When it comes to establishing a skincare routine, there are always several factors to consider. For starters, there are certain ‘core’ steps that serve as the foundation of any regimen. Those include cleansing, moisturizing, and protecting (in the form of sunscreen). From there, the sky's the limit, and there are a host of product types and ingredients that can be added to address specific concerns.
In the case of melanated skin, some of the most common skin concerns stem from and revolve around inflammation, dehydration, and pigmentation. With that in mind, there has been an ever-growing crop of beauty brands coming to the market in the last couple of years specifically formulated for skin of color. Here, a breakdown of the unique needs of melanin-rich skin and how these skincare lines are catering to them.
Caring For Melanin-Rich Skin
Melanin is the naturally-occurring pigment that gives the skin its color. Skin tones differ based on melanin density within skin cells. “Darker skin has more melanocytes, which make the melanin that gives the skin a darker color,” says Angela Lamb, MD, a board certified dermatologist in New York City.
If you are familiar with the Fitzpatrick skin type scale, types IV, V, and VI are considered skin of color. This skin is olive (type IV) to very dark brown/black (type VI) in tone, rarely (if ever) burns, and tans easily. For BIPOCs, melanin does provide natural protection from the sun (about eight to 13 intrinsic SPF) – though it is not enough to replace sunscreen. Additionally, the sun’s damaging UV rays are the number one cause of pigmentation, which darker skin tones are already at an increased risk of due increased melanocyte activity. Melanin-producing triggers, like inflammation, hormones, irritants, and, yes, the sun, cause an uptick in its production, which essentially leaves the skin uneven in tone due to unwanted pigmentation.
Melanated skin is also thicker and, as a result, demands high doses of moisture to stay properly hydrated. Its stratum corneum contains four more layers than lighter skin types, making it harder for that much-needed moisture to remain locked in. Furthermore, to self-protect, melanin-rich skin often produces an excess of sebum. Although oil can help mitigate signs of aging (think: lines and wrinkles), it can also lead to enlarged pores, pimples, congestion, and a lengthier cell renewal process. These needs and more are now commonly addressed in skincare products and brands that pinpoint melanin-rich skin types.
As it relates to acne, it’s not just the active breakout phase that needs to be considered. In melanin-rich skin, “often, the acne resolves, but the skin has post-inflammatory changes afterward,” Dr. Lamb explains. To avoid or at least minimize post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), “it's important to make sure that you treat the acne a bit more aggressively from the pigmentation standpoint,” she adds. Her picks? Ingredients like azelaic, mandelic, and kojic acids.
The Best Skincare Brands for Melanated Skin
Skincare basics like cleansers, moisturizers, and sunscreen, are ubiquitously compatible with all skin tones, but skin tone (and its corresponding concerns) takes a front seat when it comes to achieving noticeable results with heavy-hitting ingredients, like those that fight acne, limit inflammation and pigmentation, and hydrate. Dr. Lamb says many products targeted towards melanin-rich skin tend to take pigmentation changes into account and bring skin-evening ingredients to the forefront. Below are some of the best brands created for melanated skin.
For Brighter Skin Without Unnecessary Waste: 456 Skin
With a deep understanding of the needs and functionality of melanin-rich skin, 4.5.6. Skin was developed to bridge the gap between innovation and effective skincare. The products are committed to enhancing skin health while simultaneously working hard to preserve the planet via made-to-order SKUs and glass packaging that reduce environmental waste. Specialized biodynamic actives and customized formulas use high-tech vectors and transportation, allowing the ingredients to penetrate melanin-rich skin best and encourage cell turnover for brighter, more radiant skin in those with Fitzpatrick skin types IV, V, and IV. The result? Healthy, hydrated, and happy skin. 456skin.com
Rooted in Science, Empowered by Community: MELÉ
Dermatologists know a thing or two about melanated skin, which is why the founders behind MELÉ teamed up with three doctors of color and a team of Unilever scientists to develop a melanin-rich community of experts that's complementary to the products. Based on skin concerns, needs, sensory, and optical requirements for skin problems like sun damage, uneven tone, and dark spots, the collection doesn't position melanin-rich skin as an afterthought but rather a priority. The two star products of the line comprise the Enhance collection, which target the core concerns of melanated skin. Smooth Pore Minimizing Serum calls upon tripeptides and rosehip extract to improve the look of skin texture while toning down the appearance of enlarged pores, and Even Dark Spot Control Serum harnesses the power of niacinamide, retinol, and hexylresorcinol to reduce the appearance of dark spots. meleskincare.com
For Practicing Safe Sun Sans Residue: Unsun
Daily use of sunscreen is a given. But, when said SPF leaves behind an unwanted white cast on the skin, consumers – especially those with darker skin – are less likely to use it every day. Rather than settle for what was on the market, Unsun founder Katonya Breaux took matters into her own hands and created a non-chemical, no-residue formula that is compatible with all skin tones. The zinc-based, mineral-tinted sunscreens come in various shades and luminosities for that perfect match. unsuncosmetics.com
