This Ask Afrobella question touched my heart in a special place. Girl, I know exactly how you feel.
I’m writing you because on the web you are the only one I’m looking up to. You inspire me in so many ways and even though I don’t leave comments on your website, I can tell you that wherever I am in this world, this is the website I have to log on to. I do have low self-esteem and it has a lot to do with my physical appearance.
I have sunburn on my neck that never fades away and also many scars from injuries in my childhood and from the flat iron. I feel ugly at times, I really do. I can’t wear an afro anymore because when my hair’s all up in the air the sunburn on my neck shows. As for my legs, feet, and knees, it takes me from rocking shorts or skirts. I’m always stuck with long pants or dresses. What product should I use to clear away the blemishes and dark spots all over my body? I’m trying to avoid products that contain hydroquinone though I know it’s sometimes less expensive and easier to find in stores. I have heard of Meladerm but they don’t sell it here in Canada. Before I purchase it I want to make sure it’s worth the try. It costs about $50 plus the shipping fees (about $25) to Montreal where I live. I have also heard of Fair & White, Topiclear, Meladerm, Proactiv for the acne scars and other products such as Scar Zone and Mederma. Which one would you recommend? Have you heard/tried other products that I haven’t mention in here? Thank you in advance.
Hey Olivia, thank you so much for your kind words. I am sure more than a few readers out there are nodding in agreement while reading your message. Black skin has a tendency towards hyperpigmentation, and that condition isn’t necessarily limited to your face. Backne and its inevitable scars have been the bane of my existence, and it prevents me from freely sporting halter and backless tops. But I want you to know that skin care issues don’t have to keep you down and destroy your self esteem forever. Your skin can be a flawless canvas. Really, Olivia — this is possible.
Like anything else you really really want in life: physical fitness, healthy natural hair, finding that dream job, saving money, writing that damn book already — it takes dedication and daily effort. Your skin will not transform overnight, although you can disguise your most troubling flaws quickly and easily with makeup. Look at Snoop Dogg’s wife, Shante Broadus, for example.
When she got arrested for DUI recently, the blogosphere lit up with comments about her acne scarred skin as revealed in her mugshot. Honestly, I never would have guessed the “Boss Lady” had skin issues at all — she’s obviously mastered the secret to covering up her flaws for the most part. I mean, she generally looks good on the red carpet, and well put together on Father Hood — so you know she must have HATED that mug shot. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The point is, people who you don’t think have skin issues, have skin issues. You’re not alone in your predicament by any means.
I haven’t done a hyperpigmentation post in forever, so lemme get down to that to begin with, secondly I’ll address some covering-up solutions to get you through the meantime, and thirdly we’ll talk a little bit about self-esteem.
A month or so ago I had the good fortune of getting a facial at GBS Fort Lauderdale (this was immediately after Larramy gave me the curl cut, actually). The aesthetician’s name was Polin Bekner, and she’s amazing. Dedicated, gentle, attentive — I highly recommend her. Polin works in a newly created spa space at the back of GBS, call if you want to make an appointment. We spoke at length about the particular skin issues of women of color, most specifically hyperpigmentation.
Polin recommends vitamin C ester, vitamin A topical creams (like Retin A), and yes — ye olde hydroquinone. I know you’re trying to avoid it, and even I did a post a while back about the fact that too much can be dangerous. But according to Dermatology Times it can be tremendously effective as a spot treatment. But note that it’s only meant to be used on your spots, and sunscreen is a MUST. Especially if your skin tends to break out and scar easily. That same article indicates that SPF 30+ “will help prevent redarkening and maintain some of the benefits resulting from use of a lightening product.”
The most effective hydroquinone product I’ve used thus far is TriLuma, which is prescription only in the USA. Not sure about Canada. I’ve heard of the others you’ve mentioned — and I’ve actually used the horribly named Fair and White, but never tried any of the others. Or noticed results from Fair & White. Meh.
This Tampa Bay Online interview with black dermatologist Dr. Thomas M. Taylor, makes a recommendation for OTC variety strength: “a 0.5 percent hydroquinone cream, which can be purchased over the counter, can be effective in fading dark spots from acne and other skin imperfections. Don’t apply it to your entire face or body, only on the dark spots in the morning.
For faster results, a 1 percent to 2 percent hydroquinone cream can be obtained by prescription from a dermatologist. Combined with a retinoid, it can be applied at night to speed the fading process.”
Fret not Olivia, if you don’t want to steer towards hydroquinone, Polin also recommended looking into natural lighteners like licorice extract, paper mulberry, and kojic acid — all of which are mentioned in this informative article on skin bleaching. Which again reiterates the rigorous use of sun screen. You see, you make your skin problem worse by not using it. That sunburn on your neck that bothers you so much could likely benefit from exfoliation and regular use of sunscreen. Try it, stay dedicated, and see if you don’t get results. Keep me posted.
I hear amazing things about Dr. Susan Taylor’s RX for Brown Skin Bright and Even, but I have yet to try the brand myself. Polin’s recommended brands of skin lightening products are Murad and Dermalogica, which takes an intriguing three-part approach. She also advised that if you have “classic oily combination skin,” like I do, then you should exfoliate regularly, and use a clarifying mask. Not a typical exfoliator with little beads and stuff, according to Polin those are especially bad for people with hyperpigmentation. “They thin the skin and create more acne scarring,” she declared.
