I began a more natural skincare regimen after college and returned to using bar soap, but I opted for more natural options like African black soap and seaweed soap. This regimen worked well for me bare faced, but the introduction of everyday makeup led to clogged pores, irritation and breakouts. For five years I experimented with everything from drugstore deep pore cleansers, to cleansing with honey and Moroccan red clay, to using no product at all; all the while struggling with chin, cheek and forehead breakouts that would come with the Spring/Summer humidity and then vanish once Fall/Winter hit, leaving hyper-pigmentation and pitted scarring.
DEVELOPING A REGIMEN
Disclaimer: I am not a dermatologist, just sharing what I have learned about skincare from various sources.
My sister, who is a dermatologist, and I worked together to develop a two-part regimen that would first address my skin issues and then keep my skin healthy long-term. First we identified potential irritants such as liquid and powder foundations, silicone primers, oil based lotions and fragranced soaps/detergents. We then refined my regimen to something basic, yet effective: gentle and non-comedogenic cleansers and moisturizers appropriate for my sensitive combination skin. With the help of this simple regimen, plus using African Black soap to deep cleanse my face every night, my skin healed and the breakouts went away.
The second part of the regimen incorporated Four Steps that are beneficial for preserving youthful skin (anti-aging):
3. Exfoliants (AHA and Retinol)
4. Growth Factors
The Sunscreen is meant to help maintain even pigmentation of the skin and prevent UVA/UVB sun damage. The Anti-oxidant is the anti-aging component and helps prevent environmental and internal factors from damaging and dulling the skin. Anti-oxidants are a broad category and include Vitamin C, E, green tea, and acai among others. Vitamin C in particular is beneficial for evening discoloration and often recommended for women of color. You can also consume Anti-oxidants in fruits, vegetables and supplements. Exfoliants work to gently renew the skin and increase cell turnover so that skin is smooth, soft, bright and pores are minimized. Exfoliants are meant to increase skin cell turnover leaving the skin smooth, brighter and with refined pores. Exfoliants include the Alpha-Hydroxy Acid (AHA) Glycolactic acid, which is beneficial for wrinkles, and Retinol which is beneficial for acne and increasing skin elasticity. Finally, Growth Factors include peptides that help to breakdown and rebuild collagen.
MY SKINCARE REGIMEN
I now follow a regimen that combines the science (dermatology) with an approach that is gentle and effective for skin of color. The most important parts of my regimen are alternating deep and gentle cleansers for my combination skin, using effective moisturizers that do not clog my pores and using anti-oxidants to keep my skin bright and youthful. I incorporate exfoliants as needed since my skin is sensitive and I do not yet incorporate growth factors, but may as I get older. I also make sure that my skincare is holistic. I am taking care of my body internally as much as externally. My Make-up is non-comedogenic, and I eat a diet balanced in skin foods like green vegetables, H2O and omega fatty acids (olive oil, coconut oil, almond butter, flaxseed, salmon, avocados).
1. I cleanse at night with Cerave Foaming Cleanser and use African Black soap (Tama or Nubian Heritage brand) as an occasional deep cleanser. My standard morning cleansers are the Cerave Foaming Cleanser or the Cerave Hydrating Cleanser depending on how oily my T-zone is.
2. I tone at night with Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel to remove excess makeup, dirt or sweat. This step is not always necessary for me.
3. I Moisturize at night with Aveeno Clear Complexion lotion on areas where I tend to breakout because it contains .5 % Salicylic acid. I then apply a general moisturizer all over like Cerave PM or an Exfoliant/Antioxidant moisturizer like Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair Night Moisturizer on top. The Neutrogena contains Vitamin C to help even discoloration and brighten dull skin, and the Cerave contains Niacinamide, which is shown to improve skin hydration, elasticity and even tone. For more natural antioxidants I like to use camellia seed oil as a final step.
4. In the morning I use a non-comedogenic SPF sunscreen like Cetaphil or Mary Kay TimeWise. I first apply the Aveeno Clear Complexion lotion underneath, just on my T-zone, to keep the pores clear and breakout-free.
For product recommendations for African-American, Latina, Asian, Indian and Caucasian skin see this Red Book article.