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Helping People Achieve Clear Skin Since 2007

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The Ultimate Guide to Identifying the Best Acne Treatment for Black, Latinx, Asian, and White Skin

By Megan Griffith

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Jaggi Rao,
MD, FRCPC Double board-certified dermatologist

When it comes to picking out the best acne treatment for you and your skin, it’s important to consider all of the factors, including skin color. Like many industries in our modern world, the beauty industry was founded on racist ideals that prioritized fair skin, and as a result, the specific skin care needs of people of color have been largely ignored over the years, both in research and in product design. That’s why many articles on skin care don’t address skin color at all, because there isn’t much research on how acne differs based on skin color because it is typically done on fair skin, and few acne treatment products take skin color into consideration.

Finding the best acne treatment for you means knowing all about how your skin color affects your skin care needs.

However, research about skin of color exists, and it has found some key differences that are vital to know when it comes to treating acne. This guide will walk you through the unique needs of Black, Latinx, Asian, and white skin, including the most up-to-date research and recommendations for safe and effective products. To learn more about your skin, take our comprehensive skin quiz, which is available (along with a brief but enlightening video) in the first section of this post.

Ch. 1Get to Know Your Skin

The first chapter in our guide is all about getting to know your skin. Once you understand your skin and its unique features, you will have a new set of tools for treating your acne, and you’ll be one step closer to clear skin. The best way to get started is with our comprehensive skin quiz.

The better you understand your skin, the easier it will be to get rid of acne.

The Skin Quiz: Learn Everything You Need to Know About Your Skin Type

There are lots of quizzes online that help you determine if you have oily or dry skin, but there’s a lot more to your skin type than just how much oil your skin produces. Skin pigmentation, tightness, and sensitivity also play important roles in what kind of acne you’re likely to experience, and more importantly, what type of acne treatment will work best for you. To learn more about how these differences affect your skin, watch the video below, and to determine your skin type, take our comprehensive skin quiz.

Skin Test Begins

treating acne on different skin types
In hot and dry weather, or during the winter when you heat your home with a forced-air furnace, if you don’t use moisturizer, the skin of your face:
So shiny that you see glare off your face.
Very shiny, as if you had rubbed oil on the skin of your cheeks and forehead.
Healthy and hydrated.
Just a little tight, with no visible pores.
Flaky, gray, or ash-colored, or rough, red, and irritated.

Skin Test Ends

How Understanding Your Skin Leads to Better Acne Treatment

When it comes to acne treatment, it’s important to understand your skin in and out. Is your skin oily or dry? Sensitive, or resistant? Loose, or tight? Heavily pigmented, lightly pigmented, or somewhere in between? All of these properties affect how your skin reacts to various acne treatments, and the better you know your skin, the better it will look.

You can find a wide variety of articles out there discussing the differences between oily skin and dry skin, sensitive skin and resistant skin, and so on, so we’ll only cover those topics briefly before digging into the most important aspect of this article: racial differences in acne skin care. For more information on dry acne-prone skin, sensitive acne-prone skin, and more, check out the video and skin quiz above.

The biggest difference between oily and dry skin is how much oil the skin produces. If you produce more oil, your face is likely shiny and you may have more pimples than blackheads or whiteheads. If you produce less oil, your skin may be flaky and you may have more clogged pores than pimples.

Skin sensitivity is a wide spectrum. Many people fall somewhere in the middle, and their skin improves most when they figure out what products or ingredients irritate their skin, and avoid them. Your may be sensitive to something in your current skin care products if your skin stings or turns red after application.

Finally, it’s important to know whether your skin is tight or loose, because it helps determine which kinds of products you should include in your daily routine. If you have relatively loose skin (take the skin quiz above to find out) you may benefit from adding a toner to your routine, but if you have tight skin, moisturizer would be more helpful.

The Importance of Addressing Racial Differences in Skin Care

It’s vital for everyone of
every skin color to know
what their skin needs,
which is why we’re trying
to shed light on the topic.

It can be easy for articles like this to spark controversy, which is understandable, but not at all our intention. Oftentimes, investigations of biological racial differences come to incredibly racist conclusions and are used to justify treating people of color as lesser human beings. Instead, this article seeks to provide only the most helpful, accurate information, especially for people of color, who have so often been excluded from acne treatment discourse.

This exclusion has led to a host of problems when it comes to identifying the best acne treatment for people with Black, Asian, or Latinx skin. First and foremost, many acne treatment ingredients are not safe for dark skin1, but because the skin care industry is geared toward those with fair skin, there is rarely any kind of warning on these ingredients to inform people with dark skin of the potential risks. Second, people of color can be significantly affected by the psychological impacts of acne, such as low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety, because acne is not normalized the way it is for those with fair skin. Finally, many people use makeup to help cover up their acne, but most cosmetic companies still don’t offer foundation, concealer, and other products in a variety of darker hues, meaning many people with dark skin have more trouble hiding their acne than people with fair skin. This can also contribute to the increased risk of psychological impact.

