In the beauty world, women of varied skin tones can now find the right foundations. But can they also find the right skin care products?
If you were to ask some beauty experts, the answer would be yes, but not as easily.
"The truth is that a woman of color faces different concerns and at different times — hyperpigmentation being one of them," said Dr. Jeanine Downie, a dermatologist in Montclair, N.J. "Any white person over the age of 42, they start with fine lines and wrinkles. Any black person over the age of 42, they start with pigmentation issues. Asians and Latinas, it depends on their skin tone, but they are often somewhere in between."
In recent years, a few indie brands have started to address these issues, Downie said, pointing to Senté and Restorsea as a couple of her favorite lines. (She is on the scientific advisory board of Senté.) "There are great products out there now, but you have to ask someone knowledgeable," Downie said. "There's still a huge info gap on what to use and when."
Susan Akkad, senior vice president for local and cultural innovation for the Estée Lauder Companies, said these concerns are the very ones the company has been hearing from its multiethnic consumer base for years.
It is why Estée Lauder's Clinique brand recently rolled out a new moisturizer system called Clinique iD. It comes in three bases (Dramatically Different Jelly, Moisturizing Lotion+ and Oil-Control Gel) with five different "concern cartridges" that address irritation, pores and uneven texture, uneven skin tone, fatigue, or lines and wrinkles ($39 each).
Hyperpigmentation, for example, can be addressed by inserting the uneven skin tone cartridge into the moisturizer one needs. For women with darker skin tones, that base may be the oil-control gel. (Janet Pardo, senior vice president for product development at Clinique, pointed to a 2005 British study suggesting that women of color tend to produce more sebum.)
Women of color with oilier skin "are not hydrating their skin because it seems counterintuitive to them," Akkad said. "But balancing water and oil is what is key. That's why you still need to moisturize."
Dr. Barbara Sturm, an aesthetic medical doctor in Germany, is more to the point. Her namesake skin-care brand includes a parallel line of products specifically labeled Darker Skin Tones. Influencers including Hannah Bronfman have lauded the line.
Sturm worked on the Darker Skin Tones products, which is a collaboration with actress Angela Bassett, for nearly two years. Unlike her main line, the cleanser and moisturizer formulations have "skin tone evening benefits" (courtesy of Lumicol, a micro algae extract that boosts radiance) and active ingredients like salicylic acid, which help balance the skin's sebum production.
"From a dermatological perspective, darker skin tones present a paradox," Sturm said. The additional melanin protects against photo-aging and cancer, and the skin generally has greater elasticity.
But, she said, "darker skin tones also have an Achilles heel: heightened sensitivity to an inflammation cascade — or a cascade of biological events involving blood vessels, the immune system and various cells within the injured tissue — that leads to problems like post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation."
Services in doctors' offices are only just becoming more attuned to the needs of different skin tones. Manhattan dermatologist Dr. Patricia Wexler started using the Aerolase laser in her office about a year ago.
With darker skin, "burns are lethal because it creates scarring," Wexler said. That's why popular lasers like Fraxel and IPL have to be used with extreme care. The Aerolase is optimal because, she said, "it delivers the energy so fast it doesn't give the skin time to maintain heat," while also targeting brown pigment and redness (as in rosacea and acne).
For all the attention women of color are now getting for their skin care, Wexler and Downie stress that no matter the treatment plan, it's important to consider each person individually. For one, it's not just about the skin tone you see on the surface.
Benjamin Puckey, a makeup artist, said that hyperpigmentation aside, he sees "the same variations in skin type with women of color as with women of any other skin tone."
"In my opinion, there is no typical skin type for black skin, but because it reflects light differently, people seem to assume it's more oily," Puckey said. He has also noticed that skin care marketed to women of color often contains "potentially irritating ingredients like fragrant oils and pore-clogging emollients."
His advice is based on common sense: Assess your skin type closely and then look for nonirritating products that do the job. Puckey likes Augustinus Bader moisturizers ($80 and up) for normal to dry skin and Drunk Elephant B-Hydra serum ($52) for oilier skin.
There is one point on which all agree. No matter the shade of your skin, wear your SPF. "That old saying 'Black doesn't crack'? That's not true," Downie said. "Sun damage is sun damage."
As it happens, SPF is the only skin-care category in which Puckey has found a product he uses solely on women of color. "I recently discovered a brand called Black Girl Sunscreen [$18.99] that works beautifully," he said. "It doesn't leave a white cast on the skin or cause the dreaded 'flash back' on camera."