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How to treat acne in skin of color

Tips from board-certified dermatologists

ROSEMONT, Ill. (Sept. 10, 2020) — Acne affects up to 50 million Americans annually, including people of all skin types and complexions. For people with skin of color, acne is often accompanied by dark spots or patches called hyperpigmentation. Fortunately, dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology say there are plenty of things people with skin of color can do at home to help clear their acne, as well as the dark spots that linger afterwards.

“Acne is the most common skin condition in the U.S., and it can be particularly frustrating for people with skin of color because of the discoloration and scarring that can occur after blemishes heal,” says board-certified dermatologist Crystal Aguh, MD, FAAD. “For these reasons, it’s critical to treat acne in skin of color carefully and avoid skin care products that can exacerbate discoloration.”

To treat acne in skin of color, Dr. Aguh recommends the following tips:

  • Keep your hands off. If you have acne, avoid picking, squeezing, and popping your acne, as this can lead to scarring. This is especially important for people with darker skin tones, as they are more prone to developing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation — which appears as dark spots on the skin — and thickened scars.

  • Choose skin care products carefully. To treat mild acne, try using a product containing a retinoid and benzoyl peroxide or a product containing salicylic acid or retinol. Make sure the skin care products you use are labeled “non-comedogenic” or “won’t clog pores,” since clogged pores can lead to breakouts. Do not use skin care products that contain cocoa butter, as these can cause acne. Always check with your dermatologist before using any at-home or herbal remedies for acne.

  • Be gentle when washing your face. Choose a mild cleanser that won’t clog your pores, and only use your fingertips to wash and rinse your face, as vigorously scrubbing will worsen your acne. Gently pat your skin dry with a clean towel.

  • Skip heavy, oily makeup. While you may find that these makeup products effectively hide dark spots, they can clog pores, causing new blemishes. Choose makeup labeled “non-comedogenic” instead.

  • Switch up your hair care products. If your acne only appears on your forehead and temples, your hair care products may be to blame. Consider switching products, and only use ones that contain water or glycerin instead of oil. If you do choose to use a hair product with oil, avoid applying it near your forehead.

  • Protect your skin from the sun. Sun protection can help reduce the dark spots that occur after breakouts. Always protect your skin from the sun by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing — including a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses when possible — and applying a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all skin not covered by clothing.

  • Try skin-lightening products on dark spots. Although dark spots will typically fade after treating your acne, it can take years if the color lies deep in your skin. Skin-lightening products can help speed up fading. When choosing a skin-lightening product, look for one that contains one of the following ingredients: retinoids, such as adapalene and tretinoin; or azelaic acid; glycolic acid; or kojic acid. These products work by increasing how quickly your skin cells turnover so that discoloration fades faster. Antioxidants like vitamin C can also help even out skin tone. Over the counter 2% hydroquinone can be effective as well, especially when coupled with some of the ingredients noted above. However, it should only be used for short periods, as overuse can lead to excessive skin bleaching or even darkening. Some skin-lightening products have risks, such as skin irritation, so be cautious when using these products. Always follow the instructions on the label and use sun protection when going outdoors.

“When treating acne, it’s important to be patient, as it can take at least four to eight weeks to see improvement after using a topical acne medication,” says Dr. Aguh. “If you do not see improvement or need help treating your acne or dark spots, talk to a board-certified dermatologist, who can create a treatment plan tailored for you.” These tips are demonstrated in “How to Treat Acne in Skin of Color,” a video posted to the AAD website and YouTube channel. This video is part of the AAD’s “Video of the Month” series, which offers tips people can use to properly care for their skin, hair and nails. To find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit aad.org/findaderm.

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Media Relations, (847) 330-0230 or mediarelations@aad.org.

More information
Acne Overview: What is Acne?

10 Tips for Clearing Acne in Skin of Color
Acne Resource Center
Skin Care for Acne-Prone Skin
Skin Cancer in People of Color

About the AAD
He adquartered in Rosemont, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 20,000 physicians worldwide, the AAD is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails. For more information, contact the AAD at (888) 462-DERM (3376) o r aad.org. Follow the AAD on Facebook (American Academy of Dermatology), Twitter (@AADskin), Instagram (@AADskin1), or YouTube (AcademyofDermatology).

Editor’s note: The AAD does not promote or endorse any products or services. This content is intended as editorial content and should not be embedded with any paid, sponsored or advertorial content as it could be perceived as an AAD endorsement.