The 5 Best Exfoliators for Black Skin That Work

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The 5 Best Exfoliators for Black Skin That Work
In a hurry? Here are our top picks:

BEST FOR CLEAN SKINCARE

ZELEN Life Exfoliator

Exfoliators are a necessary part of any good skincare routine. But how to decide what are the best exfoliators for black skin?

While skin properties typically remain the same across gender and race, there are a few specific differences that you will want to consider when picking out your next exfoliator.[1]

This is why we studied the latest research extensively to let you know what really works and what doesn’t for black skin.

Despite over 60% of the world population having either brown or black skin, most studies have been carried out so far on fair-skinned people.[2]

Thankfully this is beginning to change, and we outline below the key factors you should consider when buying an exfoliator for black skin.

Quick summary

Before you buy: 4 things you have to consider when purchasing an exfoliator for black skin

Before we get into the specifics, remember that regardless of your skin type or color, any exfoliator’s overly aggressive use is never a good idea. Exfoliating is only supposed to gently remove the top layer of dead and lifeless skin, giving a fresh and healthy appearance.

1. Exfoliate only when needed

Your skin, of course, does not regenerate itself instantly. After you have exfoliated your face well, you will have a fresh layer of skin for many days.

Don’t go ruining it by immediately exfoliating again.

While most exfoliation products might recommend exfoliating 3 times a week, you want to reduce this to once every 7 to 10 days with black skin.

This will reduce the level of irritation your skin experiences and help smooth out hyperpigmentation in the long run.

Exfoliators should never be used to try and scrub away skin conditions like psoriasis or acne.

Your body will always try to protect itself from damage. Over-exfoliation means defense systems going into overdrive. Typically this means that the very thing you’re trying to treat or get rid of simply gets worse.

2. Gently does it

Dry skin can tend to be more noticeable on black skin as it washes out or greys your natural skin tone.

This can lead some people to scrub a bit too enthusiastically, eventually damaging and inflaming the skin. Over exfoliation also guarantees that the skin’s natural oil, sebum, is completely stripped away.

Although many suffer from oily skin, scrubbing isn’t as good an idea as it sounds.

After all, the human body is adaptable, and once it detects that there is no protective oil layer on the skin, it kicks your sebum glands into overdrive. This will leave you with a shiny, oily appearance, which many inevitably attempt to undo with even harsher scrubbing.

Unfortunately, this is a downward spiral that can create a wide variety of problems from dry skin, acne outbreaks, and, of course, oily skin.

Remember, when trying to treat an annoying skin condition by simply trying to clear away dead skin, don’t try and reach the goal in one sitting.

It is much better to gently exfoliate over several weeks until you reach the desired effect with minimal side effects.

3. No rough mechanical exfoliators

We will explain the difference between chemical and mechanical exfoliators further in the article but for now, avoid exfoliators with large, coarse particles such as salt grains, plastic beads, or nut and nutshells.

If you are looking for the best exfoliators for darker skin, however, we would go so far as to say that you should avoid almost all forms of physical exfoliators. Only the softest of exfoliators, such as sugar-rich, partially dissolve on use, can be considered safe to use.

4. No abrasive chemicals

In recent years there has been an increased uptake in chemical peels. This is likely in part because they can lift away a layer of dead skin without abrasive rubbing, therefore feeling very effective.

Many websites even recommend using apple cider vinegar or strong retinoids like tretinoin instead of visiting a qualified dermatologist.

Men and women with darker skin will want to avoid these ingredients like the plague. Not only will they leave your face feeling overly sensitive and inflamed, but they will also likely leave you with uneven pigmentation.

The 5 best exfoliators for black skin

ZELEN Life Exfoliator (Best for clean skincare)

ZELEN Life Exfoliator


Analysis:

MoisturizingMoisturizing
Drying Drying
Moisturizing Moisturizing
Balanced

FormulaFormula
Artifical Artifical
Natural Natural
Balanced

SensitivitySensitivity
Non-Sensitive Non-Sensitive
Sensitive Sensitive
Balanced

ThicknessThickness
Lightweight Lightweight
Thick Thick
Balanced

GreasinessGreasiness
Non-Greasy Non-Greasy
Greasy Greasy
Balanced

ScentScent
Unscented Unscented
Strong Strong
Balanced

PackagingPackaging
Basic Basic
Premium Premium
Balanced

PricePrice
Low Low
High High
Balanced

Paraben-free
Paraben-free
Hypoallergenic
Hypoallergenic
Non-Comedogenic
Non-Comedogenic
Cruelty-free
Cruelty-free
Vegan
Vegan
SPF
SPF

Unique features:

  • Made by hand with organic ingredients
  • Unisex
  • Premium packaging–matte silver airless pump bottle

The best exfoliator for:

Those suffering from sensitive and easily irritated skin and those looking for clean, natural skincare.

