Pretty much every human being is susceptible to acne. However, the pervasive skin condition affects skin tones differently, and an acne treatment that might work well with one skin color might be too harsh for another.
In a study published in Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery this year, researchers uncovered the overlooked discrepancies when evaluating acne on patients of different skin colors. Darker skin tones react differently to breakouts than lighter skin tones. Once a zit pops up, the body begins to heal itself by releasing melanin to the area. However, in darker skin, the amount of melanin produced can sometimes be excessive, resulting in post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). According to the researchers, PIH is more common in African American and Latina women than in Continental Indian, Asian, or white women. One report using 2,895 photographs of women of different races found that 65 percent of African American women and 48 percent of Latina women demonstrated symptoms of PIH, compared to 10 percent of Continental Indian women, 18 percent of Asian women, and 25 percent of white women.
“Since darker skin can respond to any wound with PIH, we often can’t use the same aggressive treatments we would use on lighter skin types,” Michelle Henry, MD, clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College, told Cosmopolitan. Aggressive topical treatments might be too harsh for darker skin colors, as they can provoke PIH. New York City-based dermatologist Carlos A. Charles, MD, recommends that people with deeper skin tones steer clear of retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, and salicylic acid when trying to defeat acne. However, once the acne clears up and all that’s left is PIH, retinoids can effectively fade the pigmentation by accelerating cell turnover.