If we continue to pretend that there are no differences between dark and fair skin, we will only make these issues worse, and people of color will be the ones to continue suffering for it. Instead, at Facing Acne we want to acknowledge and celebrate our differences, and use the most up-to-date, unbiased research to provide everyone with all skin colors with safe, comprehensive skin care information.

Fitzpatrick Phenotypes: How to Identify Your Skin Color

If you think it sounds crazy to lump all Latinx people together as having the same skin color, or all Black people, all Asian people, etc., you would be right, and that’s why we have the Fitzpatrick phenotypes. The term “Latinx,” for example, refers to anyone with a heritage coming from Latin America, and people from this very large region have a wide variety of skin tones. The term “Black” has had countless definitions throughout history, and people who identify as Black also have a wide variety of skin tones. Asia is an enormous continent which also includes a host of varied skin colors. Although these words are powerful identifiers, they are not the most helpful terms when it comes to conveying skin tone. Instead, let’s talk about Fitzpatrick phenotypes.

A phenotype is simply how a gene expresses itself in an organism’s environment, so our skin phenotype is our skin color. In 1975, Thomas Fitzpatrick developed a scale to determine someone’s skin phenotype2 by dividing people into categories based on how easily they burn and tan in the sun. A brief overview of the phenotypes is given below:

Fitzpatrick Phenotypes

  • Type I: Always burns easily, never tans
    Phenotype Type I
  • Type II: Always burns easily, tans slightly
    Phenotype Type II
  • Type III: Burns moderately, tans gradually
    Phenotype Type III
  • Type IV: Burns minimally, tans moderately
    Phenotype Type IV
  • Type V: Rarely burns, tans profusely
    Phenotype Type V
  • Type VI: Never burns, tans profusely
    Phenotype Type VI

Although this isn’t a perfect system, it is a good start for determining your skin color and the problems you are likely to face in acne treatment. For instance, types III through VI are often more highly pigmented, and as a result they need to look out for ingredients that could cause light spots on their skin, such as lemon juice or hydroquinone.

Beyond Skin Color: Why Race Itself Is an Important Factor in Acne Treatment

Many racial differences in acne treatment can be traced back to skin color, but some differences are genetic, and may appear regardless of skin tone.

Even though two people of the same race could have wildly different skin tones, it’s still important to consider race itself when looking for the best acne treatment because of genetic factors. Again, this area of biology can get a bit sticky because it has been used in such racist ways in the past (and present, if we’re being honest), but in this article our aim is simply to identify differences in order to help people of all races get clear skin. The following chapters on Black, Latinx, Asian, and white skin will explore differences based on the phenotypes most common in each race, but they will also address any quality research that suggests there may be a genetic consideration when it comes to acne treatment.

Ch. 2How to Find the Best Acne Treatment for Black Skin

Black skin comes in countless shades, but regardless of skin color, Black skin faces some unique problems when it comes to acne.

Black skin is found all over the world and comes in a wide variety of shades, but regardless of your Fitzpatrick phenotype, if you identify as Black, there are certain tips and tricks you should know for finding the best acne treatment. In this chapter, we’ll explore the research on what makes Black skin different from other skin types, investigate ingredients that people with Black skin should avoid, and recommend a few products that are ideal for Black skin specifically.

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What Makes Black Skin Unique

Black skin phenotypes typically range anywhere from type IV to type VI, though naturally, there are some exceptions. Black skin is more highly pigmented than fair skin as a result of increased melanin production, which gives the skin a rich, deep color. This increased melanin production is usually a good thing that can help protect the skin from sun damage (though everyone, no matter how fair or dark, should always wear sunscreen), but it also contributes to a problem seen in most people of color who struggle with acne: post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or PIH.

PIH is essentially when a dark spot forms after an acne lesion heals. As part of the healing process, the skin sends extra melanin to acne lesions, which then darkens the skin in that particular spot. Even though everyone may experience PIH, people of color typically experience more severe or long-lasting PIH due to the increased levels of melanin naturally occurring in the skin. According to several reports from dermatologists, many people with Black skin report that PIH actually affects them more negatively than acne itself3.

Although Black skin is prone to more PIH than fair skin, it is actually the least likely to develop acne scarring in general3. However, when acne does scar, people with Black skin are more likely to develop keloid scars, which are raised scars that often become much larger than the original wound and often require medical assistance for removal. This tendency toward keloid scarring is in line with Black skin’s tendency toward inflammation. Studies have shown that people with Black skin are more likely to experience inflammatory acne3 like pimples rather than non-inflammatory acne like blackheads or whiteheads. Though it’s worth noting that these studies have also found that people with Black skin have fewer cysts and nodules3, which are considered highly inflammatory acne lesions.

The Best Acne Treatment Approach for Black Skin

Based on what we know about how Black skin differs from other skin types, it’s possible to come up with several helpful tips and tricks for getting clear skin.

It’s interesting to know how Black skin differs from other skin types, but how can we use this information? Our goal is to take what we know about acne and Black skin and create an ideal acne treatment regimen for the specific needs of Black skin. For instance, because Black skin is so prone to PIH, acne prevention and speedy acne healing is a vital step to getting clear skin. If we can clear acne up quickly, or even better, prevent acne from forming in the first place, less melanin will be deposited in the healing process, thus preventing PIH.

