The Black Girl’s Guide to Acne Control

Your skin is always selfie-worthy, but no cap, zits suck.
By Kindra Moné

There’s nothing more frustrating than feeling your best on the inside while rockin’ an exterior that doesn’t reflect the same vibes. And since the latest TikTok trends can be misleading, we ditched the influencer tips and went straight to the pros to bring you the Black girl’s guide to acne control. Keep reading for the skincare advice you’ve been searching for.

The Do’s

Do Use Sunscreen

Even our melanated marvelousness is at risk for sun damage, and if your skin is acne-prone, those rays can actually intensify hyperpigmentation and inflammation. “Use sunscreen before sun exposure, primarily if you use acne medications that may increase sun sensitivity,” says Dr. Adebola Dele-Michael, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Radiant Skin Dermatology & Laser in Manhattan, New York. “Ideally, [use] a mineral sunscreen that contains zinc oxide. Let your dermatologist know your schedule, such as if you play outdoor sports, so that they can tailor your acne regimen accordingly.”

Do Exfoliate

Achieving that post-acne flare glow up means (gently!!) exfoliating on the regular, too, about two to three times per week, suggests aesthetic nurse practitioner Tam Lamarre.  Be careful if you opt for a manual exfoliator like a facial scrub because some can be too harsh and cause cuts in your skin plus more dark spots and inflammation. (Our pick? Try one with nonplastic exfoliating beads like Proactiv’s Renewing Cleanser.) 

“When it comes to chemical exfoliation, this is where you want to introduce products that have lactic acid [and] kojic acid,” says Lamarre. “Those are natural skin brighteners, and they help with cell turnover.”  Be careful not to over-exfoliate, though; your skin’s barrier needs to stay intact. And speaking of…

Do Protect Your Skin’s Barrier

It’s tempting to try every product on the shelf, but without the proper guidance, that outer layer of skin (AKA your epidermis) could be in danger, resulting in damage and irritation down the road. Dr. Dele-Michael recommends using gentle cleansers and noncomedogenic moisturizers, so they won’t clog your pores. Then, you can start treating any dark spots you might have. “Creams containing niacinamide can reduce hyperpigmentation without causing significant irritation,” says Dr. Dele-Michael. But hard pass on those topical steroids and the skin lightening ingredient hydroquinone because they may lead to some lasting, unwanted side effects. 

The Don’ts

Don’t DIY

Unless the skinfluencers you follow are legit dermatologists or related beauty experts, do not try the at-home hacks you see — think microneedling, chemical peeling, and pore vacuuming. Without the guidance of a pro who actually knows what they’re doing, you could cause serious damage. “[A common mistake is to] follow instructions from untrained social media influencers, rather than seeking a skin examination from a board-certified dermatologist,” says Dr. Dele-Michael. “Teenagers with acne should see a dermatologist for proper diagnosis and treatment, since many other skin conditions can be mistaken for acne.”

So, when is it safe to start seeking special beauty treatments to help keep your pimples in check? Lamarre says your teen years are the perfect time to begin. “Because of hormonal changes that can happen in the body very early on, I would say between 11 or 12 years old, it’s OK to get a facial from an aesthetician with manual cleanses and extractions, so that things don’t get too congested,” she says. For more intense treatments like a hydrafacial or gentle peel, Lamarre suggests waiting until you’re 16 or 17.

Don’t Overdry

The temptation to wash your face until it feels squeaky clean is real. But sis, that is not the move. “The more you dry the skin, the more it overcompensates by producing more oil to make up for the fact that it feels so dry,” explains Lamarre. And you already know: More oil can mean more zits. Stick to cleansing your skin twice a day, in the morning and then again at night, and always follow it up with a toner and a moisturizer to keep everything balanced.

Don’t Ignore Your Diet

OK, so fr fr, junk food doesn’t cause acne outright — that myth was dispelled a while ago. At the same time, though, what you eat can affect other things in your body that can lead to a breakout. If you have an occasional serving of chips, cookies, fries, pastries, or other sugary or greasy snack, you’re probably fine. But, if you eat large servings or have those snacks as a daily part of your food routine, you could send your insulin levels spiking, which can cause inflammation and increased oil production. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, researchers found that people who ate more fresh fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, grains, and beans, instead, saw a reduction in their acne — specifically, here in the U.S., 87% of people in the study reported less acne, while 91% reported needing less acne medication.

Main Photo: Autumn Goodman/Unsplash


Quarterly print teen magazine for Black girls ages 13 to 19. Covering The Black Girl's Mainstream™