The Plant-Based Skincare Line: Plantkos
Founded by a pharmacist who sought to marry Eastern plant-based medicine and Western clean science, the botanical-infused formulas work on each layer of the skin to safely and delicately address the unique biological makeup of melanated skin and the most common concerns it faces (i.e. dehydration, inflammation, and pigmentation). The brand's proprietary Phytomedicinal Complex contains a blend of Ayurvedic herbs plus clean, active ingredients — like acids and enzymes — to create healthier, more evenly toned skin. We’re such fans, we hosted an Instagram Live with founder Sejal Patel, PharmD, last month to learn more. plantkosskincare.com
The Hero Product: Eadam
Yes, it's possible to launch a breakthrough beauty brand with a stand-alone product, and that's just what EADAM did. Made by women of color chemists and tested on a range of darker skin tones, the three-in-one Milk Marvel Dark Spot Serum is about as comprehensive as it gets. Rather than ‘lighten’ the skin to fade pigmentation, refine pores, and resurface, the formula preserves natural tone. A mix of clean ingredients, including niacinamide, ascorbic acid, fruit-based enzymes, and time-tested botanicals, safely erase discoloration without hydroquinone or bleaching agents. The brand's end goal is to encourage women to feel at home in their skin. eadem.co
A Focus on Sun Damage: KINLÒ
Naomi Osaka, the tennis superstar and mastermind behind vegan brand KINLÒ, is on a mission to educate the public of the effects of sun damage on melanin-rich skin. For years, the thought was that darker skin tones didn’t need to protect their skin from the sun since it rarely burns. Yet, the Grand Slam champ and activist has created a results-oriented line of skincare products formulated specifically for those with melanated skin while dispelling the age-old myth. Each of the sustainably sourced products — the lineup includes sunscreen, hydrating mists, and lip balms, amongst others — are formulated with clean ingredients, including marine algae, green tea, squalene, and aloe vera, and work to protect, prevent, and rejuvenate darker skin tones. In addition, both blue light and ultraviolet protection limits the incidence of inflammation that contributes to melasma and other pigment-related conditions. kinlo.com
The Dermatologist-Developed Line: ROSE Ingleton MD Skincare
Celebrity dermatologist Rose Ingleton, MD, believes in the power of natural yet potent superfruits to enhance the beauty of melanin-rich skin. So, the Jamaica native incorporates a bevy of powerhouse fruits into her formulations, including bilberry, orange, lemon, sugar maple, and more. She calls the concentrated extracts (plus hyaluronic acid) the Jamaican SuperFruit Blend, which works to achieve younger, healthier, more radiant-looking skin by addressing blemishes, dryness, and discoloration. rosemdskin.com
A Glow-Getting Serum: Hyper
Counting vitamin C as its hero ingredient, the hardworking Hyper Even Brightening Dark Spot Vitamin C Serum is the cornerstone of the Hyper brand. Created for black and brown skin (though safe and effective for all skin tones), the complexion-enhancer relies on anti-inflammatory ingredients like salicylic acid and turmeric to keep breakouts at bay while erasing unwanted acne scars and sun damage with kojic acid, bearberry, and licorice extract. Safely potent concentrations of these actives render the formulation ideal for clearer, glowier skin. gethyperskin.com
Skin-Specific Makeup: Ami Colé
Clean makeup made for melanin-rich skin? Check. Formulated sans endocrine disruptors (research from the EWG shows that women of color are exposed to more harmful and toxic chemicals than other groups), this tightly curated line features a skin-enhancing tint, lip treatment oil, mascara, and highlighter stick. The pigmented products provide plenty of payoff while keeping skin health and overall health top of mind. amicole.com
The OG: Urban Skin Rx
Founder Rachel Roff was one of the first to launch a brand specifically for melanin-rich back in 2010. A trained medical aesthetician, Roff set out to change how the industry treated darker skin tones by first creating a top med spa and laser center with those customers in mind and then launching Urban Skin Rx. The clinical skincare line incorporates effective ingredients with supercharged formulations to improve hyperpigmentation and dark spots, rough texture, dryness, acne, and signs of aging. urbanskinrx.com
Made for Men: H.I.M-istry Naturals
Fellas, we didn’t forget about you! An organic line of men's grooming products, this just-for-guys brand focuses on melanin-rich skin issues – including acne, dryness, shaving irritation, and ingrown hairs. The simple regimen caters to the skin, beard, body, and shaving needs of men with darker skin while integrating healthy skin principles, too. himistry.com
Steeped in Quality, Not Price: AMBI
Affordable luxury is the name of the game for AMBI. Deemed scientifically proven to support skin of color, the 50-plus-year-old brand blends science with nature at a wallet-friendly price point. The newest addition to the line is the Even and Clear Facial Cleanser Collection. The trio of cleansers feature a sweet potato-infused complex that employs antioxidants and vitamins to promote evenly toned, glowing skin without hydroquinone. ambi.com
All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.
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