According to consulting firm McKinsey, black consumers are three times more likely to be dissatisfied than non-black consumers with their options for hair, skin care and makeup.
Part of this is down to a lack of education in working with darker skin tones, leading to uncertainty from those in the industry and dissatisfaction from the consumer side too.
There have been some great steps forward in the UK over the last few years. Leading beauty trainer VTCT overhauled their curriculum last year to make working with black skin and hair part of their curriculum. The Black Aesthetics Advisory Board was formed, to support black practitioners and black and minority ethnic patients and consumers.
Brands also became more aware of the need for more inclusive shade ranges and products that were safe for all complexions. This was also reflected by social media sharing and curation site Pinterest, who introduced a hair pattern and skin tone search so that users are able to see results that reflect their needs more closely.
What you need to know as a beauty pro
If you’re a beauty professional looking to brush up your knowledge of working with darker skin, then we’ve pulled together some of the common misconceptions and knowledge gaps that your clients and colleagues want you to know.
Skin conditions and concerns might present themselves differently
Many education resources and textbooks simply don’t show skin conditions and concerns on a diverse range of skin types. Because conditions, such as rosacea, can look completely different on darker skin it’s often missed or takes longer to diagnose.
Work is currently being done to make medical textbooks more representative, but in the meantime take the time to educate and familiarise yourself on how skin conditions and concerns present themselves in darker skin.
Instagram account Brown Skin Matters shows skin conditions on a range of different skin tones. There’s also professional training available from the Black Skin Directory that shows you how to treat skin of colour as a beauty professional.
Skincare professional Dija Ayodele’s book Black Skin: The definitive skincare guide is also a great place to learn more about taking care of melanin rich skin.
Hyperpigmentation is one of the most common skin concerns
Hyperpigmentation (also known as dark spots or dark patches) is one of the most common concerns for your clients with dark skin. It’s completely normal, but is also usually treatable with the right routine. Hyperpigmentation can appear in all skin tones, but darker skin can show hyperpigmentation more visibly than other skin types.
If you’re not familiar with it, these dark patches or spots on the skin caused by inflammation, sun damage, scarring, insect bites, piercings, surgical incisions, acne or hormones that have resulted in an overproduction of melanin as the area heals.
That’s why you need to be careful with the products and treatments you offer for your clients. Causing inflammation can lead to hyperpigmentation. If you offer aesthetic treatments, peels, scrubs or laser treatments you need to be aware of what’s safe for brown and black skin.
You should also make sure that you understand what hyperpigmentation is and can identify it, as well as treat and make recommendations for darker skin with hyperpigmentation or an uneven skin tone.
SPF is needed for all skin tones
Black and brown skin needs daily sun protection. While it’s true that darker skin contains more melanin and slightly more natural protection from the sun, it’s by no means immune to sun damage and the consequences of it.
People with darker skin can still get sunburnt (but you may not recognise it as sunburn as easily as on lighter skin), and that causes inflammation which is bad news for things like hyperpigmentation and scarring. Sun exposure can lead to premature aging, skin cancer, dark spots (aka hyperpigmentation) and melasma in all skin tones – including melanin-rich darker skin.
If your clients complain that their sunscreen leaves their skin looking grey or ashy, they might prefer to use a chemical sunscreen rather than a physical one as this won’t leave residue on their skin.
It’s a sad truth but skin cancer is more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage in darker skin, which usually means it’s more serious. That’s why it’s even more important to understand what skin conditions and concerns look like on all skin tones.
Keloid and hypertrophic scarring can be more common
Keloid scars are raised scarring and lumps on the skin that may have discoloration, redness or irritation. It’s an overreaction to wound healing and scarring, caused by the production of too many fibroblasts in the skin.
The scar keeps growing, even after the wound is healed and can end up being larger than the wound that caused it. This is what distinguishes it from a hypertrophic scar; the scar extends beyond the borders of the original wound. Hypertrophic scars do not.
Keloid scarring can appear on any type of skin, but is more common on darker skin. Some research believes it relates to too much collagen being produced during the healing process after a piercing, injury or surgical incision.
They can usually be removed by a medical professional, but can come back worse than before as a reaction. They aren’t a treatment contraindication for non-invasive treatments, but you should make sure that you’re careful with areas that have keloid scarring and make sure that your client is comfortable – especially if you’re making any incisions or injections in the skin.
It’s important to always ask about keloid scarring with your clients during their consultation, especially if you’re doing any treatments that puncture or pierce the skin.
A hypertrophic scar is a thick raised scar that’s an abnormal response to wound healing. It’s caused by excess collagen being produced during the healing process.
They more commonly occur in taut skin areas following skin trauma, burns or surgical incisions. Treatments include medication, freezing, injections, lasers and surgery. They do not usually extend beyond the original wound.
Ingrown hairs can be a problem
Because of the texture and coil of black hair, razor burn, ingrown hairs and bumps can be more prevalent in black skin. The hair can curl back on itself underneath the skin and cause an ingrown hair. This can lead to discomfort, infection (also known as folliculitis) and discoloration or hyperpigmentation at a later date.
It’s a common side effect of shaving, so it may be recommended to try a different hair removal method that’s more suitable for their skin. If infection is severe then this could present a contraindication. Otherwise, extraction of ingrown hairs may be needed to keep your client’s skin healthy.
Keep this in mind if you offer any hair removal treatments so you can be mindful at both the consultation and aftercare stage.
Not all lasers are suitable for darker skin tones
When it comes to laser and darker skin, not all treatments have been created equally.
It’s extremely important to understand what these differences are and how to work with your client’s skin. This goes for everything from hair removal through to laser peels and skin treatments.
In general, skin that’s above type IV on the Fitzpatrick Scale needs to be careful when it comes to laser treatments. There are some lasers out there that are safe for dark skin. Mainly long wavelength lasers, rather than the short wavelength ablative laser treatments.
The short explanation is that most esthetic lasers target water, red haemoglobin or brown melanin in the skin. This is how the laser identified what to target and to remove pigment.
Darker skin contains more melanin than lighter skin tones, which means that some types of laser aren’t as effective or that it targets the skin differently, causing damage.
It’s really another example of dark skin being an afterthought during the development of laser esthetic treatments, just like in other parts of the industry.
When used incorrectly, laser can have some terrible effects on dark skin, including pain, burns, scarring, hypopigmentation, hyperpigmentation and damage. Your training should cover how to use laser on a range of different skin tones safely.
The Fitzpatrick Scale is out of date
You might have come across the Fitzpatrick Scale during your training, but if not let’s do a quick run through. The Fitzpatrick Scale is a way of classifying skin photo-types into categories, mainly in relation to their risk of sunburn and skin cancer. It’s often used by dermatologists, the medical community and some skincare specialists.
The problem with this as a measurement of skin is that there are only six categories (it used to only contain four categories), and as we all know there are way more skin tones than that out there. Just look at the shade ranges cosmetic brands like Fenty Beauty have available. It’s also pretty subjective, and depends on who’s actually carrying out the assessment.
Search engine Google are currently developing a new tool to measure skin tone, after realising that the Fitzpatrick Scale wasn’t the best way to measure this as they developed an AI dermatology tool called DermAssist.