My grandmother's dresser held a collection of creams, sprays, and serums that were as mysterious as they were out of my reach. Like the porcelain knick-knacks she displayed around the living room, I knew not to risk touching a single one. All I knew was that her skin was smooth and supple, and foundation was not in her repertoire. "Black don't crack," my mother would say. Twenty-four years later, that notion started falling apart for me.
Myth No. 1: Black Don't Crack
Well, sort of. "Black may not crack, but it sure does fold!" says dermatologist Dornechia Carter, M.D. The melanin in our skin provides a natural, built-in sun protection factor, and our oilier skin type provides even more protection against the signs of aging. That doesn't mean, however, that our skin isn't susceptible to the damaging elements—and it also doesn't mean our skin won't need a little TLC.
Maintenance is key. "When asked for a great basic regimen, I recommend three things: sunscreen, moisturizer, and vitamin A-based cream, such as one containing retinol or adapalene," Carter says. "Antioxidants such as vitamin C or vitamin E also help." Now it makes a lot more sense that grandma owed her perfect complexion not only to genes, but the diverse bottles and jars of skin care products on her dresser as well.
Myth No. 2: We Don't Need No Stinkin' Sunscreen!
Oh, but we do, sis. "The biggest misconceptions that I hear regarding Black skin surround our relationship with the sun," Carter says. "That we cannot get sunburned. That we are not susceptible to skin cancers. This is simply not true." In fact, when Black people do get skin cancer, we are more likely to die from it.
Sunscreen also protects against the sagging skin, loss of volume, and laugh lines associated with aging. "While darker skin tones do filter out more ultraviolet rays than a lighter complexion, rays and free radicals still damage and burn the skin," says aesthetician Nicole Toni.
The damage caused by UV exposure will also make your skin age more rapidly. Because hyperpigmentation is more common and often more severe on darker skin, this hardworking skin care essential is especially important to reduce uneven skin tone and texture.
Myth No. 3: Natural Is Better
The natural hair movement has moved many Black women away from chemical hair straighteners, which can cause hair breakage and loss as well as scalp conditions. Along the same lines, we tend to reach for products with promises of natural oils and plant-based ingredients. Natural, however, isn't always better.
"I often tell people poison ivy is natural, so just because it is natural doesn't necessarily mean it's better," Carter says. Lime juice, for example, is an acid that is touted as beneficial for brightening the skin. But homemade remedies and products with lime juice, when combined with sun exposure, can cause a severe, painful, blistering rash."
What's more surprising is that the use of "organic" labels on skin care products is not regulated in the United States. Vetting all skin care products by reading and understanding the label ingredients is a better strategy than relying on the natural or organic phrases on the front of the package.
Myth No. 4: Oily Skin Doesn't Need Moisturizer
Putting moisturizer on oily skin is like bringing sand to the beach, right? Actually, forgoing moisturizer on oily skin is complicating the existing problem. People with oily skin tend to favor products that strip the oils from the skin, Carter says.
"I don't recommend this at all. When your skin is overly dried out from product, it responds by producing the only thing it can in a short period of time: more oil." To prevent this vicious cycle, use a light moisturizer to keep excess oil at bay without drying out the skin's necessary oils. Although shea butter and coconut oil are all the rage in the Black skin care community, Carter says these oils tend to sit on top of the skin rather than soaking in and truly moisturizing.
Myth No. 5: Skin Care Professionals? I Got This!
"My skin is good, so I don't need to use any cleansers or product. I just use hot water."
Aesthetician Nicole Toni has heard these exact words from several of her Black clients, but we really need cleansers to wash away the impurities our skin collects from the environment daily, she says.
"You wouldn't go to a person who lacks proper credentials to fix your car or your plumbing," Carter says. "Your visage is key to making a strong and clear first impression, and so each person should treat it with care."
Kelly Glass is a writer living in college-town Illinois with her husband, ambitious toddler son, and neurodiverse teenage son. Her interests focus on the intersections of race, parenting, health, and culture. Follow her on Twitter @kellygwriter.