Another skin care tip we can derive from the unique differences of Black skin is to reduce inflammation whenever possible. Because Black skin is prone to inflammatory acne, one of the best ways to treat acne is by reducing inflammation. One way to reduce inflammation is to cut down on your exposure to things that might irritate your skin, since irritation often leads to inflammation. For instance, if you have any sensitivities or allergies, be sure to avoid them, You should also avoid picking at your skin or scrubbing it with harsh products or scrubbers, since this also leads to increased inflammation.

Finally, sometimes acne in Black skin is caused by products most commonly used with Black hair. People of African descent often, though not always, have textured, curly hair that typically requires pomades, oils, or gels for styling purposes. Some of these products contain ingredients that inflame the skin or clog pores, leading to increased acne wherever they come into contact with the skin. If you notice increased acne around your hairline, the best way to treat it may actually be by changing up your hair care routine rather than your skin care routine, especially if your skin seems clear elsewhere.

Acne Treatment Ingredients to Avoid

One of the most dangerous effects of a skin care industry that is largely focused on fair skin only is the lack of information about acne treatment ingredients that are actively harmful for Black skin. The biggest issues to look out for are increased risk of PIH and risk of bleaching.

So which ingredients should you avoid? One common home remedy for acne that should be used with extreme caution in Black skin is lemon juice. Freshly squeezed lemon juice contains a powerful concentration of vitamin C, and many websites say it’s great for fading acne scars. It’s true, lemon juice is great for fading acne scars—in fair skin. In Black skin, lemon juice has been known to cause light spots and uneven skin tone4, and should be used in very small amounts, if at all.

You may recognize the zinc oxide as an ingredient commonly used in sunscreen, specifically, the kind of sunscreen that never seems to rub in and stays stubbornly white. This is because zinc oxide contains large particles that help reflect light back toward the sun, and it obviously isn’t a great choice for people with Black skin, because the whiteness tends to linger on the surface of the skin, causing a gray or ashy look.

Hydroquinone is possibly the world’s most popular skin-lightening agent, and it’s true that it can effectively reduce PIH in skin of color5, but it also comes with risks that should be acknowledged. First, application of hydroquinone needs to be done very carefully, to avoid accidentally lightening normal skin, causing a light spot. Second, long-term hydroquinone use has been linked to exogenous ochronosis5, a blue-black darkening of the skin.

Black Skin Recommendations

Best Approach

  • Reduce Inflammation
  • Potentially change hair care routine

What to Avoid

  • Lemon Juice
  • Zinc Oxide
  • Hydroquinone

Our Top Three Product Recommendations for Treating Acne in Black Skin

Because this truly is an ultimate guide to skin care for all skin colors, we won’t just give you the science and leave you to fend for yourself when it comes to picking out actual products to use. Below are three products that are well-suited for treating acne in Black skin based on their ingredients and reviews written by people with Black skin.

1African Black Soap

African Black Soap

One of the most important products in your acne skin care routine is your cleanser, and for Black skin specifically, we’ve found African black soap to be one of the most popular and effective options. As a note, black soap is never actually black, and if it is, it likely contains unnecessary chemicals and should be avoided. True black soap is brown and is made all over Africa. Its exact contents depend on the region in which it was made. It usually contains the ashes of various burned pants, like shea and cocoa pods, along with palm oil or olive oil.

Very little research has been conducted on the effectiveness of African black soap in treating acne, but these ingredients have been studied on their own. Shea is deeply moisturizing without causing any clogged pores, and oils actually make excellent cleansers for those with oily skin, despite how counterintuitive that might sound. Additionally, one study found that out of 100 participants (nearly half of which were of African or Caribbean descent), 51% were very satisfied with the effects of black soap, and another 40% were somewhat satisfied6. That’s a relatively high success rate, and combined with what we know about the ingredients, we believe it’s worth a shot as an ideal cleanser for Black skin.

2Exposed Skin Care Acne Treatment Serum

Exposed Skin Care Acne Treatment SerumBecause people with Black skin are more likely to experience pimples rather than blackheads and whiteheads, it’s important to include a benzoyl peroxide product in your acne treatment routine, like Exposed Skin Care’s Acne Treatment Serum. Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most popular acne treatment ingredients in the world, and for good reason. It effectively kills the acne-causing bacteria associated with pimples, and studies show that regular application of benzoyl peroxide in mild concentrations (2.5%-5%) can significantly reduce acne7.

Some sources claim benzoyl peroxide can bleach dark skin, resulting in uneven skin tone or unpredictable white spotting, but according to the American Academy of Dermatology, this is just a myth1. According to a study which looked at the effects of a benzoyl peroxide product on skin that fit phenotypes V and VI, which are common phenotypes for Black skin, the product was tolerated quite well and did not affect pigmentation negatively at all8.

