Finding the best ways to treat and take care of dark skin, and dispelling some common myths that we have about dark skin.

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Dark Skin Myth 1: Dark skin doesn’t need sunscreen.

The Truth: Although lighter-coloured skin has less melanin to protect against harmful UV light that results in precancers, skin cancers and premature aging, people with darker skin tones don’t get a free pass when it comes to applying sunscreen. Darker skin is less likely to tan or burn because it has more melanin, which gives it protection from UV damage, “but it is not enough to protect from our powerful UV rays. Wear sunscreen to prevent burns, damage and the formation of free radicals at a cellular level,” explains Sharon Edgley, clinical educator for Cutera. This does mean, however, that darker skin has more natural defences to protect itself from “the premature aging effects of UV light, such as freckles, sun spots, broken blood vessels, fine lines, precancers and cancers in comparison to individuals with lighter skin,” says Dr. Jaggo Rao, MD, FRCPC, a board certified dermatologist and clinical professor of medicine at the University of Alberta. When spending time outdoors, always follow the guidelines of the Canadian Dermatology Association: Use SPF sunscreen of at least 30, and apply it 10 to 15 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours after the skin becomes wet or sweaty.

Dark Skin Myth 2: Dark skin doesn’t need moisturizer.

The Truth: Every skin type requires moisturizer. This misnomer that dark skin doesn’t need moisture developed from the fact that “dark skin typically produces more oil, allowing for a more intact barrier function,” explains Holly Sherrard, Canadian Education manager for Dermalogica Canada. Yet dark skin still “needs water or moisture in the skin.” According to Edgley, we apply moisturizers to maintain healthy functioning of the skin and balance, as well as feeding our skin the essential nutrients it expels throughout the day. The level of hydration and type of moisturizer you need should be determined by your skin’s oil production, so oily skin suits lightweight, oil-free moisturizer, while dry skin needs an ultra-rich, creamy moisturizer.

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Dark Skin Myth 3:Dark skin doesn’t experience redness.

The Truth: “Although dark skin may not appear to become red and irritated, all skin types have the potential to exhibit these signs and symptoms,” explains Sherrard. Often a person with dark skin can't see the redness, but he or she can still feel the irritation (I attest to this personally!). Eradicate redness and irritation with the help of Dermalogica’s Redness Relief Primer ($62, spas), which soothes the skin with aloe and linseed extracts while camouflaging redness with its green tint. Each application creates a smooth-as-silk base to work with your makeup. As well, even though redness is not visible in everyday cases, dark skin will experience redness during and after laser procedures, microdermabrasion and chemical peels.

Dark Skin Myth 4: All dark skin is the same.

The Truth: Naturally, all dark skin is not the same as the levels of melanin differ, making some skin appear as lighter shades of brown, darker brown and black skin. These skin tones fall under skin tones IV to VI on the Fitzpatrick Scale. “There is a higher risk of complications to consider when working with darker skin [in a medical spa or doctor’s office] when considering microdermabrasion, chemical peels or laser treatments,” explains Edgley. In comparison to light skin, darker skin is more prone to tissue injury, inflammation, scarring and hyperpigmentation and develops thicker, raised scars called keloids.

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Dark Skin Myth 5: All skin ages the same.

The Truth: “The aging process is determined by how a person takes care of his or her skin,” says Sherrard. However, “the biological process by which we age is the same in all skin types. We stop producing collagen, lose volume, develop wrinkles and start to sag. The progression of these and many other factors will be different in each individual, based on health, environment, stress and lifestyle,” explains Edgley. “Generally, skin types IV to VI don’t show their age and look years younger than skin types I to III at the same age.” This is because darker skin types have thicker skin and produce more moisture, so wrinkles and fine lines do not form at the same rate as a lighter skinned individual at the same age.

Dark Skin Myth 6: It’s impossible to get a treatment or procedure done at a medical spa or doctor’s office if you have dark skin.

The Truth: Although clients with dark skin need to be more cautious when getting treatments done, there are many options available for skin rejuvenation that render great results without unwanted side effects. Edgley places the onus on the treatment provider: “Make sure the treatment provider is experienced at treating dark skin and explains all the risks and complications.” Dr. Rao agrees: “Care must be taken to use minimal aggressiveness to prevent hyperpigmentation, blistering [which can occur up to 48 hours post-treatment] and scarring.This may mean using more conservative parameters and more frequent treatment sessions or, in some cases, using concomitant modalities [to reduce the intensity of one treatment form] to address a patient’s problems.”