Notable ingredients:

Sugar. Jojoba oil. Sunflower oil. Honey.

Overview:

This organic exfoliator is handmade to be gentle on the skin. If you have sensitive skin and find it reacts to most exfoliators, then the ZELEN Life Exfoliator could be your solution.

Sugar is not only a great exfoliant, but it also acts as a natural humectant. This means it draws moisture to the skin while removing dead skin cells and other debris. Sugar encourages healthy skin circulation and helps restore its natural glow on the surface.

Jojoba oil superbly calms the skin and supports its natural healing abilities. With a very similar molecular structure to sebum (the skin’s natural oil), jojoba can be absorbed easier. This boosts hydration while telling the skin to not overproduce sebum. Thus, jojoba has clever oil-balancing properties that prevent clogged pores and acne breakouts.

Sunflower oil is enriched with vitamins–especially vitamin E. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that can reduce the effects of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles. Whatsmore, sunflower contains omega-6 and omega-9 (linoleic and oleic acid), which can also promote cell tissue health and prevent preventing premature aging. Sunflower also protects the skin from environmental aggressors, such as UV rays.

Honey is a natural anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antimicrobial. This helps speed up wound healing and assists conditions such as sunburns, breakouts, redness, etc. Honey is also a powerful humectant that hydrates and stabilizes the skin once the lifeless cells have been lifted through the exfoliation process.

Texture and usability:

The consistency of this facial scrub is more on the lightweight side. When using it, you will feel that it is not overly abrasive. So it is unlikely to irritate the skin, which is always a risk with physical exfoliators.

I noticed that during use (approx. 15-20 seconds after application), the sugar particles start to dissolve into the skin. This action, combined with the Jojoba, was lovely on the skin. It boosted hydration, and I could feel a protective layer on the surface. My skin was extremely clean and soft after washing off the leftover residue (which was not a lot, as most was absorbed).

Smell:

If you are a person that loves the raw smell of nature, you will come to love the scent of this exfoliator. It comes purely from its organic ingredients and has a wonderful floral, citrus, and honey character that will calm your senses and make you feel relaxed. The aroma itself is very light and goes away after a few seconds.

Packaging:

In my opinion, the packaging passes the “luxury test.” This glass jar is a good weight and feels robust against breakages. It also has a premium look that will complement anyone’s skincare collection. I appreciated staring at it, and I think you will too.

Pro tip:

Applying this exfoliator 2-3 times a week will maximize its benefits without the risk of over-exfoliating. If you have sensitive skin, the last thing you want is an exfoliator that causes irritations and redness or those dreaded pimples.

Keep in mind:

This face scrub is cruelty-free. However, with honey in the formula, it is not vegan. If you are looking for a vegan-friendly option, you might prefer Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid on our list.

The good:

  • An all-natural exfoliator for both men and women.
  • Calming ingredients that are essential for those with black skin sensitive to hyperpigmentation.
  • Anti-aging properties.
  • Removes dead skin cells and debris without dehydrating the skin.
  • Gentle and chemical-free.

Things to think about:

  • Any physical exfoliator must still be used with caution. Don’t overdo it.
  • Not vegan as it contains honey.

Bottom line:

If you’ve had negative experiences with “aggressive” exfoliators, this gentle yet powerful exfoliator by ZELEN Life could be your savior. With excellent skin-calming and hydrating properties, you’ll be applying an exfoliator that does more than just scrubs your skin.