3Exposed Skin Care Moisture Complex

Exposed Skin Care Moisture ComplexWe tend to recommend Exposed Skin Care products in general for anyone dealing with acne because their products are gentle enough to avoid inflammation but strong enough to work. The Moisture Complex is perfect for Black skin in particular because it contains green tea extract which has been proven to reduce inflammation9, the most common issue with Black skin in particular. It also comes highly recommended with over 50 5-star reviews from the Exposed Skin Care website and Amazon (and only two 1-star reviews). This is the perfect final step in your skin care routine because it can both reduce pre-existing inflammation and prevent irritation that might cause future inflammation.

Ch. 3How to Find the Best Acne Treatment for Latinx Skin

Latinx skin faces unique acne struggles, but luckily there are plenty of tips and tricks to getting clear skin, no matter what your complexion.

This chapter is dedicated to the unique beauty of Latinx skin, which can be found anywhere in Latin America (or in those of Latin American descent). As is the case with all skin of color, research on acne in Latinx skin is limited, but we have scoured the best resources out there right now in order to explain the differences people with Latinx skin might experience compared to those with other skin types. Using this information, we have come up with a few key tips and tricks for getting clear skin, plus a few recommendations meant to help reduce acne in Latinx skin specifically.

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What Makes Latinx Skin Unique

Latinx is a cultural identifier that applies to anyone from Latin America or of Latin American descent. It differs from the term “Hispanic” because that word is used as a cultural identifier for anyone who speaks Spanish or is descended from a Spanish-speaking area. For instance, someone from Brazil would be considered Latinx but not Hispanic, and someone from Spain would be considered Hispanic but not Latinx. Like all skin of color, Latinx skin comes in a wide variety of shades, but the most common Fitzpatrick phenotypes are types II, III, and IV. Regardless of skin color, some research suggests that there are key differences between Latinx skin and other skin types when it comes to acne.

First, people with Latinx skin are far more likely to experience acne scarring than people of any other race10. Latinx skin is also more prone to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) than Asian or white skin, but less so than Black skin. Because scarring and pigmentation often lasts months or even years, many people report that these problems are even more severe than the acne that caused them. Second, pimples and cystic acne are far more likely in Latinx skin than in any other racial skin type10. Although pimples are frustrating and often leave scars behind, cystic acne is often severe and nearly impossible to treat without dermatologist intervention.

The trouble is, one of the non-biological differences when it comes to Latinx skin is the attitude many people of Latinx descent have toward acne. One study found that, compared to people with white skin, people with Latinx skin were more likely to believe acne was the sufferer’s fault, and were half as likely to seek out treatment for their acne10.

The Best Acne Treatment Approach for Latinx Skin

One of the most important aspects of a good acne treatment approach is accepting that acne is just a part of life, and there’s no shame in seeking treatment.

Based on the differences between Latinx skin and other racial skin types, the best acne treatment approach for Latinx skin in particular has three basic principles: increasing acceptance, reducing oil production, and improving sun protection.

Because people with Latinx skin are less likely to seek treatment for acne, the first step toward clear skin is increasing acceptance of acne and encouraging treatment. The truth is, although people with acne are able to take steps to reduce their acne, it is not their fault that they have it to begin with. The skin care industry is full of acne-related shaming, but at Facing Acne, we want to fight against this stigma. Nearly everyone has acne at some point in their life, and sometimes it sticks around, no matter how careful you are to take care of your skin.

Because Latinx skin is more prone to pimples and cystic acne, which are both heavily associated with excess oil production, one of the best ways to reduce acne is to reduce oil production. Certain acids, especially alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids like citric acid, salicylic acid, and glycolic acid, chemically remove excess oil and dead skin cells to exfoliate the skin. Physical exfoliation in another possible route, but we generally warn against this method, because it’s often too harsh, and inflammation and acne often increase as a result.

Finally, it’s important to protect Latinx skin from sun damage. Exposure to the sun increases the chances of PIH and can further darken pre-existing PIH. Because Latinx skin is often slightly to moderately pigmented, many sunscreens leave a white tint on the skin, but if you find the right product, it’s possible to protect your skin without looking like a ghost.

Acne Treatment Ingredients to Avoid

Knowing which ingredients not to use is often just as important as knowing which ingredients you should use, which is why we wanted to include a section in this chapter on which acne treatment ingredients to avoid if you have Latinx skin.

The more pigmented your skin is, the more likely it is that the ingredients listed in the “ingredients to avoid” section for Black skin will cause problems for your skin as well. This is because many of the ingredients listed there are related more to pigmentation than to genetic racial factors. For instance, hydroquinone is a skin lightening agent that could cause white spots if applied outside of PIH spots, and could cause a blue-black hue if overused. For more information, see Chapter 1.

The second group of ingredients to avoid are comedogenic ingredients. Anyone with acne should avoid these ingredients, but it’s especially important for anyone with Latinx skin to avoid them, regardless of skin color. This is because studies show that Latinx skin is more prone to pimples and cysts, which can be exacerbated by comedogenic ingredients. So what are comedogenic ingredients? They are ingredients that are likely to clog pores, based on their comedogenicity rating, which is a number on a scale of 0 to 5. Ingredients with a rating of 0, like shea butter or aloe vera gel, have almost no chance of clogging pores, while ingredients with a rating of 5, like red algae or sodium lauryl sulfate, are all but guaranteed to clog pores. For those with Latinx skin, it’s best to stick to ingredients with a comedogenicity rating of 2 or lower. Not sure about an ingredient’s comedogenicity rating? Simply search the name of the ingredient and the word “comedogenicity,” or check out this handy guide11.

