You’re Doing Brown Skin All Wrong

Featured Illustration: Dissirama Laba


As brown girls, we have to come to the basic understanding (and agreement) that our skin care needs are on a completely different playing field than caucasian skin. Everything about it is different; skin conditions, issues, concerns, and even genetic makeup. Before this one beautiful invention called the smartphone, it was difficult to access any media or information that wasn’t euro-centric. By euro-centric I mean, video content and information catered to “fairer complexions”. Granted, we had our Zee TV and Star Plus channels, but there wasn’t much except promotional ads for Fair & Lovely — which is the exact opposite of addressing our concerns. It is safe for you to assume that at one point in my life, I definitely had a female family member buy Fair & Lovely for me. The difference originates on a cellular level (literally). The main cellular difference between the skin of color and caucasian skin lay within our melanocytes. To understand brown skin is to rewrite everything you’ve learned on YouTube. It’s a constant battle online, to try and find Youtubers or influencers that share not only a possibly similar tone but dermatological issues as well. I’m talking about hyperpigmentation, rosacea, and melasma — and the list doesn’t end there! 

Melanocytes are the cells on our skin that produce pigment (aka melanin) and live in the epidermis. Our face consists of three different layers — epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis. The epidermis is the outermost layer of skin. So you can see why when we scar it’s so visible. Within skin of color, our melanocytes are easily triggered by UV Light, being the main reason we tend to have long-lasting acne scars, bug bites, etc. This is why we have to start teaching the younger generation proper techniques when it comes to skincare. Our skin is under more threat, our biggest enemy being the sun. Alma, neem, and haldi are just some of the many pantry items we can quickly reach for when that foreign bump invades our face. But even I have to throw caution to the wind with DIY home remedies. We need to begin thinking about our day-to-day skin regime. How do we [brown skin girls] march confidently into our local drug stores and choose products safe and beneficial for our skin (and wallet)? 

One of the most common skin conditions in many people with melanin-rich skin face is melasma. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, melasma is defined as “…a skin condition that causes patches and spots, usually on the face, which are darker than your natural skin tone.” It’s often misdiagnosed or mistaken for other skin conditions. Rule of thumb with brown skin [and in the wise words of Dr. Vanita Rattan], “One scratch, one bite, or one burn and it hyper pigments”. She is a cosmetic formulator specifically for brown skin. Landing on her page was a game-changer for me. Her channel focuses on educating consumers (us) about various chemical ingredients/formulations and how to properly target skin-care needs. She has over 440+ videos catered specifically for brown skin. I highly recommend her YouTube channel for folks.

Here are some rules of thumb that I’ve learned and have helped me on my skin-care journey. 

    • SPF Protection: This is probably a no-brainer, but I have to admit in the beginning it was difficult being consistent. Did you know you should reapply sunscreen every 2 hours? Neither did I, at first. I always thought that one application in the morning and I was good for the rest of the day! Now, if you ask my friends and family about the 10 things in my bag, I bet you they’ll all mention sunscreen. 
    • AHA vs. BHA: I’ve come to understand how important it is to understand the difference between these two hydroxy acids. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) are water-soluble acids whereas beta hydroxy acids are oil-soluble. It’s one of the main reasons why for oily skin, BHA are a better option for those persistent blackheads — they go into the pores to remove that oil buildup. 
    • Physical exfoliants: They do us brown gals (and guys) more harm than good. Remember, skin of color is delicate and the abrasion from scrubbing our face actually triggers our skin to react. Instead switch to chemical exfoliates. I’m currently using the COSRX AHA/BHA toner but I also dearly love Paula’s Choice BHA. I do recommend trying different brands because these choices may not work with your skin type. 
    • Routine: There comes a point within layering where it no longer becomes beneficial. You don’t need 17 steps. Instead of penetrating your skin, you’re clogging your pores. This is my day vs. night routine.
      • A.M.: Toner, Serum/Essence (optional), Moisturizer, and lastly SPF
      • P.M.: Oil Cleanse, Toner, Night Serum, Eye Cream, Moisturizer, and lastly a facial oil  
    • Skin Cycling: A routine created by Dr. Whitney Bowe and it certainly took root in the beauty community. After finding the right products for my face, I was able to try out this method, and if anything I have seen a difference in the texture of my face. 
    • Vitamins: The only two vitamins I now consistently use within my routine are Vitamin C & A. I also make sure to use them on different days and to not layer it together. All of these acids and vitamins have different reactions to each other and it’s so important to understand how these active ingredients work with and against each other — it’s also important to learn how they also affect your skin. 
      • Vitamin A: AKA Retoniol — its primary function is to help cells reproduce. We typically get a synthetic formula of Vitamin A in our face creams and it’s known to help clear up acne, psoriasis, warts, premature again from the sun, and other skin conditions. One big rule of thumb to remember — is never to ingest Vitamin A supplements when using topicals. Too much vitamin A can lead to vitamin A toxicity. 
      • Vitamin C: This was the biggest game changer for my skin’s texture. Similar to vitamin A, its function is to help reduce early skin aging and sun damage as well as minizine the appearance of dark spots, acne, and wrinkles. Being an antioxidant, it creates a barrier around your skin to protect you from harmful free radicals. Free radicals are toxins from things such as air pollution, which can damage your skin barrier. You must use sunscreen in conjunction with using vitamin C in the daytime. I cannot stress how important SPF protection is needed while using this during the AM, it’s one of the reasons why I strictly use it at night. I’m not at a point within my routine where I feel comfortable using it twice a day.
    • Patience: When you’re experimenting and trying to learn the language of your skin you have to be patient with yourself. You may try that toner and it may cause you to break out — and that’s okay! It’s a learning curve, just like anything, it takes time to understand what your skin is asking of you. 

This isn’t meant to scare you, but to bring about honest conversations about brown skin. Education is key, the faster we learn more about our biology, the faster we can counteract this damage. I know that; had I had this education as a growing teen, I could’ve saved myself a lot of heartache over my skin. Thanks to this Aquarian age of technology, South Asian creators have taken charge of sharing beauty secrets and tips. As a community, we’ve started to build our digital archive for future generations, and as we continue to contribute images the generational knowledge we’ll accumulate.

Je'nae Singh

Je'nae is a recent graduate from San Francisco State University where she wrote for her school's newspaper. After, she spent some time in video games journalism before turning to freelance writing.

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