In the past decade, retinol has become a popular ingredient in anti-aging skincare. Unfortunately, many black people experience hesitation about using new ingredients on their skin. If your skin is melanated, it’s best to leave your skincare in the hands of a black dermatologist. Dr. Ip at Vibrant Dermatology & Skinbar MD in Dedham, MA is an expert in dermatology for melanated skin. Find her tips on using retinol on darker complexions below.
Ask a Black Dermatologist: Is Retinol Good for African-American Skin?
Retinol is the concentrated vitamin A derivative that has become a go-to skincare ingredient sought out by anyone looking to slow the aging process, combat stubborn acne, or achieve radiant skin. While BIPOC folk may instinctively err on the side of caution when incorporating new ingredients into their skincare routine, retinol products can be as beneficial for melanated skin as it is for fair skin tones.
That being said, African-Americans do need to exercise caution when using retinol. This is because darker skin tones tend to be more reactive to damage, and retinol can cause skin irritation before revealing beautiful results. If used improperly, the trauma could lead to hyperpigmentation that can take two to four months to clear up. That’s why it’s best to consult with a black dermatologist before incorporating retinol into your skincare routine.
How To Choose Retinol Products for Black Skin
Retinol is known for its anti-aging properties. From minimizing dark spots to renewing collagen production, retinol has been touted as a cure-all for anti-aging concerns. The best retinol products for melanated skin contain a moderate amount of retinol alongside other anti-aging nutrients that will help to nourish your skin. Some skin-nourishing ingredients you’ll want to look for in your retinol products include:
- Hyaluronic Acid
- Vitamin C
Avoid Prescription-Strength Retinol (Retin-A)
When selecting retinol products for black skin, pay close attention to the percentage of retinol listed on the packaging. Products that promise prescription strength should be avoided, as they will likely be too powerful for darker skin tones. Retin-A, despite being the most commonly prescribed retinol product, should be avoided by dark-skinned people, as its high concentration can easily overwhelm and damage darker complexions.
Black skin is more prone to pigmentation due to being rich in melanin. When skin irritation or inflammation occurs, more melanin is delivered to the skin’s surface, making BIPOC folk more likely to experience hyperpigmentation and develop dark spots. For this reason, dark skin can have adverse reactions to prescription-strength retinol. We recommend looking for serums, creams, and moisturizers with more diluted formulas to avoid damaging your skin.
What Are the Benefits of Using Retinol?
With daily use of a lower-strength retinol product, African-American skin can see improved skin health in a number of areas including slowing of the signs of aging, improved collagen production, and a reduction in superficial imperfections.
There’s a prevalent myth that African-Americans don’t develop wrinkles. We’ve all heard the saying “black don’t crack”, and while it’s true that melanated folk generally don’t start to develop wrinkles until about a decade after their fair-skinned counterparts, we’re not actually immune to the effects of aging. The greater amounts of melanin in darker skin may slow wrinkle formation, but when aging does inevitably catch up, retinol products can help slow them back down.
Increased Collagen Production
Retinol is known to smooth fine lines and wrinkles, and this is largely due to its ability to stimulate collagen production. Collagen supports and strengthens the structure of the skin. As we age, the production of collagen naturally slows, causing skin to become thinner and drier, which leads to the formation of wrinkles. Retinol products are scientifically proven to keep the skin strong and supple, thereby preventing premature signs of aging.
Reduced Blemishes and Imperfections
Using retinol can be a great way for those with darker complexions to even out skin tone, small bumps, and blemishes. Though melanin contributes to slowed signs of aging, it can also contribute to developing uneven skin tone. Because retinol increases, it can help fade dark spots, improve the skin’s surface and reduce other superficial skin concerns, such as large pores, blemishes, and other imperfections.
How To Incorporate Retinol Into Your Skincare Routine
The sooner you begin an anti-aging skincare regimen, the healthier your skin health and appearance will be. By adding retinol to your daily skincare routine, you can deter visible signs of aging such as fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots. With the help of a black dermatologist, we’ve created the following skincare routine for melanated skin.
Morning Skincare Routine
To keep your skin fresh, start your morning with a cleanse. Cleansing in the morning washes off any unabsorbed skincare from the previous night, and any oil, dirt, or bacteria that will have accumulated on your skin as you slept. Use lukewarm water and a gentle cleanser; oil-based cleansers are great for skin that’s prone to dryness. After cleansing, apply a lightweight daytime moisturizer. Choose something non-greasy, especially if you plan to wear make-up over top.
What About Exfoliation?
Exfoliation is an important part of any skincare routine, but over-exfoliating black skin can lead to releasing too much melanin and developing dark spots and hyperpigmentation. Darker skin should only be exfoliated once or twice weekly at home using a gentle method, such as a soft-bristled brush. Alternatively, you can elect to have your skin exfoliated professionally at our dermatology office.
Don’t Skip the Sunscreen
While it’s true that a greater percentage of melanin does protect you from sun damage to some extent, black people are also susceptible to developing melanoma and deeper wrinkles from sun damage. Make sure that sunscreen is a regular part of your daily skincare routine, especially if you plan to be in the sun. Try using a daytime moisturizer containing SPF, and don’t forget to protect other uncovered body parts, such as arms, shoulders, neck, legs, and hands.
Nighttime Skincare Routine
At the end of your day, you’ll need to cleanse your skin again to remove any pollutants you’ve picked up throughout your day. If you regularly wear make-up, we recommend first cleansing with an oil-based cleanser to remove make-up, then cleansing a second time with a foam or cream-based cleanser. This will ensure you remove not only your make-up, but any remaining impurities, too. You can use the same cleanser as the morning, or a cleanser with retinol.
Retinol products should be applied in the evening, so your skin can absorb them as you sleep. After you’ve cleansed, you can apply your low-concentration retinol product. You’ll want to start incorporating retinol into your routine slowly, especially if you have sensitive skin or skin conditions such as eczema. Because retinol is a chemical exfoliant, they should be used once or twice a week when starting out.
You can apply your retinol prior to moisturizing, especially if it is in a cream format that includes built-in moisturizers. However, applying a thin layer of moisturizer can also provide a barrier between your skin and the ingredients if irritation is a concern. This method allows the product to sink in slowly without diluting the strength. For your evening moisturizer, choose an oil-free option that includes ceramides, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid.
Consider Peptide Serums
If you have additional anti-aging concerns, such as preventing sagging skin, you may want to consider including peptide serums or moisturizers in your daily skincare routine. These products can help fight signs of premature aging and repair acne-prone skin, and are suitable for sensitive, combination, and dry skin.
What Other Cosmetic Treatments are Best For Black Skin?
While retinol products are one way to address your aging concerns, there are many other cosmetic treatments that can benefit dark complexions. If you’re looking to enhance your skin’s natural radiance, we recommend the following treatments for melanated skin:
- Chemical peels
- Dermal fillers
- Non-ablative laser treatments
Additionally, paying a visit to our Skinbar MD is a great way to learn about which treatments are best suited to your skin. We can evaluate your skin, discuss your goals, and design a customized beauty plan to have your skin looking its best.
Black skin is uniquely beautiful and deserves to be treated with specialized care. Targeting the unique skincare concerns that come with melanated skin requires expert dermatological care. If you’re looking to experience the best skincare treatments for BIPOC folk, contact Dr. Ip at Vibrant Dermatology & Skinbar MD in Dedham, MA to book your initial consultation today.