Latinx Skin Recommendations

Best Approach

  • Reduce Oil Production
  • Protect From Sun Damage

What to Avoid

  • Comodogenic Ingredients
  • Hydroquinone

Our Top Three Product Recommendations for Treating Acne in Latinx Skin

Even though Latinx skin is prone to pimples, cysts, and scarring, there is plenty of hope for clear skin. Based on the unique skin care needs of Latinx skin, we’ve selected the following three products as our top acne treatment recommendations.

1Exposed Skin Care Facial Cleanser

Exposed Skin Care Facial CleanserBecause Latinx skin is more prone to oil-related acne like pimples and cysts, we recommend using a cleanser that gently removes excess oil through chemical exfoliation, like Exposed Skin Care’s Facial Cleanser. Chemical exfoliation utilizes hydroxy acids to remove excess oil and dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, clearing the way for treatment serums and moisturizers to do their jobs more effectively.

The reason we like this cleanser by Exposed so much is because it uses a very mild concentration of salicylic acid. Many cleansers use 1% or even 2% salicylic acid, but Exposed keeps it down to 0.5%. This makes the product incredibly gentle and unlikely to cause any kind of sensitivity reaction, no matter how sensitive your skin may be, and it’s a great introduction to acne skin care if you haven’t tried it before. It can be tempting to go for the strongest products first, but it’s actually much more effective to try gentle products first, and only use stronger ones if the gentle ones don’t work. This is because harsh products tend to cause irritation and inflammation, which can actually lead to more acne, not less.

2Differin 0.1% Gel

Differin 0.1% GelCleansing the skin is important, but to get rid of acne, you need to treat it, and one of the best ways to treat acne in Latinx skin is with a mild retinoid, like Differin 0.1% gel. Retinoids are basically very concentrated synthetic forms of vitamin A, and they range in strength from the most extreme, like the orally-taken isotretinoin (also known as Accutane), to the most mild, like topical adapalene, which is the retinoid used in Differin. According to a scientific review of effective acne treatments in skin of color, retinoids are an excellent option because they break up clogged pores, prevent the overgrowth of skin cells which contribute to cystic acne, and even help reduce the severity of PIH12.

The reason we recommend such a mild retinoid for Latinx skin, despite the fact that Latinx skin is prone to more severe acne, is because it’s always best to start gentle and work your way up to more intense treatments. Starting with a stronger retinoid, like Retin-A or Accutane, is likely to cause serious peeling, burning, irritation, and inflammation, which is likely to bring with it more acne, not less. Differin 0.1% gel is gentle enough that most people report only mild initial peeling and dryness which quickly subsides.

3Murad Invisiblur Perfecting Shield Broad Spectrum SPF 30

Murad Invisiblur Perfecting Shield Broad Spectrum SPF 30There are countless reasons to apply sunscreen daily, but this is especially true for Latinx skin. First, sunscreen helps prevent skin cell damage which could lead to skin cancer. Second, and especially important for Latinx acne-prone skin, sunscreen keeps PIH from getting even darker from sun exposure. Finally, if you are using a retinoid like Differin gel for acne, it makes your skin even more sensitive to sun exposure and burning, so sunscreen is even more important. But many people with acne avoid sunscreen for fear of clogging pores, and many people of color avoid sunscreen because it tends to cast an ashy hue on the skin. Luckily, we’ve found a great solution for both of these problems: Murad Invisiblur Perfecting Shield Broad Spectrum SPF 30.

This product is perfect for Latinx skin because it’s completely clear and does not cast any kind of ashy color on skin of color (according to several glowing reviews). It’s also ideal for acne-prone skin because it does not contain any comedogenic ingredients, meaning it’s incredibly unlikely to clog pores.

Ch. 4How to Find the Best Acne Treatment for Asian Skin

For many people with Asian skin, the best acne treatment is a gentle, all-natural approach that gets rid of acne without irritating the skin.

Like Black and Latinx skin, Asian skin comes in all kinds of shades and hues and our research on Asian skin specifically is limited. But in this chapter, we have come up with several tips and tricks based on the research done so far, plus several recommendations for products that can help with the unique problems faced by people with acne-prone Asian skin.

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What Makes Asian Skin Unique

Asia is a massive continent, and people from different regions often have very different complexions. Asian skin easily fits into any of the phenotypes from II to VI, with some outliers on either end of the spectrum.

Regardless of pigmentation, there are a few things to look out for if you have acne-prone Asian skin. The first, as with all skin of color, is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). Although Asian skin is less likely to experience PIH than Black or Latinx skin, it’s still more likely than white skin13.

