Skin Care: Ethnic Skin

Dr Davin Lim | Dermatologist | Sydney

Best Ingredients: Retinol, ascorbic acid, azelaic acid, pigment correctors

Worse Ingredients: Anything branded natural, lemon juice, coconut oil

Adjunctive Treatments: Pico lasers, Rejuran injectables, chemical peels for ethnic skin

Tips: If you learn one thing from this post, it is how to properly use sunscreen.

Skin Care: Ethnic Skin

What are the differences between ethnic skin & fair skin types?

Pigmentation. This accounts for 95% of skin consults in darker skin patients. Inflammation in lighter skin patients goes red, then usually fades over 1-4 weeks. With ethnic skin, inflammation lingers on for 6 months to 5 years. 

Scars including hypertrophic & keloid scars are more commonly seen in darker skin types. Acne scarring (both pigment & contour changes) are more common in ethnics. 

Enlarged pores are common in Asian skin types, partly due to genes, partly due to increased sebum or oil production. 

Dry skin, known as xerosis is commonly seen in darker skin patients living in countries with low humidity or climate changes , eg. winter months. 

skin care ethnic

What are the best skin care ingredients to look for when treating ethnic skin types?

As with any skin type, look for ingredients that specifically address your concern. For ethnic skin, pigmentation is the main issue. This can be divided in to the following pigment conditions-

  • Post inflammatory hyperpigmentation: commonly from acne, skin irritation, eczema, insect bites, burns, cuts or grazes. Less commonly due to inflammation from conditions such as Lupus, Ashy dermatosis, lichenoid disorders, etc…refer to below for a guide on the best ingredients for pigmentation. 
  • Melasma is more common in darker skin races. 
  • Acne is common throughout the races. In darker skin patients both acne scarring & post inflammatory pigment can be worse. See below for a guide as to how to treat acne.
  • Pigment conditions such as dark circles are commonly encountered. Treatment is dependent on the diagnosis. See below.
  • DPN or age warts are more common in darker skin types. They present as tiny bumps on the face & neck. This condition is called Morgan Freeman syndrome. We treat DPN with lasers, curettes, chemical peels & electrosurgery. 
  • Dark skin on the neck, underarms & groin area is frequently encountered, this condition is called acanthosis nigricans. Lactic acid washes & retinol have marginal effects. 

best skin care ingredients for dark skin

What are the best products to lighten my skin?

Sunscreen forms the basis of skin care for all ethnic skin types from light skin to dark skin. Invest in a good broad spectrum sunscreen as an adjunctive application to umbrellas, hats & shade. Other skin lightening agents include-

Hydroquinone: This is the Gold Standard when it comes to skin lightening. HQ concentrations range from 2-8 %. It can be mixed with ascorbic acid, retinoids & antiinflammatories.  

Arbutin: Alpha or Beta arbutin can lighten skin. This molecule is converted to HQ.

Ascorbic acid: Also known as Vitamin C: Acts as both an antioxidant (found in HQ to stabilize it) as well as a good pigment inhibitor. 

Niacinamide: Also known as vitamin B3 reduces pigment as well as inflammation. Great ingredient for patients with sensitive skin.

Kojic acid: This acid is found naturally & is a potent inhibitor of pigment production. Great for melasma & post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. 

Azelaic acid: gel is the best for consistency. Azelaic acid concentrations vary from 5 to 20%. This is a naturally found compound that works by reducing inflammatory acne & subsequent post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Safe in pregnancy & lactation, ideal for sensitive skin patients. 

Tranexamic acid: Tablets work best, followed by injections & then creams.

Bearberry extract can reduce pigment. Found in topicals such as Lytera, Meladerm, Melacream. Organic skin care at its tastiest. 

Licorice root extract: This is one of the most potent pigment inhibitors in nature & is combined with other botanical extracts in creams such as Meladerm. 

More on pigmentation skin care. 

skin lightening products

What is the best single ingredient to invest in?

Sunscreen. Most patients waste money on crappy skin care products & ingredients without moving off first base (sunscreen). Sunscreen is the single most important skin care ingredient you can invest in, regardless of ethnicity or skin color. 

For skin of color, it is essential to use tinted sunscreen as visible light stimulates skin pigment, hence why we advise the use of sunscreens that contain iron oxides. Here are some brands we recommend-

  • Ilia sunscreen. Yes, it’s an SPF of 40, but it comes in your skin shade & tint. 
  • Supergoop. It is expensive, over $50 & not available in Australia, but it is good. 
  • La Roche Posay SPF 50+, is available in Australia, but comes in one tint (as of 2025)
  • UltraViolette. Is Australian made, & very good. Lots of tints, but rather expensive at over $50. 

best tinted sunscreen

How to properly use sunscreen?

