We have come a long way in the skin care industry over the past few decades – skin care for black men is now no longer a small niche but an industry standard.
The days when all skin care products and advice were aimed solely at white women have long gone.
Instead, now there is a recognition that while most human skin is very similar, differences in gender, heritage, and average climate mean that there is a different “best skincare regime” for everyone.
Understanding black men’s skin care
But how much does skin care for black men really differ from the generic advice you can find online?
You will, of course, want to follow the basics closely, leading a generally healthy lifestyle and having a consistent routine that:
- At least moisturizes your face, and
- Protects it from UV and environmental damage.
Once you have that covered, it is then up to you to be aware of your own needs.
Well, the awareness that black men could benefit from their own specialized products is actually a bit of a double-edged sword.
‘Black skin’ is really its own generalization can be very unhelpful.
It is the level of pigmentation in your skin that can change how you react to different formulations and products. As we all know, pigmentation can vary wildly from one black man to the next.
So what to do?
We have outlined the best skin care tips to tackle skin conditions and issues more commonly seen amongst black guys. Do note that this is not a mandatory list – you need to be sensible about what is really affecting you.
Don’t just run out and buy expensive lotions and potions, hoping they will magically clear your skin within a few days.
Specific skin care for black men
When it comes to doing your own research, don’t get distracted by products that claim to be just for black people. Just like the rest of the industry that is aimed at any skin type, gender, or demographic, there are both good and bad products.
Some less scrupulous companies simply take their standard formulation yet claim it is skin care “for African American males” and increase the price by 20%.
On the other side of the coin, some excellent products are already in existence that is not marketed to any one person in particular. These products still have years of research, and thousands of happy customers stood behind them, regardless of their skin pigmentation level!
Fortunately, products that aren’t great for darker skin tend not to get recommended here on ZELEN Life anyway.
Is that on purpose?
No, but it just so happens that face care products that tend to negatively affect black men’s skin contain unnatural, harsh chemicals (which we like to avoid at all costs anyway).
Skincare companies have pretty much failed to test these cheaper products on dark skin. Out in the real world, men and women of African descent have found that poorly formulated skincare products are an almost inevitable way of causing uneven and patchy hyperpigmentation.
So the best bet is to find companies who have had the intelligence to test their products on a range of people and a range of skin colors. This is simply the only way to truly find out whether the unique formulation they have concocted will have any adverse or even long-term skincare reactions.
As we said, what’s actually important for your skin is targeting whichever issues you find you personally have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. This, combined with a simple and consistent routine containing a few products tailored to you, is likely the best bet.
Black men naturally have an increased amount of pigment in their skin. Whilst changes in pigmentation and dark spots can happen to anyone, they are simply more easily seen on the skin that is already darker.
Melanin is the chemical that gives skin its darker tone. The level of it can increase in the right circumstances, the main two being sun exposure and inflammation (including external damage).
The type of patchy or spotty hyperpigmentation that most black guys want to avoid is caused by irritated or damaged skin, sometimes from conditions such as acne. These dark spots happen because melanin starts to leak out of cells when they are made leaky by inflammation.
The underlying physiological processes of damage and repair pull the pigmenting melanin out of the skin cells, leaving you with the appearance of uneven tone and dark-spotted skin.
Avoiding hyperpigmentation is really all about calming the skin and avoiding injury and inflammation as much as possible from acne outbreaks and other conditions.
You will want to look out for natural and gentle products that utilize anti-inflammatory and antioxidant ingredients. Keeping the skin moisturized also reduces the stress put on skin cells on a day-to-day basis and can help with limiting irritation and inflammation.
Retinol is a great anti-pigmentation ingredient derived from vitamin A. Typically included in anti-aging solutions, retinol has a wide range of benefits for your skin. While it doesn’t unnaturally reduce your pigmentation, it does help stop overproduction.
Retinol supports the skin from the ground up, helping with collagen production and ensuring a healthy underlying structure. Most importantly, it speeds up the rate of cell turnover, which helps reduce uneven skin coloration.
Gently stripping away dead cells and increasing cell turnover also has a great cosmetic effect, giving you a fresh appearance with no dull or greyish, dry skin.