The next difference when it comes to Asian skin is actually a good one: according to one study, Asian teenagers are less likely to experience acne at all than their white or Black peers13. It’s unclear whether this pattern continues into adulthood, but a few more pimple-free years is definitely a good thing. Still, we want to point out that if you are a teenager of Asian descent and you have acne, that’s not at all abnormal either. Acne is incredibly common across all racial backgrounds, and even though Asian skin is statistically less likely to develop acne, millions of Asian people still experience it.

When it comes to what kind of acne Asian skin is most likely to experience, the research shows that inflammatory acne like papules or pimples are more likely than other types of acne13. Additionally, studies have found that Asian skin is far less likely to experience cystic acne compared to other racial backgrounds.

Finally, it’s important to note that Asian skin is typically more sensitive than other skin types14. Research has not yet confirmed why this is, but we know that sensitive skin is more prone to irritation, which can lead to inflammation, which is a direct cause of acne.

The Best Acne Treatment Approach for Asian Skin

Treating acne in Asian skin is all about avoiding irritation and protecting the skin from the sun.

Even though it’s interesting just knowing how skin from different races differs, at Facing Acne we’re all about practical acne advice, which means we want to use this information to come up with the best acne treatment approach for each skin type. For Asian skin, there are two key tips to getting (and maintaining) clear skin: protect your skin from the sun, and identify and cut out products, foods, and textures that cause a sensitivity reaction in your skin.

The first tip, to protect your skin from the sun, is important for everyone, especially people of color who are more significantly affected by PIH. Good sun protection helps prevent PIH marks from getting darker, but if your skin is moderately pigmented, you may tend to avoid sunscreen because it can cause an ashy hue on your skin. If this is the case for you, check out the product recommendations in the Latinx skin chapter for the best clear sunscreen on the market.

Our second trick for treating acne in Asian skin is all about avoiding irritating substances that could cause inflammation. This is an important rule of skin care for anyone with sensitive skin, because irritation leads to inflammation, which causes increased acne. For some, switching to all-natural products is the best way to go, but we want to point out that just because something is natural, that doesn’t automatically make it gentle. There are many natural products that people with sensitive skin should avoid, or at least use caution before trying, like essential oils and physical exfoliators. In the next section, we’ll outline some ingredients to be careful with, and then we’ll recommend a few of our favorite products for treating acne in Asian skin.

Acne Treatment Ingredients to Avoid

Not every acne treatment is right for every person with acne, and when it comes to acne-prone Asian skin, there are a few ingredients that should only be used with caution, if at all.

The first ingredient you definitely want to check for in all of your skin care products is alcohol. Many people of East Asian descent specifically have a very strong response to ingested alcohol due to a genetic difference in alcohol deconstruction, but did you know that this response occurs when alcohol is applied topically to the skin as well? It’s true; according to this study, the majority of East Asian participants noticed red, irritated skin after applying even very small concentrations of alcohol to the skin15.

Many skin care ingredients contain varying amounts and types of alcohol. We recommend staying away from toners which include alcohol because they tend to use relatively large concentrations of alcohol that are very likely to cause irritation. If a product lists denatured alcohol toward the very bottom of the ingredient list, it’s likely used in very small concentrations, and may be safe for some people. Finding what works for you skin is a process of trial and error, but if you want to be on the safe side, we recommend staying away from alcohol entirely.

One other ingredient to look out for is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), an ingredient commonly used all kinds of personal hygiene products. Essentially, SLS clings to particles and strips them away, which can be helpful when it comes to removing plaque from the teeth or oil from the hair, but it is far too harsh for use on the skin. According to one study, skin exposure to SLS significantly increases transepidermal water loss (TEWL)16, which is one vital factor that can lead to irritation and inflammation.

Asian Skin Recommendations

Best Approach

  • Protect Skin From the Sun
  • Proper Nutrition & Skin Care

What to Avoid

  • Skin Care Products with Alcohol
  • Lauryl Sulfate Products

Our Top Three Product Recommendations for Treating Acne in Asian Skin

Our main concern when it came to finding the best products for treating acne in Asian skin was finding products that are strong enough to fight acne, but gentle enough that they won’t cause any kind of sensitivity reaction. The following products won’t be perfect for everyone with Asian skin, because everyone is different, but they should be a good place to start.

1Neogen Dermology Real Fresh Foam Cleanser with Green Tea

Neogen Dermology Real Fresh Foam Cleanser with Green TeaWe were so happy to find the Neogen Dermology Real Fresh Foam Cleanser with Green Tea because it’s alcohol-free. Most cleansers contain at least a little alcohol, but this product uses all kinds of natural ingredients instead. It contains olive oil, tea tree extract, cucumber extract, glycerin, and countless other natural acne-fighting ingredients. Still, just because it contains good things, that doesn’t mean it works. Which is why we checked out the reviews, which were absolutely glowing. It received 4.4 stars out of five on Amazon for sensitive skin specifically, and 4.2 stars overall. The only downside is that this product contains a lot of ingredients, so if you have a reaction to it, it may be difficult to identify what caused the problem. Overall, based on its ingredients and reviews, it is an excellent product that should significantly improve skin.