  • Performance
  • Ingredients
  • Value for money
4.5 Overall Score

Hey Honey, Come Clean Propolis & Minerals, Facial Scrub (Best for dry skin)

Hey Honey Come Clean Propolis & Minerals Facial Scrub


Analysis:

MoisturizingMoisturizing
Drying Drying
Moisturizing Moisturizing
Balanced

FormulaFormula
Artifical Artifical
Natural Natural
Balanced

SensitivitySensitivity
Non-Sensitive Non-Sensitive
Sensitive Sensitive
Balanced

ThicknessThickness
Lightweight Lightweight
Thick Thick
Balanced

GreasinessGreasiness
Non-Greasy Non-Greasy
Greasy Greasy
Balanced

ScentScent
Unscented Unscented
Strong Strong
Balanced

PackagingPackaging
Basic Basic
Premium Premium
Balanced

PricePrice
Low Low
High High
Balanced

Paraben-free
Paraben-free
Hypoallergenic
Hypoallergenic
Non-Comedogenic
Non-Comedogenic
Cruelty-free
Cruelty-free
Vegan
Vegan
SPF
SPF

Unique features:

  • Honey focused
  • Quickly turns into a lotion on application–love it or hate it!
  • Ultra-gentle

The best exfoliator for:

Anyone with a stubborn combination of dry skin, excess oil, and blackheads.

Notable ingredients:

Bee propolis. Dead sea salt. Vitamin E. Castor bean oil.

Overview:

As their name suggests, Hey Honey unsurprisingly focuses on honey in their skincare products. And it’s not just another fad! Honey has been famous through the ages for wound healing and preventing infections.

Bee propolis is a mix of honeybee honey, enzymes, and tree bud sap. This modern twist in skincare can provide antifungal, antiseptic, and antimicrobial properties. There is also evidence to suggest it improves cellular turnover and regeneration. This can help smooth out skin tone and reduce pigmentation.

Dead sea salt helps to remove dead skin cells and can improve skin impurities. Research has indicated that it can be used to treat conditions such as psoriasis and inflammations. [10]

Vitamin E is blessed with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It helps reduce irritations and itchiness. It can also play a role in improving visible signs of skin aging, such as sagginess and wrinkles.

Castor bean oil is known for being extremely moisturizing. This can help your skin stay supple and youthful. It also reduces puffiness, which is ideal for those unwanted saggy eye bags.

Texture and application:

This is another gentle scrub that has a light texture. It may feel more like a moisturizer than an exfoliator. Like the ZELEN Life Exfoliator, you will feel its exfoliating particles dissolve during use. I found that the dead sea salt in this scrub diminished quicker than ZELEN Life’s sugar power.

This face scrub felt like it turned into a smooth lotion very quickly. This is not positive or negative–it is just my observation. The lotion absorbed very nicely into my skin. But if you prefer a stronger, longer-lasting exfoliation experience, then this product might not be for you. If that’s you, I think you’d be better off with Peter Thomas Roth’s Potent-C Power Scrub on our list.

For those who prefer a gentle exfoliation and want to get on with their day, I’d recommend this product. But remember, it might be lightweight, but it’s still an exfoliator. So don’t overuse it!

Scent:

This exfoliator is neither heavy nor light on the nose. It has a fruity honey aroma that is uplifting and refreshing. While it does contain a fragrance, I didn’t find it “perfumy.”

Packaging:

The plastic tube design of this exfoliator is not its strong point. In my opinion, it looks a bit basic for the price tag. I would something more premium-looking like ZELEN Life’s Exfoliator. However, the plastic tube will prevent the product from leaking or suffering breakages.

Keep in mind:

While this product does contain acne-fighting properties, I didn’t find it as effective for breakouts compared to Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA. So if you suffer from breakouts, take this into consideration.

The good:

  • A holistic scrub that protects the skin with its careful ingredient mix
  • Contains anti-oxidants reducing irritation and inflammation
  • Designed with sensitive skin in mind
  • Promotes even skin tone and enhances hydration
  • Can be used over your whole body

Things to think about:

  • Despite the benefits, some comment on the high price point.
  • Packaging could be better.
  • Not the strongest action for acne. Only for very mild blemishes.

Bottom line:

If you are looking for a useful and versatile exfoliator but don’t want to irritate your skin in the process, give Hey Honey’s Facial Scrub a try. It is very gentle and useful for a wide variety of skin types. With an antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory formula, it can help darker skin prone to hyperpigmentation and dryness.