To minimize hyperpigmentation as much as possible, you will want to try and eliminate any other sources of irritation and damage to the skin, such as the next few points in the article.
2. Ingrown hair
There are a few risk factors for ingrown hairs, including your shaving technique and general skin health. However, having curly hair is a risk factor that can’t really be avoided and tends to promote hair growing under the skin after shaving.
The thicker and curlier hair is, the more tensile strength it has. When we shave, this pulls on the skin slightly and pulls hairs upright, away from the root, before the razor edge makes full contact and cuts the hair away.
When the razor moves away, the tension in the skin is released, and it falls back to its normal position. For hair, this means curling back into a circular shape now that the tension from the razor is no longer pulling it straight.
This can suck the end of the hair under the surface of the skin and point the end away from the hair follicle opening.
When the hair inevitably continues to grow, it is simply pointing in the wrong direction and grows in a tight ball under the skin. As there is no space under the dermis for this new hair, the surrounding skin becomes irritated and tries to reject it. This can lead to lots of tiny bumps on the skin or larger spots if they become infected.
The main way to avoid ingrown hairs is with proper shaving technique. Firstly, always shave in the direction that the hair is growing. This can help prevent it overly straightening under the tension of the razor as the top is simply being sliced off instead.
Ensure you are not shaving too harshly or aggressively, as pressing the razor too firmly against the skin will naturally cut the hair at a deeper level.
Although it may be hard to break the habit, try only to shave as and when needed. If you shave every morning, check before you put the blade to your face. If your hair is barely visible or has hardly grown at all, perhaps it is better to leave it until the next morning.
If you have a history of poor shaving technique, and that is currently visible in the shape of many little bumps on your face, don’t despair! Instead, you can use a gentle exfoliator containing sugar, for example, or an exfoliating acid like salicylic acid.
Gently does it. However, don’t drown your face in acid in desperation – inevitably, you will make matters worse.
3. Sun and UV ray damage
If you’re surprised to see this one on the list, you are not alone. Yes, it is true that the more melanin that you have in your skin, the greater the level of protection you have from UV radiation.
But what does this actually translate to in real life?
Unfortunately, most of us in the West have a fairly indoor lifestyle, which is not only bad for Vitamin D levels but can also undermine our natural melanin protection as well. Whilst having darker skin will give you much greater protection than those with pale, Caucasian skin, your protection is not absolute.
If you have never used sunscreen before in your life, now is the time to start. Not only will it reduce your lifetime risk of skin cancer, but it will also reduce your level of skin aging and hyperpigmentation.
Don’t confuse your risk of sunburn with your risk of serious long-term complications like skin cancer.
One of the main reasons that those with darker skin tend to avoid sunblocks and sun creams is that they can leave a faint whitish residue on the skin.
Clearly, this isn’t much of an issue if your skin is already white, to begin with, but the darker your pigmentation, the more residue can stand out, or in worst-case scenarios, make you look grey and unhealthy.
Check the ingredients on the back of the bottle for sunscreens that contain oxides, such as titanium dioxide. You’ll have to be careful here because even the most expensive sunscreens can contain these ingredients. If you’re struggling to find one that works, search for clear solutions or oils you can apply instead.
Make sure you don’t pick up low SPF sunscreen oils. These are actually more of a tanning oil, used more frequently by Mediterranean cultures such as Italians who want to lie all day in the sun and pick up a deep tan.
These oils (which can be as low as SPF 2!) can, in some cases, trap the heat of the sun and, in fact, cause even more damage to the skin.
For proper protection, you want your SPF to be at least 15 to 30 to avoid the sun’s most damaging effects.Enjoying this article? Get similar skincare content direct to your inbox! Subscribe to our exclusive newsletter and we will help you master your routine. Receive regular tips and tricks, how-to's, special offers and more...
4. Problem acne
Whilst acne is a problem for teenagers of any color around the world. It is perhaps more annoying for those of us with darker skin because of the more noticeable hyperpigmentation inflammation and scarring causes.
An unfortunate trend is to try and use the most aggressive and corrosive ingredients to stop acne in its tracks. This has become popular because of the understanding that trapped bacteria in the skin cause acne. The thinking is that by burning out bacteria trapped in the pores, then the problem goes away.