2Exposed Skin Care Clearing Tonic

Exposed Skin Care Clearing TonicOnce you’ve cleansed your skin, it’s important to exfoliate and remove any excess oil and dead skin cells left behind. This helps prevent clogged pores, but it also clears the path for the acne treatment step by getting rid of excess oil that might prevent the treatment cream from actually penetrating the skin. Because Asian skin is prone to being more sensitive, we recommend sticking to chemical exfoliation rather than physical exfoliation. It might sound like using chemicals would be harsher than using something natural like oatmeal, but this isn’t true. Many exfoliating chemicals are derived from plants, making them very natural, and when they’re used in small concentrations, they’re much gentler than physical scrubbers. We recommend the Exposed Skin Care Clearing Tonic for Asian skin especially because it contains no alcohol.

The main exfoliating ingredient in this product is salicylic acid, but it also contains glycolic acid, azelaic acid, and witch hazel as well, all of which are known for exfoliating and cleansing the skin. Together, these acids could irritate some skin, but Exposed Skin Care includes several ingredients to combat this possible irritation, like green tea extract, aloe vera extract, and passion flower extract.

3Exposed Skin Care Acne Treatment Serum

Exposed Skin Care Acne Treatment SerumAfter cleansing and exfoliating, the next step in acne skin care is acne treatment. This is where many people go wrong by seeking out the strongest product available, when really, you want to use the gentlest product possible while still seeing results. The best brand for this is definitely Exposed Skin Care. They specialize in combining scientific and natural ingredients to create gentle products that really work.

The main ingredient in their Acne Treatment Serum is benzoyl peroxide, which is especially effective in treating inflammatory acne like pimples and papules, which Asian skin is often especially prone to. Exposed uses a 3.5% concentration of benzoyl peroxide, which may cause irritation in some skin types if overused, which is why they recommend only using it in the morning. To counteract this possibility, they have also included green tea extract and glycerin, which both help protect the skin. As with the other products we’ve recommended, Exposed Skin Care Acne Treatment Serum contains no alcohol, and as an added bonus, it only contains eleven ingredients total. If your skin has a reaction, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find out what caused it.

Ch. 5How to Find the Best Acne Treatment for White Skin

Even though the skin care industry treats white skin like the “norm,” it is its own unique skin type and comes with specific challenges and benefits.

If you have white skin, you’re probably used to your skin being treated as “normal” and all other skin colors as “other,” but the truth is, white skin has unique differences you should be aware of, just like Black or Asian skin. In this chapter, we’ll explore the benefits and challenges of acne-prone white skin, come up with an ideal treatment plan, and review a few products that can help with the specific issues most common in white skin.

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What Makes White Skin Unique

The most obvious difference between white skin and various types of skin of color is the lack of pigmentation. Most white skin classifies as Fitzpatrick phenotype I or II, though some people with white skin could fall outside this range.

You may notice that the range for what classifies as “white” skin is much narrower than the range of phenotypes included in Black, Latinx, or Asian skin, which might seem odd. As is usually the case when something about skin color seems weird, it’s largely due to racism. In the past, someone was considered Black if they had even the smallest amount of Black ancestry, meaning someone of mixed descent could look very white, but still be considered Black. This applied to other ethnicities as well, and as a result, the skin tones included in people of color broadened, while the skin tones classified as “white” stayed very pale.

When it comes to acne, there are three major differences you’ll want to be aware of. First, although white skin can develop post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), it is less likely than in other skin colors, and it is typically less severe17. Everyone with acne experiences dark marks after acne heals, regardless of skin color, but people with white skin are less likely to have severe, long-lasting marks.

The second main difference is that white skin is more prone to cystic acne than any other skin color17. Cystic acne often requires treatment intervention from a dermatologist and can’t be treated over-the-counter, but later in this chapter we’ll recommend a few non-prescription products that may actually be able to help.

Finally, white skin is often dryer than many other skin colors17, making it more prone to irritation and inflammation. All skin colors can be dry, oily, or combination, but studies show that white skin is statistically more likely to be dry.

The Best Acne Treatment Approach for White Skin

Because white skin is prone to dryness and cystic acne, the best acne treatment approach is one that fights acne-causing bacteria without drying out the skin.

There’s no one correct way to treat acne in white skin, but based on its unique differences, we can come up with a few tips and tricks that are likely to get you results.

First and foremost, make sure you are moisturizing. Because white skin is more likely to be dry, it’s especially important to moisturize your skin. Many people with acne-prone skin are hesitant to use a moisturizer because they’re afraid of clogging pores, but if you find the right product (see our product recommendations below), you can protect your skin from irritation and prevent acne, all without clogging a pore.

Second, because white skin is more likely to experience cystic acne, it’s important to use treatments that reduce inflammation and kill acne-causing bacteria. A cyst forms when acne-causing bacteria, which always live on the surface of our skin as part of our natural bacterial biome, get trapped in a pore and start a minor infection. If the immune system catches this infection and fights it off right away, then it only becomes a pimple, not a cyst. However, if the infection breaks down the pore’s walls and the infection spreads deeper into the skin, a cyst forms. As the infection spreads deeper, the immune system goes into overdrive and inflammation increases dramatically. Decreasing the number of bacteria and reducing this excessive inflammation can both help reduce the impact of cysts and cystic acne.

