Skip to content

Ethnic Skin Care: Ask the Dermatologist

Dermatologist Susan Evans, MD, answers your questions about ethnic skin care.

Question:
I’m an African-American woman, and as I get older, I’m getting more chin hairs. Will taking oral estrogen remove them?
Answer:

Oral estrogen is not a primary treatment for unwanted facial hair. There are certain hormonal conditions that are associated with an excess of androgen (male hormones) production, which may result in increased hair growth. However, these conditions should be addressed by your doctor.

Question:
I live in India. I’m 40 years old. Please tell me which antiaging cosmetic cream is best for my skin.
Answer:

Your best option is to use a cream that includes a sunblock with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30. Sun damage is the No. 1 cause of premature aging. Next, exfoliate your skin with an alpha-hydroxy or salicylic acid compound. This should be followed by a retinol-containing product to promote new cell growth.

Question:
I am an African-American with darker skin pigmentation (skin appears to be rough) just above my cheekbones on both sides of my face. The products/solutions for under-eye circles do not address this issue. I have only noticed this problem since aging into my 50s.
Answer:

You may be suffering from melasma, or perhaps an underlying hormonal or immune disease. Since you are in your 50s, your first step should be a complete evaluation by your physician, along with a complete blood panel, prior to starting treatment.

Question:
I am a 30-year-old female from an Asian background. I have recently (10 months ago) developed large areas of pigmentation on my face (cheeks and nose). Can you please help me get rid of these?
Answer:

Your first step begins with using a sunblock. Next, your dermatologist may suggest a skin care regimen that includes chemical peels to be used in conjunction with skin-brightening agents. Chemical peels remove the surface layer of dead skin cells, which allow for a greater penetration of the skin-brightening products.

Question:
I am an African-American woman in my late 50s. What skin care products should I use if I have combination skin -- dry and oily at times? I need something to put on at night that will help me keep my face looking a little younger.
Answer:

Your skin care regimen should include exfoliation (salicylic acid, AHA (alpha-hydroxy acids), or papaya-based products), followed by hydrating compounds (moisturizers that are non-comedogenic), and finally, rejuvenation with retinol-based products that will encourage new collagen growth and vitamin-enriched peptides for healthy cell maintenance.

Question:
I am immensely worried about my face because I am going to be married very soon. I have dark circles under my eyes, black spots on my face, and very rough skin and medium color.
Answer:

Your first step should be to make sure you are getting an adequate amount of rest, especially during stressful times. Next, the use of a sunblock is critical to prevent further darkening from sun damage. Finally, your dermatologist can prescribe a combination of chemical peels and lightening agents (prescription strength) that will improve your skin tone.

Question:
I am an African-American in my 60s with body spots. How can I lighten them?
Answer:

Your first step begins with a sunblock. Next, your dermatologist may prescribe a skin care regimen that includes chemical peels to be used in conjunction with skin-brightening agents. Chemical peels remove the surface layer of dead skin cells which allows a greater penetration of the skin-brightening products.

Question:
My lips are dark and sometimes very dry. I am a brown-skinned female in my late 20s. It's so bad that some people think I am smoking, but I have never smoked in all my life.
Answer:

Consider adding a small amount of hydrocortisone cream (for dryness) to your lips along with sunblock. This can be followed by a skin brightener.

Question:
What type of sunscreen can I use over makeup? I am an African-American woman in need of advice.
Answer:

The Skin Cancer Foundation advises people to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 (I prefer SPF 30). Put on your sunscreen prior to applying your makeup. Use products containing zinc oxide, avobenzone (Parsol 1789), or ecamsule (Mexoryl), combined with octocrylene and avobenzone, that will complement your makeup and provide broad-spectrum sun protection.

Question:
I am a 61-years-young Caucasian female with very fair skin that is prone to sunburn damage. I still have T-zone oiliness and breakouts. I use Obagi prescription products, receive regular cleansing facials, and use mineral powders, but still have breakthrough oiliness. What do you recommend?
Answer:

Your first step begins with prevention. You should use a sunblock of at least SPF 30. Sun damage may dehydrate your skin, which will result increased oil production. Excessive cleansing with facials that contain harsh preservatives, dyes, and detergents may also increase oil production on your face.

Question:
I have a problem with breakouts on my back. My skin is fairly light, and I hate the look of pimples -- or whatever they are. I'm thinking it might be caused by my bra. Maybe the bra is dirty because I don't wash my bras often. They are so expensive, and I don't want to ruin them in the washer.
Answer:

You may be suffering from back acne. Your treatment regimen should include an acne cleanser, toner, and treatment lotion. Your bra may be causing a hypersensitive reaction to your skin. You may want to explore buying some hypoallergenic clothing for sensitive skin. Regardless of your skin condition, good hygiene and clean clothes are critical for overall health and well-being.

