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Curating a quality skin care routine is no easy feat. With so many options on the market — everything from clean beauty to anti-aging — it can be overwhelming just trying to find a good cleanser and moisturizer.
It becomes even more stressful when trying to find additional products that target additional skin issues. For people with darker skin tones, those issues are commonly hyperpigmentation and discoloration, according to three Black skin care experts that we spoke with.
"Darker skin just tends to be more prone to pigment issues in general," board-certified dermatologist Dr. Sophia Reid told Shop TODAY. "Every little acne bump we get, every little wax session, every little sunburn — everything leaves marks on our skin."
"I see that probably at least four times a day in my clinics where people are really distraught and really concerned over the dark spots on their skin. It can happen by just having a pimple there and, even if you're not trying to express that pimple, you can still be left with a darkened mark," said Dr. Desmond Shipp, dermatologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
"With darker skin, we tend to overcompensate whenever there's any inflammation or injury to our skin. So often times if we get a pimple, it doesn't just heal with our normal skin tone but our body goes into overdrive and it creates the dark spots that we all hate," Kendra Joseph, certified physician assistant at Schweiger Dermatology group, told us.
Finding the right products to treat hyperpigmentation and discoloration is rooted in the source of the problem. "Is it coming from the fact that you're getting a lot of acne and we need to address [that] so we don't get any more pigment issues leftover from acne? Is it that we're treating hair that's in that area? Is that we're not using our sunblock and so we're starting to get pigment issues with aging and sun?" Reid said of the possible causes.
Getting to the source will not only help you figure out which products are best to use, but will also help you prevent discoloration from recurring. "There's no point to use all of these expensive products to treat your discoloration if you're still continuing to do the things that are going to keep the discoloration around," she told us.
While searching for products, Shipp says to avoid anything that contains alcohols, paraffin, glycol and parabens. "[Alcohol] is very drying for the skin and makes it more irritated, dry and flaky," he said.
Joseph recommends keeping your skin care routine simple. "It's very trendy to have a 10-step regimen. If that's working well for you, then great. But sometimes when you do too much, that's not always best for your skin," she said. "Less is more when you're first starting and you don't really have an idea of what works well for you."
To help relieve some of the burden of creating a skin care routine on your own, we asked these skin care experts about what to include in a general morning and evening skin care routine that address hyperpigmentation and discoloration.
The best morning skin care routine for hyperpigmentation
Step 1: Start with a cleanser
All of our skin care experts recommended starting with a base cleanser. "I would use an exfoliating cleanser that can help to be able to turnover the skin cells a little bit more," Reid said. She recommends using an exfoliating cleanser once or twice a week to avoid over-exfoliation, which can lead to irritation. In between using exfoliating cleansers, she recommends using a gentle cleanser.
Reid recommends Neutrogena's face wash for a "gentle exfoliation." Its oil-free formula is designed to keep from clogging pores and contains salicylic acid to help combat acne.
Reid is also a fan of this exfoliating cleanser that contains two hydroxy acids. While gently exfoliating the skin, this cleanser is designed to improve and smooth your skin texture.
Step 2: Apply an antioxidant or topical
Joseph recommends applying an antioxidant like vitamin C, E or niacinimade because they help reduce sun damage and prevent UV rays from darkening your spots. "Vitamin C is usually really good with evening out your skin and preventing the sun from damaging your skin without bleaching or changing your normal skin tone," she told us.
Reid calls this vitamin C serum from SkinCeuticals "one of the best formulas out there." It's made with a combination of ferulic acid and vitamins C and E. One Dermstore reviewer called it "the only vitamin C product they'll use."
For a more affordable alternative, Reid also recommends this vitamin C serum. It has over 4,300 verified five-star ratings on Amazon and one decade-long user called it "one of the best they've used."
Joseph regards niacinamide as an ingredient that can help to prevent further sun damage. This popular and budget-friendly option from The Ordinary has rave reviews on the Sephora website, with customers calling it "a staple product" and "a must-have."
Shipp recommends an azelaic acid topical as another way to lighten the skin. He said it's even safe to use during pregnancy. This option from Paula's Choice has a 4.4-star average on Amazon and almost 1,500 verified five-star ratings.
