Breakouts are annoying but, for certain skin types, the aftermath can be even worse. You get a spot, you squeeze the spot and then you’re left with an acne scar or hyperpigmentation that will last for months. This can happen to all skin types, but on black skin, in which melanin is more active, it’s probably going to be slightly more noticeable and take longer to fade. That’s why we caught up with aesthetician and founder of the Black Skin Directory, Dija Ayodele, to find out the best defence and offence tools to have in your arsenal to keep those pesky, persistent marks at bay.
With more than 12 years of experience in the beauty industry, Ayodele founded the Black Skin Directory after she noticed a pattern of black clients visiting her skincare clinic in London from as far as France, as they felt they didn’t have anyone in their area who could deal with their particular skin issues.
The Black Skin Directory aims to change that misconception, compiling an ever-expanding list of aestheticians and skincare professionals across the country who are equipped to confidently work with black skin. “I knew that there were people out there who are white, Indian, whatever, who probably understood black skin, but they just weren’t marketing themselves to say that they could do that,” she explains. “Fundamentally, if you’ve got a skin concern that you want sorted out, the skin colour of the practitioners shouldn’t make a difference. That was why Black Skin Directory was set up, to help connect people of colour to other experts.”
Yet in 2020 it’s more difficult than ever before to access expert advice face-to-face, with Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns providing yet another obstacle in the pursuit of flawless skin. Never fear, the below advice should help you on your way to achieving smooth, scar-free skin. Implement these tips now and leave 2020 glowing.
Causes of acne scarring
No prizes for guessing what the main cause of acne scarring is. That’s right, it’s acne, so if you’re having a persistent problem with breakouts, then you should try to address that first. However, there are a few things that can exacerbate scarring. Scarring occurs when skin experiences trauma, so if you pick at spots, that will likely worsen the scars that you’ll be left with afterwards. Ayodele also says that messing around with home remedies can have a negative effect on your skin.
“Culturally, you’ll have a lot of black men of West African origin using things like black soap at home, because there is a myth that, if you have acne, you need to dry up the skin,” she says. “If you dry out your skin, it will produce more oil to compensate. You can’t turn off the sebaceous glands that produce oil. So you have this vicious cycle of people trying to use these home remedies that are not tackling the problem.”
Types of acne scarring
If you’re left with dark marks after a breakout, then you’re experiencing hyperpigmentation. This can occur on all skin types, but is more common in black skin, because whereas skin’s natural pigment, melanin, is only produced as a response to trauma in white skin, it is constantly being produced in black skin to maintain its colour. So, when black skin experiences trauma, such as spots, cuts or even shaving, extra melanin production is more easily triggered, which means the skin is more likely to take on more pigmentation.
“When there’s any sign of impending damage, the melanin cells won’t just then produce melanin in a very even and informed manner,” explains Ayodele. “Each melanin cell has about five to eight fingers and the melanin pigment travels up the fingers and then feeds into the surrounding skin cells. When the skin feels any trauma, that melanin sat in the centre just sparks off. It’s not a controlled process at all, which is why you get pigmentation damage.”
Best treatments: The good news is that hyperpigmentation is the easiest form of acne scarring to treat, with things such as skin peels and high-quality at-home skincare products proving to be effective. Look out for ingredients such as glycolic acid, salicylic acid and retinoids during your next skincare haul, as these will help resurface and brighten the skin, while also preventing decongestion that could lead to further acne.
Pitted acne scarring
If you have hollow indents in your skin as a result of acne, then it’s likely that you’ve got pitted acne scarring. Here, the issue is with texture rather than pigmentation, which is caused by a lack of collagen that would usually fill out the skin. “Collagen is the building block and the scaffolding of the skin, so we need to plump that up to encourage collagen to rebuild,” says Ayodele.
Best treatments: Since pitted acne scarring affects the texture of the skin, it can be more difficult to treat. Things such as micro-needling will help stimulate collagen, which uses small needles to prick the skin and encourage resurfacing. While there are products available to do this at home, it is recommended that you consult a skincare specialist first to avoid creating too much trauma at the skin’s surface, which could make the situation worse.
Keloid scarring is essentially the opposite of pitted acne scarring, occurring when there is too much collagen production that results in raised scar tissue. Some people may be more prone to keloid scarring, but the problem can be made worse by picking at the skin, which creates a wound that causes an overproduction of collagen. “Instead of stopping at the site of healing when you’ve produced enough collagen to heal, the skin just produces more collagen and you get this sort of growth of fleshy skin,” says Ayodele.
Best treatments: As Ayodele says, “Keloids are very challenging to treat and typically it is advisable not to perform treatments that cause injury to skin. Most rejuvenating treatments are a form of controlled injury.” There are options such as laser treatment and steroid injections, but at a time where access to these options are limited Ayodele warns that they could make the situation worse. Your best bet is to consult a dermatologist for your specific issues.
How to prevent further scarring
So, you’ve picked a spot and you know that it’s going to scar. Is there anything you can do to stop it in its tracks? Not exactly, but there are some products that can help minimise the damage. Ayodele recommends spot treatment gels, such as Medik8’s Blemish SOS Gel and Cosrx’s Acne Pimple Master Patch. Once again, salicylic acid is your friend here and anything with that in it should help minimise the effect spots will have on you skin.
“It’s important to be realistic in expectations,” Ayodele warns, “because when you have dark skin, there is always going to be some possibility of leaving the mark. But it’s how you approach it that makes all the difference in terms of the severity of that mark, how dark it is and how quickly it goes away.”
Building a defensive skincare routine
“The best defence is a good offence” is probably not what you want to hear if you’re looking for a solution to a current skincare problem, but it’s true that the best way to get around acne scarring is to stop acne in its tracks in the first place.
If you’re suffering with acne and don’t know where to start, Ayodele says that it’s better to simply wash your face and put on a gentle moisturiser than throw at-home treatments at the problem. That being said, there are certain ingredients to be on the lookout for when building your skincare routine.
A face wash with alpha hydroxy acids, such as folic acid or mandelic acid, will help exfoliate your skin, while salicylic acid will decongest and deep cleanse to help rid the skin of excess oil. “You need the exfoliating elements because you need the dead skin cells to be taken off the skin, as they feed into the acne as well,” explains Ayodele. “After that, you might need an anti-inflammatory serum to help calm down the skin. You’ll also need a gentle, oil-free moisturiser and a sunscreen. Those are your basics.
“Depending on the severity of the acne, you should always use a vitamin A product at night, whether that be retinol or retinaldehyde. This will help further decongest and exfoliate the skin and also help to control oil in the sebaceous glands.”
Laser treatments and chemical peels
While they might not be an option during lockdown, laser treatments are effective in reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation and acne scars. You’ll need to consult a dermatologist before you go ahead with this, but, for black skin, you’ll want to find a clinic that offers cool laser treatments, as other lasers may trigger heat in the skin, which could create more pigmentation damage.
When it comes to chemical peels, because they come in a variation of different grades and concentrations, Ayodele says the most important thing to consider is what stage you acne is currently at. Again, consult with a dermatologist before you take the plunge.
Dija Ayodele’s clinic, West Room Aesthetics, is based in Maida Vale, London. westroomaesthetics.com
Find a dermatologist near you at Black Skin Directory. blackskindirectory.com