Question:
Hello. I am a 62-year-old African-American. I have a problem with melasma. It is mainly around and over my eye area and forehead. I have used creams that contain the ingredient that is supposed to lighten age spots. Nothing has helped.
Answer:

Your next step should be to consult with your physician (a dermatologist). Several over-the-counter products may be effective for your condition, but in resistant cases, you may need to rule out underlying medical conditions that may require prescription medications to effectively treat your skin.

Question:
Does a ruby laser work to treat wrinkles? I am Asian and had ruby laser treatment done on my face, but there are still some light brown marks left on my skin.
Answer:

Q-Switched ruby laser is primarily designed to remove brown spots on the face, chest, back, and hands, as well as brown birthmarks. For wrinkle improvement, the laser should be directed to resurfacing your top skin layer, or increasing collagen turnover and production.

Question:
What prevents dark spots under the eyes for African-American women?
Answer:

Dark spots can be attributed to hereditary factors, fluid retention, and excess sun exposure. Your first step is to exclude any underlying medical problems that can contribute to your dark spots. Next, your physician can recommend a series of brightening agents that may improve your condition.

Question:
Is there a permanent hair removal product available for men?
Answer:

Laser hair removal can be effective and permanent. Laser hair removal requires several treatments because the hair grows in different cycles.

Question:
I used a hair removal product for my upper lip, and left it on too long. My skin turned light in color. It looks like I just drank a glass of milk. Can you help?
Answer:

Many of the hair removal products contain bleaching agents that can also lighten your skin. Generally, your pigment will eventually return, but it may take up to 3 to 6 months to regain your pigment. You may want to consider laser hair removal in the future.

Question:
After I went through menopause, my skin appearance changed. My legs and thighs have ugly brown spots. I am a black American in my 60s.
Answer:

Hormonal changes experienced during menopause can bring on darkening of the skin. A lack of estrogen causes it to grow thin and lose elasticity, making capillaries and veins more visible. Melanin levels increase as levels of the hormone estrogen decrease, which results in hyper-pigmentation, commonly known as age spots.

Your first step is to visit your physician obtain a complete blood and metabolic panel. Once this information is determined, your physician may decide that hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) is needed.

Question:
Can you tell me what causes hair loss on lower legs and calves in men? I’m 52 years old and Hispanic -- if that matters.
Answer:

There are several reasons for hair loss on the legs. Poor circulation may be a factor, which can be caused or aggravated by diabetes, thyroid disorders, peripheral artery disease, medications, poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, being overweight, and other health issues. To properly diagnose your condition, and to rule out a serious condition, you need to be evaluated and tested by a physician.

Question:
What are the best treatments for alopecia areata in African-American women?
Answer:

Alopecia areata is a specific type of hair loss that involves your immune system. There are various treatment options, including injecting specific areas with mild steroids, or a combination of topical treatments. It's important to have a thorough evaluation by your dermatologist and get the proper treatment for your hair loss.

Question:
I’m from Singapore. My girl is 12 years old, and she started to have breakouts all over her face -- most of it appearing on her forehead. What can I do to help her?
Answer:

Most 12-year-olds are typically at the early stages of puberty and hormone changes. These hormonal surges result in many changes, most commonly acne. There are over-the-counter treatments for acne that contain benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid that you can try.

Without seeing your daughter, I don't know what she has or what to recommend. If at all possible, let a dermatologist see her for a diagnosis and treat her with appropriate medication.

Question:
I'm allergic to sunscreens, and I've tried all the sunscreen products from well-known brands. No allergy to zinc and titanium sunscreens, but they made my face look like a clown. I am a dark-skinned woman. Could you please suggest a hypoallergenic sunscreen that also is transparent and non-revealing?
Answer:

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are sunblocks that create a physical barrier between the ultraviolet rays and your skin. Unfortunately, in order to do that, these barriers may leave a white film, which is visible to the naked eye. Consider using sunscreens for infants and children. These sunscreens typically are hypoallergenic. Also, consider going to an allergist, who can help you determine what is causing your allergic reaction.

Question:
I have freckles, and I want to keep them from looking and turning splotchy. Do you have any advice on how I can avoid splotches and keep my freckle face healthy?
Answer:

My advice for freckles is to keep them protected from the sun, or they will become darker, larger, and look more like age spots. Also, they may camouflage a more serious mole that needs a biopsy to determine if it’s a risk of cancer.

In addition to daily use of an SPF 30 sunscreen to protect from both UVA/UVB rays, skin-brightening agents can be applied twice a day for a more blended, youthful appearance. Brightening agents that are approved for purchase include licorice extract, niacin, and low dose hydroquinone 1% to 2% strength. Finally, general skin health steps, such as moisturizing with key antioxidant vitamins like vitamin E, C, and vitamin A, will help keep your freckles closer to how they looked when you were young.

