Acne affects millions of Americans each year and impacts people of all skin tones, yet acne can pose special challenges in people with darker skin. In darker skin, one pimple or breakout can cause dark marks, scars, or even keloids (scar tissue that continues to grow larger than the original scar) that last for months to years afterward. Those affected are left searching for the secrets to treatment — or better yet, prevention.  Before jumping into treatments, it is important to recognize that there are other conditions that can look like acne but are not. Individuals with darker skin may be more susceptible to ingrown hairs, for example, which can look remarkably similar to acne and cause the same dark spots. These bumps, however, are caused by hair growing out of the follicle in a tightly coiled way, and may require treatments such as laser hair removal. In the beard region, this is called pseudofolliculitis barbae, and may be mistaken for acne, particularly in men of darker skin types. A esthetician experienced in treating darker skin can provide a proper diagnosis and customize an appropriate treatment plan.

True acne should be treated with gentle products, because harsher treatments can cause severe dryness or irritation that can worsen dark spots and scarring. Topical retinoid and retinol creams and gels can help to clear pores, reduce inflammation, and speed up the process of skin cell turnover and regeneration, which helps in both the prevention and treatment of PIH and scarring. Starting with a milder retinoid product and gradually increasing strength and frequency of use allows the body to adjust without excessive irritation. A benzoyl peroxide wash can also help eliminate bacteria on the skin that contribute to the development of acne. Always avoid squeezing, popping, or picking at your acne, which can cause acne to spread and delay healing. It may take several months to see the results you desire, so be patient.