Forget brands for the time being, concentrate on application frequency & amount. Here is a simplified guide-

  • Twice daily application, regardless of sun exposure
  • Two finger lengths 

Once you have the application process downpat, you can then concentrate on the value of physical, chemical or hybrid sunscreens, nanoparticles & iron oxide concentrations, or you can just follow the products that we recommend (as above). 

apply sunscreen properly

What is the best laser for ethnic skin?

Pico lasers such as Picosure Pro are the best laser for darker skin types. This laser can treat melasma, post inflammatory acne scars, pigmentation, as well as reduce pore sizing. Treatments typically take 6 to 7 minutes to perform with minimal to no recovery. 

As a guide, Picosure Pro

  • Is safe in all skin types, including darker ethnic skin.
  • Can markedly reverse the signs of aging.
  • Can be combined with injectables for better results. 
  • Has less than 2 hours recovery time in most applications.
  • Starts from $790, performed by our clinicians (Excluding Dr Davin Lim)

best laser for dark skin

What is the best injectable for ethnic skin types?

Rejuran. This is not a dermal filler, but a cosmetic injectable that can be used for skin rejuvenation, dark circles, enlarged pores, & melasma pigmentation. It is classified as a polynucleotide injection & is derived from DNA. Rejuran is NOT like a hyaluronic acid based dermal filler, it does not provide volume changes, but acts as a scaffold to build collagen. As a guide, Rejuran

  • Takes 2 minutes to perform
  • Requires 2-3 sessions
  • Is good for the under eye area
  • Cost $920 per session
  • Has a recovery of 1-2 days

rejuran dark skin

Why is treating acne early & aggressively super important in darker skin?

3 words, Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation. Skin of color will develop darker areas of skin when acne spots resolve. This is called hyperpigmentation & can take 2-5 years before resolving. This is why it is super important to prevent acne. Mitigation saves treatment! There are numerous ingredients that can be used to treat acne, including-

Ingredients: Retinol, retinaldehyde & retinoids including tretinoin & adapalene. 

How often: These skin care ingredients are best applied at night.

Note: Best used as a preventative measure, apply to acne prone areas

How long before it works: 4 to 8 weeks

Ingredient: Azelaic acid

How often: Up to twice a day

Note: Good for prevention of acne, & treatment of pigment

How long before it works: 4 to 6 weeks

Ingredient: Niacinamide

How often: up to twice a day

Note: Reduces inflammation of acne, can reduce pigment faster

How long before it works: 4 to 8 weeks

Ingredient: Benzoyl peroxide

How often: Up to twice a day

Note: Can bleach skin. Dries out pimples.

How long before it works: 12 to 48 hours

Ingredient: Salicylic acid

How often: Daily in am.

Note: Can be used as a wash or spot treatment

How long before it works: 2-14 days

Ingredient: Tea tree oil

How often: Up to twice a day

Note: Be careful of skin irritation. Can dry out pimples.

How long before it works: 1-4 weeks

Ingredient: Rosehip oil

How often: Twice a day

Note: Antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties.

How long before it works: 2-4 weeks

Ingredient: Sulfur

How often: twice a day

Note: Smells bad

How long before it works: 2-4 weeks

Consult a medical dermatologist if you have significant acne with evidence of scarring as you may require more complex management. Early & effective treatment mitigates acne scarring. 

Disclaimer: I am a procedural dermatologist. I do not treat acne, however I do consult for pigmentation issues. I do not undertake virtual consultations nor consults via email or online as I do believe that a real time examination is paramount when treating acne scars, including cases of post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. 

acne darker skin

Why are acne scars harder to treat in darker skin patients?

Acne scars are often more severe in darker skin patients as post inflammatory pigmentation often compounds contour changes. Dark skin absorbs more light compared to lighter skin types, this in itself makes similar depth scars seem deeper in ethnic skin types. 

The revision process itself is slower, especially if skin surface directed therapy including lasers or peels are used. This is because post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (darker skin) or post inflammatory hypopigmentation is more common following treatments. The latter can be permanent if parameters are too aggressive. The darker the skin type, the slower the treatment process. The flipside is that ethnic skin types will often generate more collagen, hence for deeper treatments such as subcision & RFM, the progress can often be accelerated.  

acne scars dark skin

What is the best skin care ingredient for dark under eye circles?

The most important concept to understand is that there are many different causes of dark circles. Some cases can respond to dermal fillers, lasers & creams. Other cases such as hereditary or cultural causes can not be cured. The ingredients to look for when buying an eye cream include-

Caffeine: This modulates blood flow and can help vascular causes of dark eyes. 

Peptides: These amino acids can build up collagen & improve dermal thickness.

Vitamin E: Is a powerful antioxidant.

