How To Take Care of Brown Skin
How do women of color get that clear, flawless, smooth-as-silk perpetual glow WITHOUT makeup? We crave it, we want it, yet find it a challenge to manage our special skin. Darker skin types require some extra thought with regard to care.
Women of color, particularly women with brown skin, produce more melanin than lighter skin-types which make the skin vulnerable to hyper-pigmentation, as well as stubborn dark marks. Achieving beautiful, clear skin is a matter of consistent rituals, using simple products that work for your specific type. What does that mean exactly? It means that skin is NOT one size fits all, and skin of color is temperamental and requires thoughtful attention.
Let's begin with my 4 basics:
1. Understand what your skin needs based on its type.
2. Be consistent with your rituals.
3. Protect and feed your skin everyday and
4. Choose the best products that work for you, within your means.
WHAT DOES IT NEED?
When I talk about the "skin", I'm always referring to the face, neck and chest. Skin needs daily maintenance in order to perform at its optimal level. "Daily" meaning consistent. A twice per day cleanse, tone, moisturize ritual is the foundation of beautiful skin, however, it isn't enough. Yes, it's essential to cleanse and tone, however, for a renewed, stimulated, healthy glow, the skin must be "open" to receive nourishment. Think of a baby bird opening it's beak to receive food, the same theory applies with skin. If it isn't prepped prior to applying a nourishing product (such as a serum), that product will simply sit on the face rather than penetrate into the skin, big difference.
Let's talk about the art of cleansing. When you stand in front of the sink to cleanse your face, your skin should be free of make-up. I recommend using cotton soaked in your favorite remover (I'm partial to the silicone-based liquid removers) to gently dissolve eye makeup, lipstick, and foundation. Some of my clients like to use pre-packaged makeup removal wipes, it doesn't matter. The point is, remove your makeup first.
Now your skin is ready to be cleansed. Unless you have severely oily or acne-prone skin, you should be using a mild/milky cleanser, with minimal foam, to gently clean the skin (a more foamy version is fine for severely oily skin). When I recommend this process to my clients, they complain that mild cleansers like Cetaphil are reminiscent of lotion on their face, and they don't like the feel of it. For the most part, women are accustomed to the feel of that foaming action produced by the ubiquitous bar of soap sitting next to the sink.
Remember, "foaming" means "drying" and the last thing you want to do is to compromise your skin's balance by stripping away its protective barrier known as the "Acid Mantel". Lightly wet the skin after your makeup has been removed, and gently massage in the cleanser with clean fingertips. Your goal is to invigorate the skin, bring blood flow to the surface, loosen up and dissolve any surface dirt, oil and residual makeup. During this process you are also feeling for any rough patches that may need to be addressed with an exfoliator. Rotary facial cleaning devices work well, but I'm a firm believer in old-school methods, and my finger tips have helped me to achieve amazing skin since the 7th grade.
Consistency doesn't mean "once in a while", it means every single day. I have so many clients who neglect to wash their face after a long night out on the town, or go to bed with their makeup on; these habits are the worst thing you can do to your skin, and a guaranteed way to get your face on the lack-luster list. Cleansing and toning the skin, morning and night, is "good skin 101", so establish consistent habits to get you on track. A simple game-changing tip that I often give is to dry the face with a tissue after cleansing. Bacteria is the mortal enemy of skin. The reason why skin care rituals, like cleansing, are so important is to wash away the build up of surface bacteria that has set-up camp on your skin throughout the day. If you use a towel to dry your face after you have spent so much time and effort properly cleansing it, you are negating your efforts by re-introducing bacteria back onto the skin. Never use a towel to dry the face, especially your bath towel. A simple tissue box, resting on your counter, is all you need to blot your skin dry and ensure that your actions are sanitary.
Exfoliation is the secret to that coveted facial glow. For normal and combination skin, I recommend exfoliating twice per week (three times for oiler skin types). My two favorite facial exfoliators are: granular and acid. Many well known over the counter brands offer both options, just choose the line that you're most comfortable with. If choosing a granular scrub, make sure that the grains are spherical in nature, and stay away from those "crushed apricot seed" versions. Scrubs which are jagged in nature can injure the skin and cause micro-damage. You want to make sure that the scrubbing grains are round without any rough edges.
Believe it or not, a micro-abrasion caused by an apricot scrub can cause brown skin to form patchy dark spots that are quite the challenge to get rid of. Why? Because cells known as "Melanocytes" which carry dye known as "Melanin" to the surface of the skin, in response to an injury, rush to the upper layers of the skin and establish permanent residence. Think of it as a permanent band-aid that won't peel off! Whether your injury is a sunburn, a scratch or an insect bite, those Melanocytes don't care about aesthetics. They don't care that you will be left with brown or black marks on your skin, they only care about protecting the skin from injury and they are on-call 24/7. Therefore, it is essential that you choose wisely here.
