Skin Care Blogs

The Best Skin Care Products for Melanated Skin

Close up of woman's smiling face

You all know by now that your skin care routine should be tailored to address the needs of your specific skin type, but your skin care considerations shouldn’t end there. Your skin tone also plays an important factor when choosing the right products and ingredients in your beauty regimen. And those with a deeper complexion or melanated skin may find that their skin requires special attention in certain areas.

For instance, while crow’s feet, fine lines and wrinkles appear much later in melanin-rich skin tones than in their fair-skinned counterparts, skin of color is more susceptible to hyperpigmentation and other discoloration issues. This is because melanated skin—those that fall under Types IV-VI of the Fitzpatrick Scale—has more pigment-producing cells called melanocytes, which create melanin that gives skin its darker color. When these cells are over-stimulated, they tend to produce more pigment that leads to discoloration.

“This melanocyte stimulation occurs in response to disruption or irritation of the skin barrier commonly due to acne breakouts, use of strong chemical exfoliants, or even excess friction rub on the skin (using face scrubs and brushes),” explains San Francisco-based doctor of internal medicine Simran Sethi, MD, founder and medical director of RenewMD Beauty & Wellness.

To get a better understanding of how to care for melanated skin, we asked top skin care and medical experts of color to share their best tips and advice in addressing the most common skin concerns typically associated with deeper skin tones.

Hyperpigmentation or Discoloration

Skin of color is more prone to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, whether it’s caused by medical conditions such as melasma and dermatitis or inflammatory conditions like eczema and acne. Discoloration and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation also tend to be more noticeable and last longer in deeper complexions.

“To treat hyperpigmentation, the cause of hyperpigmentation first has to be determined,” says Kemunto Mokaya, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Houston, TX. Once you’ve determined the root cause of discoloration, look for products with brightening and antioxidant-rich ingredients that prevent free radical damage and encourage cell renewal.

“These include retinol, vitamin C, non-hydroquinone lighteners like daisy flower extract as well as components that improve the skin’s hydration and oil production and properly cleanse the skin to allow for better product absorption,” suggests San Diego-based facial plastic surgeon Amir Karam, MD.

Most skin brightening ingredients work best when used together, but only do so after you’ve consulted with your dermatologist, says Dr. Mokaya. “It is recommended that you seek help from a dermatologist to determine which ones to combine and how to best use them—especially since melanated skin is usually sensitive, and these ingredients can worsen things if used in the wrong ways,” she adds.

And one way for things to go wrong, according to Dr. Sethi, is by using bleaching products that focus on reducing melanocytes. “Bleaching agents, or hydroquinone, can increase inflammation and result in more hyperpigmentation. For darker skin tones, I would recommend avoiding bleaching agents unless you are under the supervision of a physician and limiting use of chemical exfoliants and face scrubs to twice a week,” she adds.

Oiliness and Acne

Oiliness is one of the most common skin concerns across all skin tones and types, but when you have melanin-rich skin, the struggle gets even more real. For one, having oilier skin means you are more likely to experience adult acne, which can leave marks that appear darker and last longer in deeper skin tones if not treated properly.

And if you are using products that reduce oil in the hopes of preventing breakouts, you may actually be doing your skin more harm than good. “Melanated skin that is acne-prone and oily will get more pigmented and oilier if it is over-dried. When darker skin gets too dry, it stimulates increased pigmentation and even more oil as the skin’s goal is to always maintain a strong lipid barrier,” explains Dr. Sethi.

So how do you prevent acne and inflammation without drying out your skin? By keeping it hydrated, says Dr. Sethi, as well-hydrated skin produces less oil. She recommends gentle antioxidant ingredients like green tea and combining it with hyaluronic acid. “Green tea calms inflammation associated with acne, and applying a hyaluronic acid serum over that will protect the skin’s natural oils and break the cycle of over-drying and excess oil production commonly seen with acne-prone skin,” she explains.

As a rule, it’s best to avoid using harsh soaps and cleansers that strip your skin of its natural moisture. “Ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are helpful in addressing acne and oiliness in all skin types. However, they can be irritating and should be introduced gradually at the lowest concentrations,” adds Dr. Mokaya. “Start low and gradually increase. Consider using them every other day.”

Skin Sensitivity

Sensitivity is not uncommon in melanated skin, which is thought to have more components that are linked to allergic reactions and react more pronouncedly against heat and mechanical stimuli. Skin sensitivity is often associated with itching, dryness, peeling and redness. However, redness is often harder to see in skin of color, says Dr. Mokaya.

In deeper complexions, redness caused by irritation can sometimes present with more purplish or hyperpigmented tones. “Conditions are sometimes unrecognized or misdiagnosed,” she adds. When symptoms and causes of sensitivity are not properly identified and addressed, the continued exposure to irritants can create more pigmentation issues for your skin.

Keeping your beauty routine clean and simple is key if you have sensitive skin to lessen the chances of irritation. One way to streamline your regimen without sacrificing your skin’s health is by switching to multitasking products specifically formulated for sensitive skin that target several concerns in one go. “Look for ingredients that do many things at the same time. For example, niacinamide, which is soothing and helps repair the skin barrier, even out pigment and reduce inflammation,” suggests Dr. Mokaya.

On the other hand, make sure you steer clear of irritating ingredients like alcohol, fragrance. dyes and parabens.

Signs of Aging and Sun Damage

It’s true: the excess melanin in your skin can help stave off the appearance of crow’s feet and laugh lines, but that doesn’t mean skin of color is invincible against photoaging. According to an article by the Skin Cancer Foundation, photoaging—or skin damage brought about by constant exposure to UV rays (UVA, UVB and even HEV or blue light)—is the primary cause of premature skin aging and is responsible for up to 90 percent of visible changes to the skin.

