Preparing Darker Skin Tones for Aesthetic Treatments

Preparing Darker Skin Tones for Aesthetic Treatments

People with darker skin tones are more likely to have adverse reactions to aesthetic treatments like chemical peels and lasers. Luckily there are ways to help reduce the unwanted side effects. One of these ways is to properly pre-treat the skin before the aesthetic treatment.

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    Melanin is the pigment in our skin and is produced in response to sun exposure and any form of injury or inflammation to the skin.

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    People with darker skin tones have more melanin in their skin, which causes them to be more at risk for pigmentation issues after receiving aesthetic treatments.

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    Pre-treating the skin before an aesthetic treatment will help reduce unwanted side effects.

Darker skin tones and aesthetic treatments

The aesthetic industry is constantly evolving. New treatments and technologies are making it possible for people of all skin tones to look and feel better than ever before. However, it’s important to know that people with darker skin tones are more likely to experience unwanted side effects from aesthetic treatments, such as discoloration or scarring. These side effects are more common after treatments like chemical peels and lasers.

The good news is that there are ways to help reduce these unwanted side effects following aesthetic procedures. One way is to properly prepare or “pre-treat” the skin for several weeks before the desired treatment, which will be the focus of this article.

However, in order to fully understand why it’s important to pre-treat the skin, you first need to know why people with darker skin tones are more likely to have negative reactions to aesthetic treatments.

What is melanin?

The pigment melanin is responsible for giving our skin its natural color. Melanocytes, which are specialized cells found in the top layer of our skin, produce the pigment melanin. The more melanin in the skin, the darker the skin color.

anatomy of dark skin diagram

The important thing to know about melanin is that it also serves as a protective mechanism in the skin. The skin protects itself by triggering the melanocytes to produce more melanin in response to:

Sun’s harmful UV rays It is the reason the skin gets darker with sun exposure.
Inflammation, injury, irritation, or damage This can result from acne, ingrown hairs, wounds, burns, rashes, and some aesthetic treatments.

Melanin & post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

When stimulated, melanocytes produce excess melanin, which results in dark spots or patches on the skin. This is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or PIH for short.

People with darker skin tones, also known as “skin of color” or “melanin-rich skin,” include many ethnic groups and skin tones, ranging from light tan to black.

Darker skin tones have more melanin in their skin, which means they are more at risk of their melanin becoming overactive when the skin is injured or irritated.

This overactive melanin can lead to PIH. As a result, darker skin tones are more prone to developing PIH.

Side effects from aesthetic treatments

Chemical peels, lasers, and microneedling are just a few of the many aesthetic procedures that achieve their benefits by causing inflammation or a controlled injury to the skin. This forces the skin to heal itself, which leads to the production of new collagen for skin rejuvenation.

Unfortunately, these treatments can easily trigger PIH in people with darker skin tones due to the way they achieve their benefits.

Aesthetic treatments can also cause other unwanted side effects for people with darker skin tones, including hypopigmentation (a visible spot on the skin that is lighter in color than the surrounding skin) and even scarring.

How to reduce unwanted side effects

It is important to remember that there is always a risk of PIH or other negative side effects, even when the right treatments are used for darker skin types. Because of this, it is crucial to try to reduce these unwanted side effects as much as possible. Luckily, there are ways to help achieve this.

In order to get the optimal results from your treatment while reducing negative side effects as much as possible, you must do the following:

  • Only go to an experienced provider. Finding a provider with the knowledge, skills, and expertise for treating people with darker skin tones is crucial. Most aesthetic treatments need special modifications and adjustments to safely treat darker skin tones.
  • Proper at-home pre-treatment. Prepping the skin before an aesthetic treatment.
  • Proper at-home post-care. After-care following an aesthetic treatment.

Each of these three tasks is equally important; you must complete each one thoroughly and correctly.

Pre-treating the skin before a treatment

In this article, we will be focusing on the second task: proper at-home pre-treatment. Properly pre-treating the skin before a treatment prepares the skin to safely receive the upcoming treatment.