Step 3: Moisturize your skin
After cleansing your face and applying serum, it's time to moisturize. While some people opt to skip this step and use sunblock as a 2-in-1 moisturizer, Reid says separating moisturizer and sunscreen will give you the best benefits.
This Amazon's Choice pick also comes highly recommended by Reid. "It's really hydrating but because it's also a gel, it goes on really soft so it doesn't feel heavy or greasy," she said.
Reid recommends this lightweight moisturizing gel if you have oily skin. "Gel-based formulations tend to be better on oily skin as opposed to cream and lotions because they just absorb better. They're better able to control the oil production," she said.
Step 4: Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen!
Joseph, Shipp and Reid each emphasized the importance of sunscreen and recommended going for a mineral-based option that contains titanium or zinc oxide. While mineral-based sunscreens tend to leave a white cast, there are a few options on the market that are designed to leave little-to-no residue so you can find one that works best for you.
"Most patients who are dark skin don't believe that they have to [wear sunscreen] because often times they may not have experienced sunburn but we can actually get burned," Joseph said.
"[People with] skin of color develops skin cancers, too. Oftentimes when they do, it's a lot more far progressed because we're often not told that we do develop skin cancer," Shipp said. He recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater, applying it 15 minutes before going outside and every two hours after.
"Not only does [sunburn] put us more at risk for skin cancer like the general population, it also ages us," Joseph explained. "Some of the pigment issues that we get such as melasma and other conditions are usually sun-induced, so sun protection is very important."
Regarded by Reid as a sunscreen that "is able to rub in pretty decently on skin of color," this sunscreen also boasts a 4.8-star average on Amazon. It's a broad-spectrum chemical sunscreen that also helps protect against blue light emitted from your phone, computer or tablet.
For a mineral option, Reid recommends this tinted sunscreen. It offers broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection and is water-resistant for up to 40 minutes.
The best evening skin care routine for hyperpigmentation
Step 1: Start with a gentle cleanser
If you've exfoliated in the morning, experts recommend following up with a gentle cleanser at night.
Reid is a big fan of this gel cleanser from Aveeno. Since it contains micellar water, it can remove makeup as it cleanses your skin, so you don't have to double cleanse. "It's gentle, plus it's super effective at being able to get rid of oil [and] makeup without over-drying the skin," she said.
"If you're not really sure of what your skin type is, being gentle is the best way to go," Joseph said. This bestselling hydrating facial cleanser is also an Amazon's Choice pick and has over 48,500 verified five-star ratings. There is also a version of this cleanser for normal to oily skin.
Step 2: Apply a retinoid
"[Retinol] helps to rebuild the collagen in the skin, makes your skin look more youthful and also can unclog the pores," Shipp explained. He recommends using this product every night. Despite all of these great benefits, retinoids can be quite drying, so Shipp recommends waiting about 40 minutes before applying a separate moisturizer.
However, depending on your skin type and condition, you may want to consider applying moisturizer before a retinoid, Joseph shared. Consult a professional for the best way to introduce retinoids into your evening skin care routine.
Reid recommends this Neutrogena cream if you have sensitive skin. "It has a pretty low concentration of retinol, but it's a good starter retinol if you haven't used any before," she said. The brand touts visibly younger-looking skin in just one week of use.
For the more seasoned retinol users, Reid recommends this option that can be used as a moisturizer/retinol treatment duo. This cream combines retinol with AHA to rejuvenate the skin without irritating it. It's also free of fragrances, dyes and parabens.
If you want to really hone in on your discoloration, Reid recommends applying this serum after cleansing and then layering your retinol of choice over it.
Step 3: Moisturize your skin
Shipp recommends using a moisturizer with ceramides for their hydrating effect. This facial moisturizing lotion from CeraVe not only contains ceramides, but also has niacinamide and hyaluronic acid to hydrate and repair the skin's barrier. It has a 4.7-star average on Amazon and also comes in a bestselling daytime option.
This top-rated moisturizer has over 14,000 verified five-star ratings. It's made with niacinamide, ceramides and glycerin to hydrate and restore the skin. "My skin has improved so dramatically in the last few weeks of using this that I am tempted to believe it's a bit magical," one reviewer raved.
For more stories like this, check out:
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- A beauty editor shares the 7 most popular skin care brands from around the world
- 7 skin care products you should be using, no matter your age