  • Performance
  • Ingredients
  • Value for money
4.5 Overall Score

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid (Best for acne)

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA


Analysis:

MoisturizingMoisturizing
Drying Drying
Moisturizing Moisturizing
Balanced

FormulaFormula
Artifical Artifical
Natural Natural
Balanced

SensitivitySensitivity
Non-Sensitive Non-Sensitive
Sensitive Sensitive
Balanced

ThicknessThickness
Lightweight Lightweight
Thick Thick
Balanced

GreasinessGreasiness
Non-Greasy Non-Greasy
Greasy Greasy
Balanced

ScentScent
Unscented Unscented
Strong Strong
Balanced

PackagingPackaging
Basic Basic
Premium Premium
Balanced

PricePrice
Low Low
High High
Balanced

Paraben-free
Paraben-free
Hypoallergenic
Hypoallergenic
Non-Comedogenic
Non-Comedogenic
Cruelty-free
Cruelty-free
Vegan
Vegan
SPF
SPF

Unique features:

  • Contains salicylic acid
  • Chemical exfoliation
  • Targets acne

The best exfoliator for:

Great for oily and combination skin types. Ideal for those looking to balance hydration and have a mattified effect on the skin.

Notable ingredients:

2% Salicylic acid. Green tea.

Overview:

Is Paula’s Choice going to be your choice?

This is arguably the best-selling product in their whole range. Not only does it boast salicylic acid, but it also claims to calm the skin and balance its pH levels.

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) derived from willow bark. As a BHA, it is more “oil-soluble.” This means it penetrates deeper into the pores and unclogs them by dissolving bacteria, dirt, and debris. Therefore, it is very effective for acne prevention–blackheads and whiteheads.

On the other hand, you should know the powerful action of salicylic acid can have some drawbacks. It can dry out the skin, so those with sensitive and easily irritated skin should be careful.

Green tea extract is a good inclusion for black skin. Being rich in anti-inflammatory properties, green tea can help heal irritations, redness, and blemishes. The polyphenols in green tea help reduce excess oil production and provide antibacterial benefits. This can help to control acne. They can also soothe skin issues such as psoriasis, dermatitis, and rosacea. [11, 12].

Texture and usability:

In contrast to ZELEN Life’s and Hey Honey’s exfoliators (above), the texture of this scrub is not lightweight. However, it is not the heaviest either.

I found that it can assist the appearance of blemishes. This is evidently due to its salicylic acid content and the ability to manage the skin’s oil production. While I didn’t encounter any irritations, I can not guarantee that you won’t. Skin tolerance to this exfoliator will differ person-to-person. In reviews online, some users have reported a negative experience using this product.

On the side of caution, if your skin is sensitive or typically very dry, I’d recommend ZELEN Life’s or Hey Honey’s gentle exfoliators over this one. But if you are prone to acne and can tolerate more aggressive ingredients, look no further than Paula’s Choice.

Pro tip:

Like any product containing salicylic acid, you should apply it slowly and build up over time. As your skin gets used to it and more tolerant, you can step things up and use it more regularly.

Scent:

There’s not a lot to report regarding the smell. I’d describe it as very neutral. It is fragrance-free if you’re not a fan of strong scents.

Packaging:

With its minimalist approach, the bottle passes off as premium. While I don’t usually like the dropper system, it is designed to prevent over-application. I haven’t quite mastered this yet. If the same goes for you, expect some wasted drops when trying to extract the liquid from the bottle.

The good:

  • Fast absorbing
  • Improves skin quality over time
  • Helps pigmented spots fade and smooths out skin tone
  • Reduces acne blemishes

Things to think about:

  • The occasional user reports tightness of the skin–use in moderations, especially in the beginning.
  • It can be drying

Bottom line:

Paula’s Choice BHA Liquid is an alternative option for those who prefer chemical exfoliation over mechanical exfoliation. Overall, it is gentle enough without irritating or pigmenting black skin. If you have positive experiences using products containing salicylic acid, then you got the green light from me!

  • Performance
  • Ingredients
  • Value for money
4.0 Overall Score

Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Power Scrub (Best for anti-aging)

Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Power Scrub


Analysis:

MoisturizingMoisturizing
Drying Drying
Moisturizing Moisturizing
Balanced

FormulaFormula
Artifical Artifical
Natural Natural
Balanced

SensitivitySensitivity
Non-Sensitive Non-Sensitive
Sensitive Sensitive
Balanced

ThicknessThickness
Lightweight Lightweight
Thick Thick
Balanced

GreasinessGreasiness
Non-Greasy Non-Greasy
Greasy Greasy
Balanced

ScentScent
Unscented Unscented
Strong Strong
Balanced

PackagingPackaging
Basic Basic
Premium Premium
Balanced

PricePrice
Low Low
High High
Balanced

Paraben-free
Paraben-free
Hypoallergenic
Hypoallergenic
Non-Comedogenic
Non-Comedogenic
Cruelty-free
Cruelty-free
Vegan
Vegan
SPF
SPF

Unique features:

  • Packed with vitamin C
  • Long term solution
  • Tried and tested brand

The best exfoliator for:

Those who are looking for an exfoliator that is blessed with anti-aging properties.

