Many skincare products and procedures should be avoided in people with darker, ethnic skin tones such as, Hispanics, Asians, African Americans and people from India, because of the greater risk of undesirable hyperpigmentation. But what about in-office chemical peels and at-home chemical exfoliation? Are they safe for darker skin tones?
All human skin darkens as a result of being injured. Most people have experienced this in the form of a tan after a sunburn or even a brown mark after a thermal skin burn, like from the edge of a hot pot or pan. In both cases, the increase melanin production and resulting darkening of the skin is caused by a protective skin mechanism: in the case of the thermal burn, the resulting hyperpigmentation is a non-specific response. In the case of a tan, which is just another example of hyperpigmentation, your very clever skin makes more melanin, which acts as a natural sunscreen to try to decrease additional injurious UV from further damaging the skin.
People with darker skin have more melanin pigment than Caucasian skin and their brown pigment producing melanoctyes are more easily stimulated to make additional melanin pigment. This means they are more prone to causing additional, undesirable darkening of the skin, especially as a result of any injury to the skin.
Now, most of you know how important I believe exfoliation is and specifically, I believe it's the single most important treatment to regularly do if you want more beautiful, healthier and younger looking skin. But here's the bottom line, especially with darker skin: Whether the exfoliation is from at home skincare products or in the form of a peel performed by a doctor, nurse, or esthetician, it must be gentle and not create a clinically apparent skin injury or else it will probably cause uneven hyperpigmentation.
On DermTV, I've discussed different types of peels. Superficial "no down time" peels, also called "lunch time peels" because they cause no visible damage so you can do them at lunch and go right back to work, are usually fine for darker skin. Most are done with glycolic or microdermabraision. But deeper peels like TCA and Blue peels which cause crusting and peeling can all cause hyperpigmentation in darker skin... So beware!
In terms of at home exfoliating products, meaning daily creams and lotions, most can be used on darker skin but even here there are two warnings just to be safe. Test the product for a few days on a small area in front of your ear to make sure there's no irritation, and always start with the lowest strength available.
Lastly, if you feel increasing burning sensation from any skincare product, wash it off immediately. It's not right for you, nor worth the risk of hyperpigmentation!