This would be true if bacteria were the only cause of acne. Excess sebum (skin oil) production is actually one of the major causative factors for acne. The oil suffocates the skin and traps otherwise non-harmful bacteria within hair follicles and pores. These bacteria thrive in the new low oxygen environment and begin to multiply rapidly.
Using harsh chemicals does indeed strip away dead skin, acne-causing bacteria and clears the pores. The unfortunate consequence of this is that the skin becomes more irritated, damaged, and in some cases, broken as well.
This leaves the skin as the perfect breeding ground for further bacterial infections and even worse acne outbreaks down the line.
The body is adaptive, and if you strip away its protective oils, it will try to compensate by producing even more oil, catching you in an ever-worsening spiral.
So how to deal with this issue?
The first thing is to recognize that you naturally have higher oil production as a man, and darker skin also tends to have increased oil levels compared to lighter skin. Oil level control is clearly important, so the best thing to do is to ensure your skin remains doubly moisturized and happy to minimize excess oil production.
To help keep your skin fresh and pores unclogged, using a mild cleanser or gentle exfoliator (either physical or acid) helps keep your face fresh and outbreak free.
Dermatologists with experience in helping guys with darker skin improve their complexion have noted anecdotally that the use of benzoyl peroxide should be avoided. If you suffer from acne, this is an ingredient you have likely come across before. Its use is widespread, especially amongst teenage spot solutions.
The suggestion is to use benzoyl peroxide as a brief cleanser instead of leaving it on as a topical solution.
5. Unseen allergies and skin intolerances
In a modern busy world, it can be hard to pay attention to everything all the time. Whilst we try our best to keep on top of our health and appearance, inevitably, some things fall through the cracks. Skin care is one thing that many people let slide until there is a physical or irritating issue.
For example, many men grow up thinking that the feeling of burn when you apply aftershave on freshly shaved skin is completely normal. In fact, for younger guys, it can be seen as a sign you are a proper man putting up with the discomfort.
What your body is, of course, telling you when you feel that intense stinging is that you are damaging your skin. Not really something you want to be aiming for.
Those with light, pale skin will probably stop a skin care habit or behavior if they see it turns their skin bright red. However, guys with darker skin may not have this warning sign or see their cheeks turn slightly reddish-purple instead. Because it is easier to ignore it often is.
It is only paid attention to when there is a sudden outbreak of spots or the inevitable hyperpigmentation that occurs as the skin recovers from inflammation. If you leave it that late you will have multiple problems to deal with rather than simply sensitive and irritated skin.
Being more aware of your skin is one of the best things that black men can do. This is the fastest way of being alerted to the fact that the skin care products you are using aren’t really the best, either for darker skin or your current skin state.
As we said at the beginning of the article, you really want to make an effort to minimize the amount of irritation and inflammation that your skin experiences. Using cheap or harsh chemicals on the skin rather than antioxidants and calming, anti-inflammatory ingredients are more likely to give you uneven coloring and hyperpigmentation.
What a black male’s skin care routine should look like
Now that we have a good idea of the common skin care concerns to prevent and avoid, we can put together a good facial care routine for black men. As with everything, consistency is key. There are no one-off wonders which will clear up your complexion or cure your skin complaint.
This routine tries to encapsulate all the key points discussed in a simple, affordable, and easy-to-apply regimen.
Step 1. Cleanse
As you might’ve gathered by now, keeping the skin soothed, and calm is really priority number 1 for dark skin. Cleansing is already a good idea for skin upkeep and does a great job of clearing away daily build-up of grime and irritants.
You can get away with washing your face with water of course, but for the best results, you will want a cleanser that can remove dirt effectively whilst also retaining your skin’s natural moisture.
By getting the balance of your skin’s moisture right, you can stop the constant seesaw between overly oily and overly dry skin. Having clean and balanced skin reduces the amount of unseen inflammation going on under the surface.
This, in turn, will help smooth out any hyperpigmentation already present and keep your face looking fresh rather than dull or shiny.
Step 2. Gently exfoliate
We have it said a number of times throughout this article, but you want to be gentle with your skin, not rough. This rule applies equally to exfoliating.
