Vitamin C is available at multiple percentages, typically ranging from 10 to 40, and they are all safe to use on melanin-rich skin. “However, generally speaking, when it comes to sensitive skin, higher percentages of vitamin C can be more irritating,” says Dr. Ofodile. Lean toward 5 percent or less if this sounds like you. Dr. Boakye agrees that a lower percentage is better for sensitive skin types because the skin’s barrier is already compromised.
The antioxidant is often available in serum form. We like the four-time Best of Beauty-winning SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic serum, which also has vitamin E for hydration and ferulic acid to brighten the skin and stabilize the vitamin C. A more budget-friendly option is the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensive Vitamin C Serum.
The skin-lightening agent hydroquinone can be controversial. Its use in over-the-counter products was curbed in 2020 with the CARES Act, which classified it as a prescription drug — prior to that, you could only purchase products with a max of 2 percent hydroquinone. But it can still be prescribed by dermatologists for short-term treatment to effectively reduce hyperpigmentation by inhibiting tyrosinase.
Though it can work magic on hyperpigmentation, it may actually darken your skin if you use it incorrectly, says Dr. Boakye, which is why only dermatologists can prescribe it. “When used continuously for months to years, one can develop a paradoxical darkening of the skin, a condition called ochronosis,” Dr. Ofodile says. She recommends using it for less than 12 weeks at a time and then taking a 12-week break after.
Use SPF 30 and Higher
Argue with your mama, but melanin can burn: A sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher is 1,000 percent necessary to avoid sunburn, hyperpigmentation, or counteracting the good you’ve done with the ingredients mentioned above. Reapply every two hours to protect your skin — and the investment you’ve made in your routine.
Nobody wants to look like Casper the Friendly Ghost after applying SPF, but these three sunscreens won’t leave a white cast. Black Girl Sunscreen SPF 30 has the texture of a typical thick, white, creamy sunscreen, but that blends away entirely to reveal dewy skin. Shiseido Clear Sunscreen Stick SPF 50+ is completely transparent so you can easily rub the stick across your face without looking casket-ready. If you want to be extra glowy, reach for Melē’s No Shade Sunscreen Oil, which delivers SPF 30 in an oil form as its name suggests.
People of color have historically been excluded by beauty brands, so it’s understandable that folks are hesitant to trust that certain ingredients work on their darker skin. Let this be your sign that you have nothing to fear, now that you’re equipped with the knowledge to bolster your skin-care routine.