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A Unique Acne Treatment for Black Skin?

By Megan Griffith

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

People who are blessed with dark brown and black skin tones have skin that is uniquely resistant to sun damage and sunburn1. The same characteristics that give black skin the power to stand up to sun damage, however, also make it vulnerable to permanent damage from acne.

melasma caused by acne
Acne can cause Melasma, or discoloration, on black skin types.


  • The same physical characteristics that makes black skin so resistant to infection makes it very vulnerable to discoloration.
  • The problems that come up in acne care for black skin also come up in dealing with hair removal, cuts and scrapes, and the use of all kinds of skin care products.
  • The skin care products that work on white skin usually don’t work on black skin. Some product selections can be cosmetically disastrous.
  • This article lists simple and inexpensive products for major concerns of black skin care.

What Makes Black Skin Black?

Black skin has a high concentration of the pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. These cells make the gold, brown, and black pigments that give skin its color, but that is not their primary function. The main task of the melanocytes is to make melanin2, which is not just a pigment but also a skin-protective antioxidant.

When the skin is injured by infection, sun, exposure to a toxic chemical, a bug bite, or a mechanical injury like a cut or a scrape, the immune system isolates the disease-causing germ or chemical and clears out the diseased tissue by releasing inflammation3. Melanin puts a brake on that process, keeping inflammation from destroying healthy skin. People who have black and dark brown skin tones are blessed with an unusual ability for the skin to heal.

The Unique Challenges of a Black Complexion

The high production of melanin that protects the skin from inflammation, however, also can produce long-term or even permanent discoloration of the skin. This discoloration is known as melasma4. Acne, as well as cuts, scrapes, bug bites, and other kinds of skin infections can cause permanent brown and black melasma to appear on the skin. Many people who have black skin do the logical thing and try to correct those brown and black spots with skin lighteners.

That’s where the real problems begin.

If you were to use a product by the famous Dr. Murad, for example, you might find your skin lightener eventually makes your skin even darker. Many of the skin lightening products that are great for white or light brown skin are devastating for black or dark brown skin. The worst problem ingredient for black skin is a chemical called hydroquinone.

Hydroquinone is Horrible for Black Skin5

Hydroquinone is, as its name suggests, a derivative of quinine, the chemical in quinine water and malaria treatments. Hydroquinone binds to trace minerals in the skin and generates free radicals that destroy melanin deposits. In white or light brown skin, there is not as much melanin to be destroyed, so there is relatively little inflammation. (Light-skinned persons who use hydroquinone for skin lightening, however, still need to use sunscreen to prevent sun damage.)

In dark brown and black skin, there is a lot of melanin for hydroquinone to destroy. The destruction of so much melanin temporarily lightens the skin6, but it causes a lot of inflammation. And what does the skin do to repair excessive inflammation? It produces more melanin! People who have beautiful, dark skin tones need to preserve their skin tones by taking a totally different approach to acne repair and acne treatment.

It Isn’t Just Skin Lighteners

Bad choices in skin lighteners for acne problems produce the most tragic preventable cosmetic errors on black and dark brown skin, but they are not the only problem. Let’s take a look at the problem areas in managing black skin7.

  • Dark skin develops dark spots after almost any kind of injury, including bruises, cuts, scrapes, and burns, as well as acne and skin infections.
  • People who have dark skin usually have dark hairs. Hairs that grow in places where they aren’t supposed to be are tempting to remove, but the waxing, tweezing, and chemical depilatories can all leave dark spots.
  • In-grown hairs also leave dark spots. This is a particular problem of men with black skin who shave.
  • The skin on the face, especially on the nose and across the cheeks, tends to get oily. This means many dark-skinned people tend to look shiny in photos. They also tend to get acne in the middle of the face where it is most noticeable.
  • In dark-skinned people, acne starts later in life and lasts longer. While people with dark skin have just as many or more stresses than people of any other skin type, acne on dark skin seems to have less to do with stress and more to do with blood sugar problems and imbalances between estrogen and testosterone.
  • All kinds of skin care products can make dark skin oily. This means that hair conditioners, bug repellants, sunscreen, and Vaseline (even if it is not applied directly to the face it may be transferred to the face from the hands) all tend to clog dark skin.
  • Sunblock tends to leave white or purple tones on black skin. This can make figuring out makeup, especially makeup that covers up acne or acne-related skin spots, very difficult.
  • Foundation for makeup tends to streak, sometimes making acne even more noticeable.