Vitamin K: often found in conjunction with caffeine to reduce blood flow.

Retinol: This ingredient can build up collagen & protect the thin eyelid skin. 

Argan Oil: can reduce pigmentation & acts as an antioxidant.

Retinyl palmitate: is a very gentle retinoid for the eye area.

Niacinamide: is an anti inflammatory & antioxidant. It is super gentle. 

Kojic Acid: reduces pigmentation by inhibiting tyrosinase enzyme. 

Optical diffusers such as boron: reflect light to reduce perception of dark circles.

Hyaluronic acid:is a powerful moisturizer that is gentle.

What are the worst ingredients for darker skin types & hyperpigmentation?

Lemon juice & other natural treatments. Citrus fruits can cause a condition known as phytophotodermatitis or staining of the skin following a reaction with sunlight. This worsens pigmentation. If you are into fluffy fairy skin care, stick with ascorbic acid. 

Glutathione injections, as well as other ‘bleaching remedies’ are not recommended as the side effects are unknown. A sensible avenue is to supplement with glutathione tablets or polypodium extract. 

natural skin care

How do I treat enlarged pores?

Darker skin types will generally have larger pores compared to fair skin. This is due to genetics as there is generally more oil production in Asians, & African Americans. Pores enlarge with age due to loss of collagen support of the follicle. Here are some ways to reduce pore sizing-

  • Retinol & retinoids work by reducing sebum or oil production as well as building collagen to support pores.
  • Vitamin C can reduce UV breakdown of collagen & build new collagen.
  • Skin care acids such as salicylic, lactic, mandelic & glycolic acids can unclog pores, reduce oil, & blackheads
  • Clinical strength AHA & retinoic acid peels can help boost collagen for pore support
  • Lasers including nano & pico as well as fractional lasers such as Fraxel & Clear & Brilliant can improve skin tone, thereby reducing large pores
  • Rejuran is a PN that is DNA derived. It is an excellent injectable for pores & is frequently used with pico laser resurfacing. 

Does fair skin age faster than darker skin?

Technically the age of skin is the same, however lighter skin types will exhibit more photodamage or sun induced damage to both the upper & lower layers of skin. Lighter skin types compared to age matched darker skin individuals, will have more collagen loss & sun spots. Pigment protects against both UVB & UVA radiation. This accounts for over 80% of photoaging. The flipside? Darker skin individuals are more prone to hyperpigmentation. As darker skin absorbs more light, surface imperfections including acne scars are more apparent in ethnic skin types. 

What is the best treatment cream for dark underarms?

The most likely diagnosis is acanthosis nigricans, or a form of irritant contact dermatitis. The use of gentle lactic acid washes used sensibly combined with retinol or retinoic acid can give marginal improvements over 4-8 months. 

Persistent cases should be managed by a medical dermatologist (not me, I am procedural). Weight loss, metformin & retin A can help. Please consult with your skin specialist of choice. 

What is Ashy dermatosis?

Ashy dermatosis is a common condition seen in darker ethnic skin. It is very common in Indian, Pakistani & Sri Lankan patients. It presents as patches of dark skin affecting the face, neck & body. 

The mainstay of Ashy dermatosis management is by medical dermatologist. Our team is involved in lasers once the diagnosis is certain & the disease is stable. Pico lasers can help, however the response rate is only 50-60% at best. Patients require multiple sessions over 6 to 12 months. Patients are encouraged to carefully think about treatment, given the response rate & timelines. 

ashy dermatosis

What are natural ways to lighten skin using DIY home remedies?

This is well beyond the expertise of dermatologists as we are trained in clinical work based upon scientifically proven methods. The use of lemons or citrus fruits, DIY peels, & other potentially harmful remedies are discouraged. You could find many other blogs or videos demonstrating DIY skin care products & procedures. I will refrain from making comments, apart from, consider your safety above all things. 

Davin’s ProTip on Dark Skin or Ethnic Skin Care

Above all, prevention is the key. The vast majority of cases are due to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. The darker your skin the longer the duration of hyperpigmentation. Absolute treatment of the preceding dermatosis (rash, acne – cause of inflamed skin) is crucial as it stops the cycle. Hence in the context of acne, it is not wise to undertake expensive treatments such as lasers if the underlying inflammatory process is still active. Even if it means having 2-3 spots per month. This is because it equates to 30 spots a year, & over 2 years you may have 50-60 dark spots that may take 2-3 more years to fade, in addition to more crops of dark spots. 

If you have active acne, or an undiagnosed skin condition that can lead to skin darkening, a general medical dermatologist is your first stop. I can help fade pigment, but treating the cause is paramount. Please note I am a procedural dermatologist, I do not get involved in medical management however if and when appropriate I will initiate a referral to my colleagues.

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