What's my favorite go-to scrub? Mix a drop of your favorite cleanser with a teaspoon of baking soda and add a drop of water if needed. Massage into wet skin for a solid minute, rinse clean and feel how soft your skin is. Note that baking soda is alkaline, so it is important that you follow up with a toner afterward. Toning the skin, after cleansing, gets it pH balanced towards the acidic side: Remember, acidic skin means healthy skin. Soap and cleansers are alkaline, therefore the simple act of toning after washing will leave your skin balanced and that's what the goal is.
My exfoliator of choice are the acid versions: Glycolic, Lactic or Salicylic. Alpha and Beta Hydroxy acid exfoliators like these dissolve dead skin and debris without abrasives. Salicylic acid is an amazing protocol for those prone to acne, as this exfoliator has the added benefit of infusing oxygen into the follicle (oxygen kills acne bacteria). If using an acid wash, gently massage it info the skin, after cleansing, and leave it on for a minute before rinsing. I also recommend body washes containing glycolic acid, to keep skin smooth and silky, from head to toe.
PROTECT THE SKIN:
What I'm about to explain to you is the single most important thing that women with brown skin MUST do to keep their skin protected and spot-free: Use a daily Vitamin-C Serum and apply a daily SPF lotion to the face. Cleansing and toning in the morning isn't enough. Before you apply your daily moisturizer with sunscreen, find a good Vitamin-C serum to apply daily. This is where you want to invest in a good quality product. Vitamin-C is a natural anti-oxidant, and will protect the skin from sun damage, as well as damage from the external environmental elements. What if I tell you that pollution can cause your skin to age.
External pollution and UV radiation creep their way into the skin cells and change its DNA, you don't want that. A simple protocol of a daily topical anti-oxidant acts like a shield on the skin, protecting it from these "free radicals" I just mentioned. An added bonus of topical Vitamin-C, is that it fades dark spots known as hyper-pigmentation. A pea size amount is all the face needs before applying your daily moisturizer containing broad spectrum SPF; I recommend at least 30; sun protection will protect your skin from damaging UV rays.
There is nothing I crave more than sitting on a beach and feeling the warm sun on my skin, however, I rather keep my skin looking amazing, youthful and cancer-free for as long as I can. UV rays break down collagen in the skin, it breaks down the skin's elastin (which means loss of firmness), it causes hyper-pigmentation (dark spots), and it makes us vulnerable to skin cancers. Remember, Bob Marley died from metastatic melanoma between his toes, therefore brown skin types do NOT get a free pass when exposing our skin to the sun.
But what if you're not a beach lover? Let me ask you this: Do you ever sit by a window, or drive in a car, or walk down the street? Of course you do! Sun exposure is all around us, even in the winter, even through glass, especially in higher elevations and especially during the summer months. Whether we're sitting by the pool or walking across the street, we are constantly being exposed to damaging UV radiation.
Moreover, if you've ever gotten a bug bite, a pimple or a scratch on the face that has turned dark brown or even black, then you need to know that a simple daily protocol of a Vitamin-C serum and a broad spectrum SPF sunscreen may have prevented those marks. It's never too late to start a great regime, so forget about the bad habits of the past and move forward with these simple tips.
CHOOSE PRODUCTS WISELY:
I customize daily protocols for my clients every day. If I have a client who is a skincare virgin, and is leaning-in to good care habits, I send her straight to the drugstore. Coco Chanel once said, "it is not about money, its about understanding". Although she was talking about fashion, skincare is exactly the same. A simple over the counter, drug store cleanser and toner is all you need for an effective twice-per-day routine; I'm even partial to the drug store daily moisturizers with SPF.
Where you want to invest your money is in a good Vitamin-C serum, a healing night serum and a nourishing P.M. moisturizer. I talked about an important daytime protocol that protects the skin, however, night time requires repair and nourishment as well. After you cleanse (dry with a tissue) and tone before bed, apply a repair serum to the skin. Every woman over the age of 26 should be using a Retinol or a Retinoid in my opinion.
We can discuss the amazing benefits of these at at later time, but it is important for you to understand that a repair serum takes you from ok skin to amazing skin. A serum with growth factors are also a skin-game changer. I typically tell my clients to start with an over the counter Retinol, twice per week, then use a growth factor serum on your days off. After the product is absorbed into the skin, apply a nourishing skin oil or night cream, as well as an eye cream.
I can go on and on about specifics and brands and protocols, but the main message that I want to leave you here with today, is to find a skin care program that is realistic for you and stick to it every single day. Even if you start by cleansing and toning morning and night, it's a start. It's about establishing habits, leaning into skin care and reaping the rewards of fabulous skin that glows without the use of makeup.
Rose Prieto, C.M.S., L.E., C.C.E.
Certified Micro-pigmentation Specialist