The point behind exfoliating is to remove stubborn dead skin and anything else sticking to the skin that is not removed through washing and cleansing. It is not meant to be abrasive for the skin in an attempt to remove any blemishes or burn away unwelcome skin conditions like acne.
Really you should limit yourself to exfoliating a maximum of three times a week. Any less than this and you risk dead skin and grime clogging up your pores. More exfoliating than this means you will eventually be exfoliating away new fresh skin causing unnecessary irritation.
Exfoliating products come in two flavors: physical and chemical. It is beyond this article’s scope to go into depth on both, but for those unaccustomed to exfoliation, a very soft physical scrub can be a good place to start. If it doesn’t agree with your skin or you simply don’t like the gritty feeling that results, it is perfectly reasonable to try an exfoliator that contains an acid such as salicylic acid.
Assets need to be gently introduced into any skin care regimen, as the first one or two times that use them can be a shock to some people’s skin. Use sparingly in the first instance, and you can find that it is a great and nonabrasive addition to your skin care regimen.
Step 3. Tone
There can be a lot of debate with regards to the usefulness of a toner. Still, those with darker skin who experience excess oiliness or other imbalances in the skin can benefit greatly from their use.
Toners are great because they often contain many added ingredients to try and restore your skin to its natural pH, control sebum production, and soothe your skin with natural ingredients.
These are sensible steps to include after exfoliation, which, even with proper care, can mildly irritate the skin. Again, using a gentle toner will help keep your skin balanced with low levels of irritation or hyperpigmentation.
Step 4. Moisturizer & SPF
No, we are not trying to squeeze two steps into one. In the world of modern skin care, there really is no excuse for not having some sun protection included in your moisturizer.
There is a mountain of research out there to show that sun damage is the number one causative factor behind skin aging. If this sounds like something you don’t have to worry about, bear in mind that skin aging includes a high risk of hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation (low pigmentation), and dry, sagging skin.
By keeping your skin sufficiently moisturized, you allow skin cells to function properly, reducing strain and stopping the results of underlying inflammation.
As previously mentioned, when your skin is properly hydrated, this also helps balance out oil production, reducing the risk of acne breakouts.
All the steps in this routine are important, but perhaps this final combination step could be considered the one that will make the biggest difference to your appearance in both the short and long term.
Well, that wraps up our starter guide on how to properly care for black skin.
Remember to use this guide when deciding on your next purchase – the ingredients have to be right, don’t assume skin care products made “for a black man” will automatically work best for you!
If you want to be the first to find out our latest product recommendations and skin care guides sign up to the ZELEN Life Newsletter. We send out subscriber-only content that you won’t find anywhere else, so you can take the guesswork out of choosing the right skin care combinations for your unique complexion.
- Wesley, Naissan O, and Howard I Maibach. “Racial (ethnic) differences in skin properties: the objective data.” American journal of clinical dermatology vol. 4,12 (2003): 843-60. doi:10.2165/00128071-200304120-00004
- Al Qarqaz, Firas, and Ali Al-Yousef. “Skin microneedling for acne scars associated with pigmentation in patients with dark skin.” Journal of cosmetic dermatology vol. 17,3 (2018): 390-395. doi:10.1111/jocd.12520
- Pavan, William J, and Richard A Sturm. “The Genetics of Human Skin and Hair Pigmentation.” Annual review of genomics and human genetics vol. 20 (2019): 41-72. doi:10.1146/annurev-genom-083118-015230
- D’Mello, Stacey A N et al. “Signaling Pathways in Melanogenesis.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 17,7 1144. 15 Jul. 2016, doi:10.3390/ijms17071144
- Polcz, Monica E, and Adrian Barbul. “The Role of Vitamin A in Wound Healing.” Nutrition in clinical practice : official publication of the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition vol. 34,5 (2019): 695-700. doi:10.1002/ncp.10376
- D’Orazio, John et al. “UV radiation and the skin.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 14,6 12222-48. 7 Jun. 2013, doi:10.3390/ijms140612222
- Poli, Florence. “Acne on pigmented skin.” International journal of dermatology vol. 46 Suppl 1 (2007): 39-41. doi:10.1111/j.1365-4632.2007.03463.x