Notable ingredients:

Vitamin C. Vitamin E. Ferulic acid. Jojoba & Cocoa butter beads and spheres.

Overview:

So, I covered Paula’s choice (above). Now, here’s Peter’s. Peter Thomas Roth, in fact. If you’ve read this far and were waiting for an exfoliator with a strong action, then here you go! Peter Thomas Roth’s Potent-C Power Scrub is a powerful scrub that also provides powerful anti-aging results.

Vitamin C is a rich antioxidant proven to provide skin aging benefits. It promotes collagen and elastin production, which keeps the skin plump and tight. It also assists hyperpigmentation–a common issue for black skin. Vitamin C also protects the skin from sun damage. There’s more. Its anti-inflammatory properties also help to reduce redness and encourage an even skin tone.

Vitamin E has potent anti-aging properties. It assists blood circulation, which encourages a firmer appearance. This is another vitamin rich in antioxidants. It promotes cell regeneration which can delay wrinkles, fine lines, and photoaging.

Ferulic acid has grown in popularity due to its ability to combat free radicals and protect the skin from damage. It is often used in anti-aging skincare as it enhances the effectiveness of vitamins C and E. According to a 2005 study, when taken with vitamins C and E, ferulic acid has the ability to provide twice the amount of photoprotection. [13] Amazing, right!

Jojoba & Cocoa butter beads melt into the skin, providing nourishment, hydration, and gentle cleansing action. Unlike the microbeads in most exfoliators, Jojoba and Cocoa butter beads are non-plastic. They help to restore skin tone while unclogging pores of dead skin cells. This is achieved without being harsh on the skin like nutshell or plastic beads.

Texture and application:

As you know by now, the texture of this scrub is not lightweight. You will feel the microbeads immediately. While it may feel abrasive, I believe it is not overly heavy. During use, I think you will enjoy how the beads break to avoid the skin becoming irritated.

However, I did find this exfoliator to be a little difficult to rinse off. The beads that don’t dissolve tend to remain as sticky residue on the skin. You might need a muslin cloth to remove them all. After all, nobody wants to leave the house with Jojoba beads behind their nose.

That said, this face scrub does an excellent job of removing dead skin cells. My skin was left feeling fresh without being overly drying.

Caution:

If you have sensitive skin, I recommend that you do not massage this product onto your skin too hard. If you use excessive force, this scrub might become counterproductive. The last thing you want is skin damage. If you want something gentler–we have you covered with our choices above.

Smell:

The scent of this scrub is delicious. It comes with a wonderful citrus aroma thanks to the natural ingredients. There is also a subtle synthetic fragrance in its formula, but you wouldn’t have guessed that. The scent is by no means heavy or overwhelming. Perfect!

Tube design:

As for the packaging, I actually like its orange-grey color as a reflection of the ingredients within. It might not be to everyone’s liking, but it works for me. Some reviewers mentioned that the tube breaks easily. However, I didn’t experience this.

The good:

  • Effectively removes dead skin cells and dirt.
  • A true exfoliation experience.
  • Packed with anti-aging properties due to the vitamin C and E inclusion.
  • Magnificient smell.

Things to think about:

  • Can be a bit harsh on sensitive skin types due to its microbeads. Although they are not plastic-based.

Bottom line:

In a nutshell, Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Power Scrub is an excellent exfoliator packed with anti-aging vitamins C and E. Works great and smells great!

  • Performance
  • Ingredients
  • Value for money
4.0 Overall Score

Neutrogena Body Clear Body Scrub (Best for body)

Neutrogena Body Clear Body Scrub


Analysis:

MoisturizingMoisturizing
Drying Drying
Moisturizing Moisturizing
Balanced

FormulaFormula
Artifical Artifical
Natural Natural
Balanced

SensitivitySensitivity
Non-Sensitive Non-Sensitive
Sensitive Sensitive
Balanced

ThicknessThickness
Lightweight Lightweight
Thick Thick
Balanced

GreasinessGreasiness
Non-Greasy Non-Greasy
Greasy Greasy
Balanced

ScentScent
Unscented Unscented
Strong Strong
Balanced

PackagingPackaging
Basic Basic
Premium Premium
Balanced

PricePrice
Low Low
High High
Balanced

Paraben-free
Paraben-free
Hypoallergenic
Hypoallergenic
Non-Comedogenic
Non-Comedogenic
Cruelty-free
Cruelty-free
Vegan
Vegan
SPF
SPF

Unique features:

  • Body exfoliator
  • Oil-free and non-comedogenic
  • Targets body acne

The best exfoliator for:

Men and women with persistent body acne.

