Before retinol and hyaluronic acid became buzzwords, African people reached for natural ingredients like shea butter, aloe vera, almond oil, and baobab oil. So it's no coincidence that the best skincare products for Black skin still feature these same ancient ingredients that keep our melanin rich, smooth, and spotless to this day. But efficacy isn't the only reason why we still reach for these staples, or products that feature them.
"I learned about the restorative powers of oils since I was a child because my grandfather was a medicine man," Nyakio Grieco, founder of Nyakio, tells TZR. "He had the ability to go out and extract these oils to treat the skin and to treat many ailments. So my whole life, even though I was first-generation American, my mom would use those timeless traditions and oils to treat our hair and skin, and that was the greatest inspiration and why I chose to incorporate them into the Nyakio line."
And Epara, one of the first Black-owned brands to launch at Barneys New York, leans heavily on botanical ingredients throughout its range. "Botanicals have manifold healing properties on the skin as attested to by several ancient cultures and traditions," Ozohu Adoh, founder of Epara, tells TZR. "With better scientific understanding as to how the active elements in these ingredients interact with the skin, women of color can basically tap into the heritage of their forebears to address skin concerns, which presents differently on their skin tones. Also, the generally less abrasive nature of these natural ingredients are typically more suited to skin which can retain hyperpigmentation for longer or is more prone to dryness."
Generally, ingredients that work well for melanin-rich skin feature fatty acids and vitamins to help moisturize — a far cry from popular products with high contents of stripping sulfates and irritating synthetic fragrances. "This is why it’s important that Black representation increases on all levels of skincare, from the boardroom to the research lab," Dr. Jeaneen Chappell, MD, FAAD of Frisco, TX, tells TZR.
Luckily, there are a plethora of Black-owned skincare brands who master formulations that are perfect for melanin-rich skin, and incorporate the beloved ingredients we've known since childhood.
Skincare Ingredients For Dark Skin Tones: Shea Butter
Known for its anti-inflammatory and smoothening properties, shea butter is filled with vitamin E and wonderful for brightening and combating hyperpigmentation.
Skincare Ingredients For Dark Skintones: Almond Oil
"Almond oil is a natural skin moisturizer that will soften and smooth the skin," Adoh says. "The fatty acids in it help dissolve the sebum that your skin produces, creating cleaner skin and pores, and helping to get rid of acne."
Skincare Ingredients For Dark Skintones: Aloe Vera
Aloe vera has long been looked to for its anti-irritant and soothing properties, which aid in inflamed or overworked skin.
Skincare Ingredients For Dark Skintones: Baobab Oil
"Baobab oil has been used for thousands and thousands of years," Grieco says. "Not only is it used in rituals for naming ceremonies and other sacred rituals, but these trees live in the driest of climates across the Sahara desert and across the driest areas of Africa and they thrive for thousands of years. So when you think about the restorative powers that come from that tree, which we refer to as the African tree of life, that you are transferring those properties into skin."