Skin Care Tips For Different Skin Tones And Colors

The amount of pigment, called melanin, in the skin determines your skin tone– the more melanin, the darker the skin. While everyone, no matter their skin tone, should follow the basic steps of cleansing, moisturizing and sun protection, you may want to adjust the specifics of that regime depending on your skin tone.

Basic Skin Care

Whether you have fair skin, olive skin, dark skin or any other skin tone or color, skin care begins with gentle cleansing and moisturizing. The specifics depend on your skin type (normal, dry, oily, etc.). Black skin, in particular, tends to be dry and may need moisturizing more than once a day.

Many skin care products contain irritants, such as:

  • Alcohol, propylene glycol, lanolin, scents or dyes, which are often found in cleansers, toners, moisturizers
  • High concentrations of alpha-hydroxy acids
  • Sunscreens and cosmetics that contain oil.

Two ingredients to look for are dimethicone, which gives skin a soft, smooth appearance without oil, and glycerin, which is a natural moisturizer.

Other basic skin care tips also apply to olive skin and dark skin:

  • Bathe or shower in warm, not hot, water. Avoid harsh soaps.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Eat a healthy diet, exercise and drink plenty of water.
  • Manage stress.


If you have darker skin, you’re more susceptible to hypopigmentation or hyperpigmentation–lighter or darker spots that appear on the surface of the skin because cells are producing too little or too much melanin. The causes can include sun exposure, rashes, skin injury and acne.

Consult a dermatologist to determine best treatment if you’re concerned about signs of hypopigmentation or hyperpigmentation. Possible treatments include:

  • Azelaic acid is a prescription anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial cream that can lighten skin tone.
  • Chemical peels remove the top layer of skin and expose the layer underneath.
  • Glycolic acid is available in many over-the-counter products. By exfoliating the top layer of the skin, dark marks on the skin become less noticeable.
  • Hydroquinone is a chemical lightener applied directly to the dark mark. Low concentrations are available over-the-counter and higher concentrations are available by prescription. Hydroquinone can have serious side effects and is banned in several countries. In the United States, the FDA has proposed banning the substance.
  • Microdermabrasion removes dead skin cells, reducing the appearance of dark spots.
  • Retinoids are a form of vitamin A, but they must be used with care on dark skin.

Sun Protection

One myth is that dark skin does not need the same sun protection as lighter skin. Although melanin provides some sun protection, dermatologists stress the importance of sun protection for everyone. Dark skin is more resistant to developing skin cancer, but when cancer does develop, it tends to be aggressive and hard to treat.

In general, people with dark skin should use an SPF 15 sunscreen. However, if you have certain medical conditions or take medications that increase sun sensitivity, or have dark marks or skin discolorations, you may need an SPF 30 sunscreen. Talk to your doctor about what skin protection steps are best for you.

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Stodghill, A. (2009). Dr. Jones’ money-saving tips for black skin care. Retrieved November 18, 2010, from

Talakoub, L. and Wesley, N. (2010). Hydroquinone: Complications and controversies. Retrieved December 6, 2010, from