Notable ingredients:

Salicylic acid. Glycerin. Jojoba. Camellia oleifera. Leaf extract.

Overview:

Neutrogena is a household name. So, there is no doubting their experience in perfecting formulations in skincare. Their Body Clear Body Scrub is another classic off their production line. It is ideal for black skin with persistent dry or irritated patches and prone to breakouts.

Salicylic acid, as I have already covered, is one of the best ingredients to battle acne breakouts. This beta-hydroxy acid is effective at combatting acne by balancing excess oil production. Whatsmore, it is a great exfoliant that helps dissolve blackheads and whiteheads.

Glycerin is a humectant that helps hydrate the skin by drawing water from its deeper layers and pulling moisture from the air to its outer layer. While salicylic acid can dry out the skin, glycerin helps counteract this.

Jojoba boosts hydration while providing rich antioxidant and anti-aging properties. It has been proven to reduce flaky, rough skin and increase its firmness and elasticity. This is due to its high vitamin E content.

Camellia oleifera is a version of green tea that originated in Asia, especially in China. Green tea is rich in anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, helping combat redness, acne, and other skin complaints. Whatsmore, green tea contains oleic and linoleic acid that prevents water loss and rejuvenates the skin.

Texture:

The texture of this exfoliating gel is balanced in terms of consistency. I am sure that you will like how it lathers, which leaves the skin smooth and clean. It’s also non-greasy. Due to the inclusion of salicylic acid, you might feel your skin a bit dry afterward. I recommend immediately following up with a body lotion.

Caution:

Remember that this is a body scrub, not a facial exfoliator. Companies typically make facial scrubs with finer mechanical exfoliators (if any) and weaker concentrations of chemical peels. This is a body scrub formulated for thicker skin. So, it is advisable to keep it away from your delicate facial skin to avoid unwanted irritation.

If you are looking for an acne scrub suitable for your face, then Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA on our list is more appropriate. It also contains salicylic acid and green tea to achieve its exfoliating action.

Smell:

While this body scrub does contain fragrance, its scent is very light and neutral. I would describe it as a little bit medicinal. In my opinion, it’s not the best you will find in a skincare product, but this is a body scrub, after all!

Packaging:

The bottle is basic yet functional. The lid does a great job of protecting the liquid from environmental contamination and accidental leaking. Plus, the quantity you get for the price makes it decent value.

The good:

  • A simple and gentle exfoliator for anyone looking for smooth and clear skin.
  • Reduces body acne and blemishes.
  • Oil-free–useful for managing black skin, which is on the oilier side.
  • Non-comedogenic–won’t block your pores.

Things to think about:

  • Too harsh to use on your face.
  • Can dry out the skin if overused.

Bottom line:

Neutrogena Body Clear Body Scrub is a back-to-basics body exfoliator that won’t irritate your skin. Yet it brings all the benefits of combatting pesky body acne.

  • Performance
  • Ingredients
  • Value for money
3.5 Overall Score

How we chose these products

Skincare research can sometimes be convoluted, with all the fantastic research often clouded by user opinions and dermatologists’ favorites.

For this article, we went right back to the core biology of skin, looking at the most recent and detailed studies on the ethnic differences between skin.

Once the unique features of black skin had been isolated, we then contrasted these research findings with popular products promoted to a black audience, black-owned products, and suggestions promoted by dermatologists specializing in ethnic skin types.

Thankfully, there are many great dermatologists and scientists working to make skincare accessible and functional for everyone.

The products found in this article represent skincare solutions that aim to treat the black skin trifecta by reducing oiliness, reducing inflammation, and balancing skin pH.

Benefits of exfoliation

Benefits of exfoliation

Most people are aware that using an exfoliator gets rid of greyish, lifeless skin. But are there any other benefits to including exfoliation in your skincare routine?