Photoaging occurs as a result of lifelong and cumulative exposure to UV rays, and signs can begin to appear as early as in your teens. These include wrinkles, sun spots or lentigines, uneven texture, loss of skin tone, spider veins and redness. And while melanated skin does have a certain degree of built-in protection against UV damage, it’s also more prone to developing sun spots and dark patches or melasma. Not to mention, constant exposure to the sun can cause inflammation that accelerate the aging process,

With that in mind, Dr. Mokaya says, “Sun protection is vital in preventing premature aging, and despite melanin, people with skin of color should still use sunscreen and practice other sun protective measures.” In fact, skin care experts have long touted sunscreen as the number one anti-aging product, making it an absolute must in your daily regimen (even in winter).

Aside from broad-spectrum sun protection, it’s also important to focus on the health of your skin’s natural barrier to help preserve its youthful appearance. “We know that in the case of melanated skin, a strong skin barrier will not only protect the skin from wrinkles as it does in all skin types, but also from post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation,” explains Dr. Sethi. “Retinol increases skin cell turnover rate, which will repair fine lines and pigment. Using a lipid-rich moisturizer with it ensures the skin’s lipid barrier is maintained and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is avoided.”

How to Choose Skin Care Products for Melanated Skin

When it comes to creating a beauty regimen for melanated skin, it’s important to look for multitasking ingredients and formulas that target concerns without risking irritation, inflammation and over-stimulation of pigment-producing cells. Have a look at our top picks for best skin care products for melanated skin, below.

  1. Hyperpigmentation / Discoloration – SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
    Buy now with Dermstore

    Hyperpigmentation / Discoloration – SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic

    This skin care MVP has dominated the vitamin C serum scene for many years now and shows no signs of slowing down. Its incredibly potent formula combines antioxidant powerhouses (ferulic acid, vitamin E and 15% l-ascorbic acid aka the most potent form of vitamin C) to even out and brighten skin, protect from environmental and free radical damage and reverse visible signs of aging.

    Buy now with free delivery
  2. Hyperpigmentation / Discoloration – Revision skincare® C+ Correcting Complex 30%™
    Buy now with Dermstore

    Hyperpigmentation / Discoloration – Revision skincare® C+ Correcting Complex 30%™

    This award-winning antioxidant and brightening serum is formulated with the brand’s patent-pending MelaPATH™ technology, which evens and illuminates the complexion, supports the skin’s natural production of vitamins C and E and refines wrinkles and fine lines while correcting blue light damage.

    Buy now with free delivery
  3. Oiliness / Acne – Paula’s Choice SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant
    Buy now with Dermstore

    Oiliness / Acne – Paula’s Choice SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant

    Keeping your skin breakout-free is no easy feat when you have overactive oil glands, but that’s exactly what this exfoliating gel does. Infused with green tea and salicylic acid, it calms redness and irritation while gently unclogging and shrinking pores and sloughing away dead skin cells without stripping your skin’s natural oils and moisture.

    Buy now with free delivery
  4. Oiliness / Acne – SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
    Buy now with Dermstore

    Oiliness / Acne – SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser

    With its potent blend of AHAs and BHAs, lavender extract and jojoba oil, this resurfacing face wash provides your skin with a deeper cleanse and gentle exfoliation—improving texture, tone and smoothness along the way—while soothing inflammation and minimizing large pores.

    Buy now with free delivery
  5. Skin Sensitivity – Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser
    Buy now with Dermstore

    Skin Sensitivity – Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser

    Featuring glycolic acid as its star ingredient, this oil-free cleanser promotes glowing skin by gently exfoliating and removing impurities without irritating or drying out your skin. It removes dead skin cells, boosts cell renewal and brightens dull complexion.

    Buy now with free delivery
  6. Skin Sensitivity – La Roche Posay Double Repair Moisturizer
    Buy now with Dermstore

    Skin Sensitivity – La Roche Posay Double Repair Moisturizer

    Specially formulated for sensitive skin, this daily moisturizer is infused with gentle, multitasking ingredients like ceramides, glycerin, niacinamide and the brand’s trademark thermal water. It’s formulated to deliver all-in-one nourishment to your skin, targeting dryness, preventing free radical damage and providing much-needed moisture and TLC that last all day.

    Buy now with free delivery
  7. Anti-Aging / Sunscreen – EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46
    Buy now with Dermstore

    Anti-Aging / Sunscreen – EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46

    No one does sun protection like EltaMD does, which is why it’s no surprise that this lightweight, oil-free sunscreen is easily the most loved sunscreen on Dermstore. Formulated for all skin types, it harnesses the UV-scattering properties of zinc oxide and goes above and beyond what a sunscreen should do: it doesn’t irritate skin, leaves no white cast, doesn’t irritate sensitive and acne-prone skin (nor does it inflame skin conditions like rosacea) and works well under makeup!

    Buy now with free delivery
  8. Anti-Aging / Sunscreen – Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40
    Buy now with Dermstore

    Anti-Aging / Sunscreen – Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40

    This sunscreen may have a barely-there formula but it covers all the bases (and more) when it comes to protecting your skin. Featuring red algae, frankincense and a meadowfoam seed complex, it shields skin from UV rays and counters blue light damage while boosting hydration and soothing your skin. Not only that, it also acts as a lightweight primer for makeup to cling to and leaves your skin with a soft, velvety finish.

    Buy now with free delivery

Beauty Reporter

Janeca Racho

With over 10 years of writing and editing experience, Janeca Racho has worked with clients in the fashion, entertainment, food, health and travel industries. An adventurer at heart, she will gladly trade her heels for a good pair of hiking shoes and skip hotels to camp under the stars. She loves horror movies, googling ingredients in her beauty products and backpacking trips with her toddler. Her newfound obsession: nude lipstick.