Question:
How do I remove black spots on my face? I am an African-American female, 64 years young. These spots appeared on my face about 10 years ago.
Answer:

First, have the dark spot looked at by a dermatologist to determine that the dark spot is not pre-cancerous or skin cancer. Melasma is a common cause of dark spots on the forehead, cheeks, and upper lips in women. One of the first and very critical steps to brightening darker areas on the face is to use a cream with an SPF of 30 and above, applying three times each day to cover darker areas.

Also, applying skin brighteners such as niacin, hydroroquinone, and kojic acid will help brighten the darker areas. These steps will help your skin look more even and more youthful.

Question:
I was wondering if UVB lamps really work for vitiligo sufferers.
Answer:

The FDA and American Academy of Dermatology are proposing mandatory placement of signs in tanning salons that plainly state that UVB rays cause premature aging and skin cancer. The treatment of vitiligo that is the most promising is use of the XTRAC laser. In most cases, vitiligo treatments using the XTRAC laser are covered by medical insurance.

Question:
Please tell me the tips to graceful older skin. Tell me some natural tips. I am in Nigeria, and most products are not available here to buy. Tell me some natural things that will make me look younger.
Answer:

Make sure your moisturizer contains antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and vitamin E (tocopherol). Light daily skin exfoliation with an alpha-hydroxy acid contributes to smoother, younger-looking skin.

The use of sunscreen is the single most important step to help keep your skin looking younger. Wear sunscreen daily, even if you think that "My skin does not burn." Over 50% of the visible aging that takes place on skin is due to ultraviolet rays.

Question:
I am a 56-year-old white female. I've been swimming almost a mile 2 to 3 times each week in an indoor, heavily-chlorinated pool. The skin on my shoulders, arms and legs is starting to itch from the cold and the harshness of the chlorine. I am also concerned about the skin on my face. I've never used much makeup, and now that I'm swimming, I would like to continue to moisturize my skin -- especially my face.
Answer:

Frequent wetting and drying of the skin causes dryness. One way to prevent it is to rinse off the chlorine after each swimming session. After you rinse off -- while your skin is still wet -- spray or squirt an essential oil onto your skin. Almond oil is my favorite. By the time you towel dry, you already have a coat of moisture that's locked in.

Follow up with a lotion or cream that contains the antioxidant vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and contains alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) for deeper penetration and younger-looking skin. The itching suggests that your skin is irritated, and you may have been scratching.

Have a dermatologist look at your skin and see if you have developed a mild infection and need treatment with a medicated topical cream for inflammation. Exercise is great for your health, and these steps will also help your skin look healthy.

Question:
I have dark skin on the lower part of my mouth and chin, when compared to the fuller part of my month. Could you please let me know if peeling is good option to remove this darkness from these lower areas? By the way, my skin is wheat-colored.
Answer:

Chemical peels are available to brighten olive skin and darker skin. Make sure that the doctor is skilled with your skin type. After a chemical peel, daily use of a sunscreen may help.  Avoiding procedures such as plucking, waxing, or doing other damage to the skin in that area will help you prevent it from getting dark again.

Question:
I'm living in Okinawa. For nearly a year, I have been going to a Japanese dermatologist for treatment of my acne. At one point, my skin was showing improvement, so I asked what else I can do to speed up the progress. My treatment includes topical vitamin C application, LED and chemical peel (dark skin) every two weeks. They suggested I take vitamins A, C, E, and B. I've been taking those vitamins daily for two months. I've noticed more flare-ups that are really sore on my forehead, checks, and chin. Am I overdoing the vitamins? What am I doing wrong?
Answer:

Vitamins A, C, E, and B in the daily recommended concentrations should not contribute to acne. Omega-3 supplements, even at daily concentrations, may cause an outbreak. Take your vitamins, supplements and anything else new to your dermatologist to help you determine what's causing the outbreak.

Question:
I am career-oriented African-American woman in my 40s. I am fair-skinned. The only complaint I have is the dark circles under my eyes. I can live with the fine lines, but would really like to fix the dark circles. Is there any product I can find in the store to help this problem?
Answer:

Make sure you're protecting the under-eye skin from the sun. Apply an SPF 30 or higher sunscreen three times daily, and get eight hours of sleep a day. Another easy improvement for dark circles is to treat any allergies that contribute to a runny nose, sneezing, and congestion of your sinuses. Congestion and leaky blood vessels may contribute to dark circles.

In order to brighten your dark circles, try an over-the-counter licorice extract, which is gentle on the fragile and thin skin in the lower lid area. Vitamin A, or mild retinol at night, may help your under-eye area brighten, smooth, and appear tighter.

Thank you for joining us for WebMD Ask the Dermatologist. Be sure to come back on May 18 at 1 p.m. ET when we will discuss skin rejuvenation. Sign up if you'd like an email reminder the day before our next event.

WebMD Ask the Specialist Transcript

Reviewed by Susan Evans, MD on April 18, 2011

The opinions expressed in this section are of the Specialist and the Specialist alone. They do not reflect the opinions of WebMD and they have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance or objectivity. WebMD is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on WebMD. 

WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment. If you think you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.