially for dark skin complexions that are at risk for hyperpigmentation following any skin injury.” She suggests that you seek out invisible micro-fine zinc oxide and broad-spectrum UV filters.
These guidelines will help you to create an appropriate skin care routine. For more information, use Zwivel’s online consultation tool to contact a board-certified dermatologist in your area.
- Al-Jamal, M. S., Griffith, J. L., & Lim, H. W. (2014, October 19). Photoprotection in Ethnic Skin. sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1027811714000494