Dealing with dark skin concerns

In partnership with SA’s top medical aesthetic companies

When thinking about skin care – especially advanced treatments that treat and correct damage – your skin tone is important, particularly if you have a darker complexion.

The colour of our skin is one of the most important ways the beautiful, complex organ that is our skin has developed to protect our bodies from the external environment.

In the Seventies, the medical world developed the Fitzpatrick Scale to help distinguish the different shades of skin – Type 1 (extremely pale), to Type 6 (extremely dark). Why is this necessary?

Simply, different skin types (skin tones) react differently to sun exposure and injury. Skin Type 1 burns in a few minutes when exposed to the sun, while Skin Type 6 will not burn, but extreme sun exposure can result in pigmentation problems, and injury to their skin leaving dark marks.

As a multi-cultural society, living in sunny South Africa, these considerations are crucial as sun damage from UV exposure is the chief cause of premature ageing and skin cancer. The concerns and methods of treating skin types 4 to 6 are very different to those of Types 1 to 3.

Here are some of the most prominent issues that are common in darker skin tones and advice on how to treat them.

The No. 1 concern: Hyperpigmentation
Hyperpigmentation (blotches of pigmentation darker than our natural skin tone) is one of the most common skin concerns for people of all skin tones, but especially for darker complexions. And, unfortunately, it’s one of the trickiest problems to treat. The challenge is to fade the dark marks without causing further hyperpigmentation, which happens when the skin is irritated. Treating scars, dark spots or pigmentation can feel like taking one step forward and one step back.

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is a major concern and it can be stubborn and long lasting. In deeper complexions where there has been skin injury – acne scarring from severe inflammatory acne that occurred deep in the skin, for instance – dark marks are commonly seen in scarred areas.

PIH has been treated medically using hydroquinone-based treatment creams (only available on medical prescription in SA), which bleaches the skin, as well as exfoliating treatments. However, this is often less than satisfactory because exposure to sunlight starts the pigmentation cycle all over again.

Rays of hope
Firstly, it’s important to understand that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to the treatment of excess pigmentation. With darker skins especially, a proper skin analysis by experienced medical and skin-care professionals is essential to ensure that the correct treatments are prescribed for your needs. Having the wrong treatment by unskilled and untrained technicians could be dangerous, and actually worsen the situation.

New-generation light technologies

Light technologies such as different lasers have offered much relief for pigmentation issues over the past decade or more, but their ability to treat darker skin types was very limited or ineffective due to the depth of pigment in the skin.

  • Lasers: The new generation of lasers, are extremely effective and not affected by depth of skin tone. They gently heat the epidermis and dermis, breaking up the unwanted deeper pigment. This migrates towards the surface of the skin, where they’re easy to remove with exfoliation (superficial peels). These medical-grade machines are only found in medical clinics, where they’re operated and monitored by qualified staff. They are very powerful and can reach much deeper levels of the skin, with much better results, so there is much greater hope for treating this difficult condition.
  • Superficial peels: A series of mild chemical peels can achieve substantial improvement in pigmentation, while making your skin softer, smoother and more radiant.
  • Transdermal mesotherapy uses electrical pulses and vibrations to transfer active ingredients – prescription brightening agents in this case – into the skin. It can be done straight after the peels, when the skin is most receptive, improving the final result.
  • Intravenous infusions containing brightening antioxidants like glutathione work in skin cells to remove resistant pigment, resulting in a more even and overall lighter-looking skin tone.
  • Pigmentation serums containing pigmentation-inhibiting ingredients like bioactive peptides are now much more effective, thanks to recent advances in cosmetic formulations.

How do I find my skin type?

If you want to find your Fitzpatrick skin type, look at the shade of skin on your breasts or groin area (not regularly exposed to sun), to determine your true skin tone.

For more information on conditions and treatment options specific to darker skin types, visit Skin Renewal on or contact 0861 SKIN SA (754 672).

Take the quick Beyond Beauty Survey and you could win a R2 000 Skin Renewal voucher to spend in our online store, with free delivery within South Africa. T&Cs apply.

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