The latest research shows that the key to attaining an awesome complexion may be linked to your ethnic background.
FAIR SKIN TONES
fYou know that many factors can affect your skin: the weather, your menstrual cycle, your cleansing routine, the Pill, and yes, your diet. But there’s one factor you don’t hear much about: your ethnic background. At the latest American Academy of Dermatology annual meeting, several research dermatologists spoke about the role ethnicity plays in the overall condition of your skin. Here, top skin docs offer insights that’ll help you score and maintain a gorgeous complexion based on those revelations.
Sources: Jeanine Downie, MD, coauthor of Beautiful Skin of Color; Flor Mayoral, MD, of Miami; Jessica Wu, MD, of Los Angeles; and David E. Bank, MD, of Mount Kisco, NY.
If you have a pale skin tone that’s between porcelain and bisque, this is your group. Most fair-skinned people are Caucasian, but they can also be light-skinned Asians and Latinas.
Fair skin can range from being extremely dry to very greasy, but the most common denominator is a susceptibility to irritation, sensitivity, and damage caused by UV exposure. The good news is that your relative lack of pigmentation means you have the easiest time scoring a uniform complexion. Even when your coloration is slightly off in places (from sun exposure, a breakout, a scratch, or whatever), getting back to normal usually doesn’t take the amount of time and effort often required of people with deeper skin tones.
Start your routine off with a gentle cleanser suited for your skin type (dry, oily, or combo), but dermatologists emphasize that selecting moisturizers that’ll help protect your fair skin from UV damage is key. During the day, use a broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen laced with antioxidants. At night, opt for a cream that contains alpha-hydroxy acids or retinol to help speed up cell turnover. Another must: Get an annual total-body check from a derm. In between, look for moles and bumps that change shape or color or that hurt.
Hate to break it to you, but you’re the first to show signs of sun damage (wrinkles, dark splotches, roughness). To speed up the sloughing off of damaged surface skin and reveal the fresher, sexier layer underneath, check out one of the new at-home acid peels or microdermabrasion kits. A good buy: L’Oréal ReFinish Micro-Dermabrasion Kit, $25.
Your relative paleness also makes redness look more pronounced. If irritation is causing your skin to appear ruddy, try a “calming cream” containing chamomile or other soothing botanicals. Color-corrective concealers, foundations, and powders, often tinted a light green, can cancel out the red of pimples and broken blood vessels (your lack of natural UV protection makes you especially prone to these).
MEDIUM SKIN TONES
This spectrum spans skin tones from light beige to olive or deep tan. More likely than not, you’re in this category if you’re of East Asian, Latin, Mediterranean, or Middle Eastern descent.
Having more melanin-rich skin gives you some natural UV protection — not enough that you can ditch the SPF, but premature aging shouldn’t be a huge concern. Also, your skin tends to be relatively thick, which often means fewer lines and wrinkles. But because it can also contain more oil glands, your skin may have enlarged pores and be prone to breakouts.
A salicylic-acid wash can help keep both oil and breakouts at bay. We like Benefit Wooosh!, $18. Also — unlike powder, which can sit in and exaggerate pores — blotting papers are a great temporary fix. Try Clean and Clear Oil Absorbing Sheets, $5. Another trick: Use a mattifyer under your sunscreen and makeup. One cult favorite: Peter Thomas Roth Max Anti-Shine Mattifying Gel, $35.
Skin with a decent amount of melanin is predisposed to produce even more melanin at the slightest provocation. Derms report that hyperpigmentation, such as marks that outlive whatever caused them in the first place (like a bug bite or scratch) and melasma (masklike facial blotchiness), are the biggest concerns. Hydroquinone-spiked fading creams reduce the production of new melanin and help to whisk away existing spots. Try DDF Fade Gel 4, $42. Newer fading formulas use botanicals purported to help disperse existing pigment clusters into less noticeable particles.
Because thick skin tends to have high concentrations of hair follicles, you may also have to wrestle with extra facial and body hair. Consider adding a hair-inhibiting lotion, such as Aveeno Positively Smooth Facial Moisturizer, $14, to your routine. Also, be aware that hyperpigmentation can be triggered by waxing burns, so if you let it rip at home, don’t overheat the wax. If you go to a pro waxer, be up-front about your skin’s sensitivity. For facial hair, try threading, a safe, time-tested alternative technique that tugs on skin less than waxing or tweezing.
DARK SKIN TONES
Skin tones in this category can range from café au lait to ebony and usually include African-Americans, Afro-Caribbeans, and women from India, Sri Lanka, and other areas of South Asia.
The lucky news: Your skin is the best-protected against UV damage — not so much so that you can forget sunscreen (ever!) — but enough that you’re likely to look a few years younger than your lighter-skinned contemporaries. Your pigmentation also provides camouflage against redness and even cellulite. On the other hand, hyperpigmentation can be a big issue — the skin pros point out that acne scars are a particular bummer.
Wage a war against pimple scars by making your cleansing routine about acne avoidance: Use a pore-cleansing salicylic-acid wash once or twice a day. We like Bioré Blemish Fighting Ice Cleanser, $6. But because you can’t ensure against breakouts one hundred percent of the time, consider applying a cream that contains both salicylic acid as well as a brown spot-fighting ingredient. Try Neutrogena Advanced Solutions Acne Mark Fading Peel, $15.
Keeping your b-day suit free of any ashy patches of dry skin is challenging because the contrast between dead, grayish cells and your rich dark skin tone can be obvious. Go for rich lotions and creams, and moisturize as often and as thoroughly as possible, especially when your skin is still damp after a shower. And stick with gentle cleansers versus drying soaps. Try Dove Deep Moisture Body Wash, $4.50. For stubborn ashiness, keep a humidifier on while you sleep.
You may also be plagued with ingrowns. The culprit: a combo of coarse hair and curved follicles. Simply put, the hair has a hard time breaking through the surface of your skin. And as tempting as picking and excavating may be, just say no. At best, you’ll invite hyperpigmentation…at worst, infection. Instead, opt for exfoliating and/or antiinflammatory products that coax trapped hairs out. Try Complete care Bikini Bump Blaster, $35, or Tend Skin, $20.
African American Skin Alert
No matter where you fall on the spectrum of dark skin, the most important thing to remember is that sun-induced skin cancer poses a particular risk. Cancerous growths are usually caught at a later (and more dangerous) stage in dark-skinned patients than in others. It’s not that questionable spots are trickier to spot on dark skin than they are on light skin; rather, says Dr. Downie, “there’s a lack of awareness among women of color that cancer could even be a problem for them.” Plus, a lot of doctors aren’t being sufficiently trained in skin of color. So you need to be especially vigilant about self-monitoring.
Here are all the classic patterns of potential cancerous growths to look out for: moles and bumps that change shape or color, or that bleed or hurt, or that don’t heal. Pay special attention to your palms, soles, and the skin under your nails, areas where there is a higher incidence of melanoma among African-Americans. So remember: Wear SPF 30 (yes, 30!), get an annual skin exam and self-monitor in between those visits.
How Birth Control Affects Skin Tone
The hormones in the Pill and the patch trick your body into thinking it’s pregnant, which can produce the mask of pregnancy, or melasma. Sometimes this condition can be harder to treat than the pregnancy-induced version. Still, fading creams, Retin-A, and peels generally help.