Best Acne Treatment for African American?

I am worried that some acne treatments/medications might cause my skin to lighten.  Is it possible for acne treatments to cause hypopigmentation in African Americans?  Are there any acne treatments that are safe for all skin types or work particularly well on dark skin?  Are there any acne treatments that people with darker skin tones should avoid?

Doctor Answers (11)

Acne in darker complexions

+4

The risk of lightening the skin with acne treatments is very small. The pigmentation that is much more common and problematic is darkening of the skin. Racial differences do not affect the causes of acne, which are:

  1. Excess oil production
  2. Blocked or clogged pores
  3. Bacteria
  4. Inflammation

However, people with darker skin tones usually have more inflammation than those with lighter complexions. Even something that seems as minor as a clogged pore may have a lot of inflammation. And whenever there is inflammation in the skin, the pigment cells may become hyperactive, leading to a dark mark that may persist for months after the acne spot has gone away. This is why it is important to treat the acne early, and aggressively.

At the same time, it is important to pay attention to whether the acne treatment itself is causing irritation, because if it is, that may lead to patchy darkening of the skin. The treatments themselves are the same among all racial groups. These include topical medications (creams, lotion) like antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide, and retinoids (Retin-A, Differin), and oral medications ranging from antibiotics, to hormonal treatment, to Accutane. Darker skin types should avoid high concentrations of benzoyl peroxide, which can be quite irritating.

It is very important to remember sunblock. Many people with darker skin tones think they do not need sunblock. These people may have a lower risk of skin cancer, but don’t forget that the sun causes tanning, even in darker skin tones. So sun exposure will make any dark marks even darker.


Atlanta Dermatologic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 2 reviews

Best acne treatments for African Americans

+3

Post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH)' which is skin darkening, occurs much more commonly that skin lightening as a result of acne or as a consequence of acne treatment. Steroid injections, used to quickly resolve deep, tender acne nodules, are the one exception--these may cause skin lightening in spot (this generally resolves over time. Regardless of skin color, the best treatment for your acne will depend on the type of acne lesions and their location, That being said, acne medications that exfoliate, such as retinoids, azeleic acid and chemical peels are particularly effective in acne patients with dark skin as they improve the post inflammatory hyperpigmentation simultaneously.

Dina D. Strachan, MD
New York Dermatologist
3.5 out of 5 stars 8 reviews

Acne treatment for African American skin

+2

Retin A is a very common acne treatment that many people use. This can lighten your skin. For your type of skin, I would consider a sensitive skin cleanser this will help decrease your inflammation that you might be getting with other products. Having a skin cleanser with salicylic acid 2% is vitally important. This ingredient will kill off bacteria that causes acne. A topical antibiotic cream with clindamycin can really help when things get really bad for you in terms of pustules and infections. A toner with salicylic acid can help after cleansing your skin with the cleanser above.

Also there are creams that you can use with alpha and beta hydroxy acids that work synergistically to help fight off acne. You may still want to have a Retin A product, they help with Acne in different ways. But you can hold off on it until the other products don't work. Retin A helps break down the adhesion of the skin cells that can lead to your pores getting clogged up, etc.

Philip Young, MD
Bellevue Facial Plastic Surgeon
4.0 out of 5 stars 37 reviews

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In my experience one of the main problems with acne in...

+2

In my experience one of the main problems with acne in darkly pigmented skin is the discoloration that is left behind after the acne lesions resolve. The most effective way to combat this problem is, of course, to prevent new acne from forming, and to do so using the modalities that are the least irritating to skin.

Oral antibiotics are an effective option for many patients with acne, and do not cause the drying of skin that we see from gels, creams, and solutions. Patients need to be aware about potential sun hypersensitivity with some oral antibiotics, which can worsen the discoloration that darkly pigmented individuals can experience as a result of their acne.

Effective topical medications include combinations of benzoyl peroxide with either clindamycin or erythromycin. Azelaic acid, which is available as either a gel or a cream, is mildly effective for acne, but has the added benefit of reducing pigment formation. For more severe acne, topical (e.g. Retin-A) or oral (e.g. Accutane) retinoids may be necessary to get the acne under control, although these medications can be more drying than others.

For particularly large or cystic acne lesions, receiving injections of steroids into the lesions will help them resolve quicker and may decrease the chance of long-term pigment changes.

Arash Akhavan, MD
Manhattan Dermatologic Surgeon

African American skin acne

+2

In general, African American skin is best treated with topical medications that are gentle if possible. On the other hand, if oily skin is present, it may need to be ratcheted up a little bit.

As far as avoiding certain treatments, if you are dry you may want to avoid Retin A or other harsh topical medications. One that is particularly gentle on the skin is Clindagel.

Joel Schlessinger, MD
Omaha Dermatologist
4.5 out of 5 stars 18 reviews

Acne in dark skin types

+1

Most of our acne therapy is safe for all skin types. The FDA requires that those of skin of color are studied in the clinical trials for any medicines that come to the acne market today. So you should not be concerned about hypo pigmentation. If a procedure is done and the skin is lightened, the skin will almost always revert back to its normal color over time. 

Michael Gold, MD
Nashville Dermatologic Surgeon
4.0 out of 5 stars 3 reviews

VI Peel for Acne

+1

The VI Peel is what I would recommend for acne.  It is highly effective in clearing acne and impurities.  A series of treatments may also help to reduce acne scars. In my experience it works very well on African American skin.

Jeffrey W. Hall, MD
Austin Plastic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 11 reviews

Best Acne Treatments for Skin of Color

+1

It is important for patients with skin of color to visit their dermatologist promptly for acne treatment.  When left untreated, patients with darker skin types are much more likely to develop dark spots on their skin (called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation) that can be just as noticeable as the acne lesions themselves.  I often recommend prescription medications such as azeleic acid (Finacea) and tazarotene (Tazorac) for my patients, as these creams have been shown to lighten areas of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation as they treat acne.  Additionally, in-office acne treatments (such as the Isolaz and LED light therapy) are often safe for patients with skin of color.

Eric Schweiger, MD
New York Dermatologic Surgeon
4.0 out of 5 stars 9 reviews

Need to be treated by an experienced physician

+1

Your worries are fully justified.  Cosmetic treatment of darker skin, specially those involving pigmentary and scarred conditions, are a big challenge, even for most experienced physicians.  Hypopigmentation that you mention, for instance, would be one of more feared complications.  Having said that, our experience in treatment of darker skin type is ever expanding and we can now produce consistent results.  There is no such thing as a "universal" treatment option for any cosmetic treatment, in my opinion.  This is specially true for darker skin type.  I would strongly recommend that you find a practitioner with an ample experience in treating darker skin.

Chang Son, MD
Fort Lee Dermatologist
5.0 out of 5 stars 1 review

Acne treatment for patients with darker skin color

+1

For the most part, the treatment is very similar, regardless of patients skin color. There is some data to suggest that patients with darker skin color require more aggressive treatment approach earlier, to prevent post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (dark spots). Treatment options include topical creams, oral antibiotics, and accutane. Acne surgery should also be done cautiously, not to cause dark spots in the areas treated.

Gary Goldenberg, MD
New York Dermatologist

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.