So how on earth can anyone manage acne on black or dark brown skin? Below are some suggestions.

Managing Acne on Dark Skin

What works for a native of Iceland usually does not work for a native of Ghana. People who have naturally dark skin tones need different approaches8 to, and different products for, skin care.

  • There are two relatively inexpensive products that both keep pores open, preventing acne and preventing the formation of spots on black or dark brown skin. These are Aveeno Positively Radiant Cleansing Pads and Alpha Hydrox Foaming Face Wash Clarifying Cleanser.
  • There are two relatively inexpensive toners that soak up excess oil to prevent shininess and also prevent darkening of the skin. These are Burt’s Bees Tomato Toner for Oily and Troubled Skin and Gly Derm Solution 5%. The Gly Derm Solution 5% is also good for exfoliating dry or flaky skin, should that ever be a problem.
  • Body Shop Tea Tree Oil Facial Blotting Tissues smell nice because of tea tree oil. This ingredient stops whiteheads and blackheads from becoming pimples. It also reduces the inflammation that is so damaging to dark skin. This product is much better than other tissues for preventing shine.
  • Even people who have black skin sometimes need moisturizers, especially around the eyes. Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer with SPF is a low-cost choice that actually works.

Before you invest a lot of time and money in trying various skin care products, however, why not at least treat acne with a kit that contains everything you need. Exposed Skin Care offers all the products you need for acne treatment in a single kit that comes with a money-back guarantee.


  1. Diffey BL, Fajuyigbe D, Wright CY. Sunburn and sun protection in black skin. Int J Dermatol. 2019 Feb 1.
  2. Cichorek M, Wachulska M, Stasiewicz A, Tymińska A. Skin melanocytes: biology and development. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2013 Feb;30(1):30-41.
  3. Chen L, Deng H, Cui H, Fang J, Zuo Z, Deng J, Li Y, Wang X, Zhao L. Inflammatory responses and inflammation-associated diseases in organs. Oncotarget. 2017 Dec 14;9(6):7204-7218.
  4. Ogbechie-Godec OA, Elbuluk N. Melasma: an Up-to-Date Comprehensive Review. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 7(3):305-318.
  5. Bhattar PA, Zawar VP, Godse KV, Patil SP, Nadkarni NJ, Gautam MM. Exogenous Ochronosis. Indian J Dermatol. 2015 Nov-Dec;60(6):537-43.
  6. Monteiro RC, Kishore BN, Bhat RM, Sukumar D, Martis J, Ganesh HK. A Comparative Study of the Efficacy of 4% Hydroquinone vs 0.75% Kojic Acid Cream in the Treatment of Facial Melasma. Indian J Dermatol. 2013 Mar-Apr;58(2):157.
  7. Kundu RV, Patterson S. Dermatologic conditions in skin of color: part I. Special considerations for common skin disorders. Am Fam Physician. 2013 Jun 15;87(12):850-6.
  8. Davis EC, Callender VD. A review of acne in ethnic skin: pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, and management strategies. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2010 Apr;3(4):24-38.
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noah Reply

I am 15 black skin and their is dark spots on my neck upper back and shoulders i need an easy way to get rid of them and what could have caused the darker spots to come

June 25, 2014 at 10:18 pm Reply
melody Reply

Ive been thinking this whole time,before i came across this article,that i was a some sort of freak for having different darker skin that doesn't respond very well to various acne products formulated for lighter skin tones. Im not sure about the products suggested but i sure do agree with these facts.They were so helpful! (:

July 5, 2014 at 12:58 am Reply
Paulinemwangi Reply

Naturally am black beauty but my face always shinny full all kind of pimples black head white head. Please hrlp

November 24, 2015 at 9:44 am Reply

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