There are countless ways to kill bacteria and reduce inflammation, but we recommend doing so as gently as possible. Harsh products are likely to cause irritation which can actually increase inflammation, which in turn typically leads to more acne, not less.

Acne Treatment Ingredients to Avoid

Because the majority of skin care research is performed using white participants, skin care products don’t contain a ton of ingredients that people with white skin need to be careful to avoid. However, there are some ingredients that anyone with acne-prone skin should definitely look out for.

First, be careful to avoid anything containing coconut oil or coconut butter. If you have especially dry skin, you may benefit from a mask made of a mixture of honey and coconut oil once a month, but we strongly advise against using it more often. On the comedogenicity scale (a rating scale of how likely something is to clog your pores), coconut oil is rated as a 4 out of 5. Definitely a no-go.

Second, watch out for sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). This ingredient can be found in all kinds of personal hygiene products, from shampoo to face wash because it’s a surfactant, meaning it functions by clinging to oil particles and stripping them away. This works great in toothpaste because our teeth are pretty hardy, but it’s not a good idea for our skin. Skin is delicate, and SLS tends to cause irritation, which we know can lead to increased acne.

Finally, even though white skin isn’t highly pigmented, we recommend being cautious with lemon juice. Unlike Black skin, white skin probably won’t run into PIH issues, but pure lemon juice is very strong, and could cause more harm than good in white skin as well. If you feel that lemon juice helps your acne, try making a face mask by mixing a small amount of lemon juice with a tablespoon of honey. The honey should help protect your skin from the harshness of the lemon.

White Skin Recommendations

Best Approach

  • Moisturize Skin
  • Products That Reduce Inflammation

What to Avoid

  • Coconut and Coconut Butter Products
  • Lauryl Sulfate Products

Our Top Three Product Recommendations for Treating Acne in White Skin

To combat the specific problems often faced by white skin, we’ve picked out three top-quality products that are designed to reduce dryness, fight bacteria, or in some cases, both. Check out the products below and get started on your journey to clear skin.

1Cosrx Low-pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser

Cosrx Low-pH Good Morning Gel CleanserCosrx Low-pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser is ideal for white skin because it contains tea tree oil, which is a great natural ingredient for killing acne-causing bacteria. According to several studies, tea tree oil can effectively kill acne-causing bacteria18. Because white skin is more likely to experience cysts, which involve an overgrowth of acne bacteria, a cleanser containing tea tree oil is a great place to start treatment and get closer to clear skin.

There are countless tea tree oil cleansers available out there, but we recommend this one specifically because of the other ingredients it contains (or rather, doesn’t contain). This Good Morning Gel Cleanser has no SLS, no artificial fragrance, and no pore-clogging ingredients. Plus, as the name suggests, it has a low pH to match the naturally slightly acidic pH of the skin. The only downside is that it doesn’t contain very many hydrating or moisturizing ingredients, so if your skin is sensitive, you may want to start out only using this cleanser once per day instead of twice, to avoid drying and irritation.

2Exposed Skin Care Acne Treatment Serum

Exposed Skin Care Acne Treatment SerumHaving dry skin and cystic acne is a common occurrence for people with white skin, and at times it can feel like a nightmare. Many treatments designed to get rid of cysts are incredibly harsh and can dry out the skin, which only leads to more acne problems. The solution? Exposed Skin Care. We seriously love this brand because they understand that the best acne treatment is gentle, not harsh, and they have developed the perfect formulas for all their products to ensure that they are strong enough to get results, but gentle enough to avoid irritation.

The Exposed Acne Treatment Serum is a great product for both treating and preventing acne, especially bacteria-related acne such as pimples or cysts, due to the high-quality ingredients it includes. This product uses benzoyl peroxide, a popular and well-researched ingredient that helps kill acne-causing bacteria, and tea tree oil, which also kills acne bacteria, but it’s carefully balanced with hydrating ingredients as well. By including glycerin and green tea extract, Exposed made sure that this product could clear away acne without causing the kind of irritation that leads to more breakouts. Because white skin is prone to both dryness and cystic acne, you may have a hard time finding a product that can treat your acne without irritating your skin, but this product is a great way to treat your cysts without all the burning and peeling commonly seen with other treatment options.

3Exposed Skin Care Moisture Complex

Exposed Skin Care Moisture ComplexYep, we’re recommending Exposed Skin Care again. Their products really are that good. Specifically, their Moisture Complex is the perfect final step to any skin care routine, but especially for those who are prone to dry skin or those who are using lots of tea tree oil products for cystic acne. Although we love tea tree oil and highly recommend it for at-home treatment of cystic acne, it does have a tendency to cause irritation if used without proper moisturization. By applying Exposed Skin Care’s Moisture Complex twice a day, you can prevent irritation and keep treating your cystic acne without worrying about causing even more acne. It utilizes green tea extract, vitamin E, and pumpkin seed extract, all of which provide calming or moisturizing effects for the skin, and avoids any pore-clogging ingredients like coconut oil or SLS.


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