Although having darker skin does mean your skin ages more slowly, there are still underlying changes which it is good to address at any age.

No matter your skin color, as we get older, our skin cell turnover rate slows down.[3]

What this means in practice is that fresh skin takes longer to be exposed on the surface. Unfortunately, this can lead to high rates of bacteria under the skin, reduced oxygenation, and an increased buildup of dead cells.

By keeping a gentle exfoliator in your skincare routine, you can restore some level of control to the cell turnover rate.

Smoothing out the skin isn’t just for appearances either. Fresh skin that can breathe easily is less likely to experience acne outbreaks, skin irritation, and of course, hyperpigmentation.[4]

This is why we recommend the use of weak retinoid-like retinol alongside a weekly exfoliator.

By lifting away dead skin, bacteria are deprived of their oxygen-depleted environment, which they usually live and multiply in. Less bacteria means less inflammation, which in turn reduces the risk of melanin-producing cells hyper pigmenting the skin in patches.

Ingredients for exfoliating black skin

While we may have outlined the best tips when looking for an exfoliator and provided you with our recommendations. You might be left wondering which one is for you.

We know that the results we are looking for in black skin are mainly: the lowest irritation possible while also taking into account potential excess oil production.[5]

For that reason, we really think that only gentle physical exfoliators and one specific type of chemical peel should be used, which is reflected in our top choices.

Salicylic acid

We suggest using special natural acids – namely hydroxy acids like salicylic acid.[6]

Salicylic acid is a type of chemical peel known as beta hydroxy acid. Although the word acid in the name may make it seem like a harsh ingredient, it is, in fact, safe to use on black skin.

These gentle chemical peels work by loosening and separating the top layer of skin away from the skin underneath.

This sheds away the skin and leaves you with a more even tone. Compared to other peels, which are more acidic in nature, salicylic acid is actually anti-inflammatory.

This is great news as it helps to soothe the new skin and minimize new hyperpigmentation from any pre-existing irritants.

Other acids for exfoliating black skin

Salicylic is a beta-hydroxy acid, but there is another group called alpha-hydroxy acids.

These are all organic acids that loosen the grip and bonds between skin cells. This then allows for the top layer of older skin to come away from the newer, fresher skin underneath.

Citric acid

Perhaps the most well-known of alpha-hydroxy acids, citric acid is, of course, derived from citrus fruits such as lemons and limes, amongst other sources. What’s impressive about citric acid is that it stimulates skin cells to produce hyaluronic acid. This acid ensures there is an adequate level of hydration locked into the skin.[7]

Lactic acid

You may have heard of this acid in reference to sport and exercise. Lactic acid builds up when your muscles exercise without enough oxygen and can lead to cramping. It is also found naturally in our skin, with lactic acid as a skincare ingredient being sourced from sour milk.

It has many useful qualities – aside from being a gentle exfoliator that doesn’t irritate black skin, it also helps the skin retain moisture and even out hyperpigmentation. An extra benefit is that Lactic acid can inhibit melanomas’ growth- an aggressive type of skin cancer.[8]

Alternative ingredients for black skin

Although not an exfoliator in the strictest sense, Retinol is another compound that promotes new, fresh skin cells to come to the surface. It does this by increasing the rate of skin cell turnover.

By increasing the rate of new cell growth, there is less concentration of irritation and damage, which gives a smoother and healthier skin appearance.[9]

Retinol is commonly found in anti-aging serums and products as it has a wide range of positive effects on the skin. It is included here for completeness, but as we said, it is not strictly an exfoliator.

Why?

Exfoliators remove dead skin during and shortly after their use, i.e., in a few minutes or less. However, retinol can take up to half a year of consistent daily use to take full effect. A useful addition for many skincare reasons, but it won’t be replacing your weekly exfoliator any time soon.

Frequently asked questions

frequently-asked-questions-3

1. Do exfoliators lighten dark skin?

No, exfoliators are not skin lighteners, bleachers, or anything else related. They do not pull melanin from the skin and make your tone unnaturally light.

However, they do reduce the level of hyperpigmentation, which is a darker shade than your normal skin tone.

2. Can’t I just have a clinic-based chemical peel/laser resurfacing/ microdermabrasion?

Again, no. These are not a good idea for black skin. These are fairly abrasive and strong treatments and should be reserved for those who have them medically recommended by a dermatologist.

For black skin, there is a high risk of irritation and hyperpigmentation after using these interventions.

