Melanin-Safe Skincare: What It Is And How It Helps Darker Skin Tones

When it comes to choosing the right skincare products, there is a lot to think about. You have to determine if your skin is oily or dry, if it's prone to acne, and what sensitivities or allergies you might have, along with what issues you want to target. It can understandably feel overwhelming when deciding what skincare products should be in your routine. However, even after doing a full audit on your skin, there is something important we all must consider: our skin tone.

As a lack of inclusivity has led to the majority of skincare brands designing their products with lighter skin in mind, those with darker skin may find that the products available aren't working as well as they could be, or are even harmful, for the melanin levels in their skin. 

"White Euro-centric ideals of beauty continue to dominate the mainstream industry, marginalizing the representation of melanin-rich-skinned women, but beauty matters to all women," co-founder of 4.5.6 Skin Noelly Michoux explained to Byrdie. "We are not often taught the basics of caring for melanin-rich skin, and many of us resort to trial and error." 

In particular, those with melanin-rich skin may find that some products which have not been specifically formulated for their skin can trigger inflammation and hyperpigmentation. The issue has given rise to melanin-safe skincare, which is designed for darker skin tones to avoid these issues.

The need for melanin-safe skincare

According to Cleaveland Clinic, melanin is responsible for the pigmentation of your hair and skin. It is produced in melanocyte cells and protects your skin from the sun's harmful UV rays, while also determining how dark your features are.

"The size and activity of smaller units in these melanocytes known as melanosomes is a key point of difference in dark skin," board-certified dermatologist Dr. Carlos Charles told Byrdie. "The melanosomes in melanin-rich skin are more robust and work more efficiently when exposed to the sun or inflammation."

This creates a unique set of issues that are not addressed well enough in the average skincare product. According to Mirra, darker skin tends to experience hyperpigmentation more frequently than lighter skin. This is not properly addressed by mainstream skincare, and may even be worsened by products that are irritating or cause inflammation. Not only that, but darker skin is generally dryer than lighter skin tones, meaning there is a need for more ceramides in these products in order for them to be effective. Scarring can also be more obvious on melanin-rich skin, which needs to be dealt with using products especially formulated for this tone of skin. 

How to incorporate melanin-safe skincare into your routine

While the concept is relatively new, there are easy ways to change your skincare routine to protect your melanated skin. Firstly, there are particular brands that specifically cater to those with melanin-rich skin. These include Melé, Eadem, and Hyper Skin, but there are plenty more to choose from, too. Opting for these products reduces the risk that you'll experience a reaction to a product not designed for your skin tone. 

Additionally, you'll want to look for products that contain specific ingredients. "Products that incorporate ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, ceramides, and niacinamide are likely formulated to address the moisture retention and lower collagen levels that often present in darker skin tones," cosmetic chemist Erica Douglas told Refinery29. As those with darker skin are more likely to experience hyperpigmentation, it's also important to steer clear of products that contain known irritants, such as fragrances, sulfates, and dyes. 

It's also crucial to add SPF to your average skincare routine. Dermatologist Jeanine Downie, MD, explained to Consumer Reports that, in addition to defending against skin cancer, SPF protects melanin-rich skin from changes in pigmentation: "While people with lighter skin tones tend to see fine lines and wrinkles show up first, people of color will see changes in pigmentation that lead to dark patches [melasma] and uneven skin tone as a result of sun damage." There are plenty of SPF options for dark skin that don't leave that awful white cast, including products from Black Girl Sunscreen.