The actual pre-treatment protocol will depend on the desired aesthetic treatment, the strength of the treatment, the degree of pigment in the skin, and each person’s specific needs. This article will give general pre-treatment recommendations and explain why each is important.

Here are ways to properly pre-treat the skin before an aesthetic treatment:

Avoid sun exposure

Most people know the importance of staying out of the sun after getting aesthetic treatments. But did you know that it’s also important to stay out of the sun before some aesthetic treatments?

Remember how the sun’s UV rays cause melanocytes to produce more melanin? Even if the skin does not show visible signs of sun exposure, UV rays still cause melanin to become hyperactive. As a result, PIH is more likely to happen after an aesthetic treatment if the person is in the sun before the treatment.

Tips on sun protection before an aesthetic treatment:

  • Avoid direct sun exposure for 2–4 weeks before the treatment.
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more, daily, and reapply it every 1–2 hours as needed.
  • Tinted sunscreens that include iron oxide and titanium oxide work well for skin of color.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat outdoors and take additional measures to avoid direct sun exposure, like standing in the shade, if possible.

Make sure you have a healthy skin barrier

Your skin barrier is a protective barrier on the outermost portion of your skin. If the skin barrier is weak or damaged, the skin is more likely to get irritated during aesthetic treatments.

You should never get an aesthetic treatment with a damaged skin barrier because it can lead to PIH.

How can you tell if you have a damaged skin barrier? Some signs include severely dry skin, a scaly appearance, sensitivity to topical products, and tightness immediately after cleansing.

To prevent damaging your skin barrier, avoid:

  • Cleansing the skin too frequently.
  • Using harsh or irritating products.
  • Cleansing with hot water and taking long, hot showers or baths.
  • Over-exfoliating.
  • Too much sun exposure.

To support your skin barrier, make sure to use a gentle cleanser for sensitive skin, use skincare products that are non-irritating, and use a barrier repair moisturizer that contains ceramides.

If you have acne-prone skin, avoid barrier repair products containing occlusive (like petrolatum) or silicone, which might cause breakouts.

Use topical pigment inhibitors

Topical pigment inhibitors are products that help calm down active melanin in the skin while also slowing down the production of new melanin. This will hopefully make the melanin less reactive when receiving the aesthetic treatment.

Certain pigment inhibitors, such as hydroquinone, are only available by prescription from your doctor (unless you live in a country where it is unavailable). Over-the-counter (OTC) pigment inhibitors include kojic acid, arbutin, and azelaic acid.

The duration of use can be anywhere from 2 to 12 weeks before the treatment. The length of time will depend on your provider’s recommendations.

If any products become irritating, stop using them and inform your provider. Remember, irritation contributes to PIH.

Additional considerations

There are other considerations that you should discuss with your provider, such as:

  • Some aesthetic treatments, like chemical peels, require the use of additional topical products for several weeks to prepare the skin.
  • If you’ve recently had other aesthetic treatments — waxing, exfoliating, laser—you may have to wait a certain period of time before getting your desired treatment.
  • Stopping the use of some topical products for 5–7 days before your aesthetic treatment may be required. Common examples include retinoids (tretinoin and retinol), certain pigment inhibitors, or harsh products like benzoyl peroxide and acids.
  • Notify your provider if you’re taking any medications that make you sensitive to the sun (photosensitizing medications). Never stop taking medication unless your prescribing doctor tells you to do so.
  • Ask for a patch test of the treatment on a small area of your skin to see how it reacts to it before receiving the actual treatment.

Even though darker skin tones are more prone to negative reactions from aesthetic treatments, there are ways to help reduce the unwanted side effects. Pre-treating the skin for several weeks before an aesthetic treatment is essential to help prepare the skin for the upcoming treatment and reduce the risk of negative side effects. At a minimum, prepping your skin would include protecting yourself from the sun, maintaining a healthy skin barrier, and applying topical pigment inhibitors.

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