Conclusion

We hope this article gives some insight into the incredible array of products that are becoming available for black skin.

As you might have noticed from this list, you don’t need to rely on products marketed to black-only audiences to see great results. A good example of this would be Paula’s Choice exfoliant, which has seen great popularity without being marketed to any skin color or group.

We appreciate there is a confusing mix of information out there in the skincare world. If you have any questions or comments, leave them below, and we’ll get back to you as fast as we can.

If you like science-backed skincare, make sure to sign up for the ZELEN Life newsletter. We send out great subscriber-only content that you won’t find anywhere else.


References

  1. Wesley NO, Maibach HI. Racial (ethnic) differences in skin properties: the objective data. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2003;4(12):843-60. doi: 10.2165/00128071-200304120-00004. PMID: 14640777.
  2. Deng, Lian, and Shuhua Xu. “Adaptation of human skin color in various populations.” Hereditas vol. 155 1. 15 Jun. 2017, doi:10.1186/s41065-017-0036-2
  3. Eckhart, Leopold et al. “Autophagic Control of Skin Aging.” Frontiers in cell and developmental biology vol. 7 143. 30 Jul. 2019, doi:10.3389/fcell.2019.00143
  4. França, Katlein, and Jonette Keri. “Psychosocial impact of acne and postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.” Anais brasileiros de dermatologia vol. 92,4 (2017): 505-509. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20175645
  5. Rawlings, A V. “Ethnic skin types: are there differences in skin structure and function?.” International journal of cosmetic science vol. 28,2 (2006): 79-93. doi:10.1111/j.1467-2494.2006.00302.x
  6. Tang, Sheau-Chung, and Jen-Hung Yang. “Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 23,4 863. 10 Apr. 2018, doi:10.3390/molecules23040863
  7. Baumann, Leslie S et al. “Comparison of clindamycin 1% and benzoyl peroxide 5% gel to a novel composition containing salicylic acid, capryloyl salicylic acid, HEPES, glycolic acid, citric acid, and dioic acid in the treatment of acne vulgaris.” Journal of drugs in dermatology: JDD vol. 12,3 (2013): 266-9.
  8. Huang, Huey-Chun et al. “Lactic Acid Bacteria and Lactic Acid for Skin Health and Melanogenesis Inhibition.” Current pharmaceutical biotechnology vol. 21,7 (2020): 566-577. doi:10.2174/1389201021666200109104701
  9. Dhaliwal, S et al. “Prospective, randomized, double-blind assessment of topical bakuchiol and retinol for facial photoaging.” The British journal of dermatology vol. 180,2 (2019): 289-296. doi:10.1111/bjd.16918
  10. Katz U, Shoenfeld Y, Zakin V, Sherer Y, Sukenik S. Scientific evidence of the therapeutic effects of dead sea treatments: a systematic review. Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2012;42(2):186-200. doi:10.1016/j.semarthrit.2012.02.006
  11. Ohishi T, Goto S, Monira P, Isemura M, Nakamura Y. Anti-inflammatory Action of Green Tea. Antiinflamm Antiallergy Agents Med Chem. 2016;15(2):74-90. doi:10.2174/1871523015666160915154443
  12. Saric S, Notay M, Sivamani RK. Green Tea and Other Tea Polyphenols: Effects on Sebum Production and Acne Vulgaris. Antioxidants (Basel). 2016;6(1):2. Published 2016 Dec 29. doi:10.3390/antiox6010002
  13. Lin, Fu-Hsiung et al. Ferulic Acid Stabilizes a Solution of Vitamins C and E and Doubles its Photoprotection of Skin. Journal of Investigative Dermatology vol. 125, 4, (2005): 826 – 832. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0022-202X.2005.23768.x
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About The Author

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Board-Certified Doctor and Educator

Bachelor of Medicine Bachelor of Surgery MBBS (Cardiff University)

London, United Kingdom

Dr. McKeown is a UK based NHS clinician with over 10 years experience in both hospital medicine and surgery. After an initial career in maxillofacial surgery his focus now lies in elderly care and rehabilitation medicine. A board member for Wadham College of Science, Dr. McKeown is passionate about widening access to both education and healthcare around the world and as a result, outside of his clinical work he spends much of his time either teaching or providing medical consultancy to healthcare startups. Commercially, his interests lie in helping research and promote novel, evidence-based medicines originating from natural sources and processes.

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