Dr. Susan Taylor recommends careful exfoliation, and steering clear of microdermabrasion. Lately I’ve been taking my exfoliation efforts to the next level with Neutrogena’s Healthy Skin Rejuvenator. This battery powered bad boy has made my skin so clear, luminous, and effortlessly bright. I still love my Clarisonic, don’t get me wrong… but the Neutrogena is waaaay cheaper, and the puffs helped to exfoliate areas of my face I had almost dismissed as hopelessly rough. Like my chin. Smooth as a baby’s behind, thanks to this exfoliating kit. I don’t think you’ll be at all disappointed with this purchase.
So the skin care equation I recommend to you based on my interviews, research and personal experience is — Regular exfoliation + sunscreen + a decent product with which to target your problem spots X time and continuous effort = results. And that goes for your legs and neck as well.
Polin actually went the extra step and recommended regular facials. “With facials, one time isn’t enough. It’s not plastic surgery. The products you need, use them for 28 days. It takes 28 days for the corneum layer of your skin to shed and for new skin to emerge. That’s why exfoliation and regular facials are so important. And if you break out after a facial, it’s good — it means your skin is ridding itself of impurities.” Good to know.
OK, now let’s talk makeup. It will be your BFF until your skin has cleared up, and beyond that as well.
For your facial scars, the most important thing is to find the perfect foundation and concealer for you. If you’ve been struggling with that — allow me to recommend a book for you — Fine Beauty by Sam Fine. It’s one of my beauty bibles. In the chapter on concealer, Sam Fine recommends a concealer that comes in a pot or a stick, and he explains that “concealers are not supposed to be your exact color, but in fact one shade lighter than your natural color in order to lighten the dark areas you want to even out.” And then you use foundation to even out the rest of your complexion, set with powder, tah dah. A light hand works best, and I still side with makeup artist James Vincent — it’s all about “dealing with the problem areas and focusing on the center of the face where most women have discoloration; then blending the makeup out from there. That will keep you looking younger, fresher, and keep the neck and the face matching so you don’t get that ashy look.”
Lo and behold Sephora’s concealer collection. One bella just e mailed me to say that she adores Make Up For Ever full cover concealer, it comes in a decent range of shades. So does Smashbox, and MAC’s studio finish SPF 35 could kill two birds in one stone — concealer with SPF. Excellent.
It seems to me that the mineral makeup trend has subsided somewhat, but it’s still super popular among the converted. If you’re considering Bare Escentuals or something, I’d advise you watch out for ashiness. It’s happened to me, and it’s not cool.
My personal everyday coverup consists of Benefit Play Sticks blended over my most problematic areas, then dusted over with a light layer of that very Queen Collection Cover Girl Natural Hue pressed powder. Cheap, nothing fancy, and I use a light hand — too much of that powder can make my face look dull. I’d say less is more with powder in general.
On my cheeks I’ve been using Prescriptives Blush More or Less creamy cheek color — it’s the subtlest blush and makes me look effortlessly radiant — mine is not this bright pink, but rather a neutral, bronzy shade. Two thumbs up for Prescriptives, if you need an exact match for your skin shade, look no further than their stick foundation.
OK Olivia, your issues extend to your neck, legs, knees, and feet. I wouldn’t recommend covering the back of your neck with makeup, you just know it’s gonna melt off and mess up your clothes. Keep working on the problem area, and make sure you use sunscreen daily! That problem can definitely be reduced by exfoliation and sunscreen — I never paid much mind to Mama Bella when she’d lecture me about the back of my neck as a girl. Now I pay close attention and use a good exfoliant every other day.
For legs, knees etc, there’s a fabulous brand of products called Perfekt Beauty. It’s all meant to create an airbrushed glow that’s like makeup without makeup. I wasn’t blown away by the Skin Perfection Gel, they claim Jennifer Hudson uses it, but for me the product was too thick and silicon-y. Didn’t blend effortlessly into my skin, and the shades are too few for me to find my ideal. But the Body Perfection Gel worked wonderfully on my legs and decolletage, giving my skin an even and inviting glow. It worked great to reduce the appearance of my backne scars. For the record, I also know quite a few bellas who have busted out the self tanner for areas like legs — it can help to give a uniform appearance when it comes to your legs, knees, and feet.
Whew. I hope that ridiculously long-winded answer helped you somewhat in your journey towards addressing the skin issues that are holding you back. I know how it is to feel self conscious about beauty issues, but I’ve learned something as well — more than half of the time that you’re obsessed with worry about a beauty issue, and thinking “OMG I can’t wear this because…” there isn’t a single soul other than you, who’s thinking about your skin, examining you closely, or saying anything close to the negative thoughts that are swirling around in your own mind. This happens to me most often when I go to the beach. I will be all paranoid and concerned about what to wear to best conceal my figure flaws… then I get to the beach and realize that the people next to me are letting it all hang out without any concern. And half the time, I might look cuter than I thought I did in the first place!
I’m not sure if I’m expressing myself eloquently on this point, so I’ll just wrap it up by saying this — Olivia, life is way too short to let self doubt and self consciousness restrict you from wearing what you want to wear and doing what you want to do. I say work on your problem issues behind the scenes, yes… but wear your shorts and skirts, wear your afro, work it all with fly accessories. And always, always remember the most important weapon in your beauty arsenal — confidence. Hold your head high, give yourself a dazzling smile in the mirror, get out there and show the world how beautiful you are. And write back! Lemme know if this helped or not.
Any of you bellas have additional feedback for Olivia? Please leave a comment if you’ve got product suggestions or think I didn’t answer her question correctly.