Skin, Deep is a series that explores the ways in which our heritage, culture, upbringing, and life experiences impact the relationship we have with our skin.
I am Amber Bond and I am an African American woman. I am originally from Maryland (a suburb of D.C. to be specific) and currently live in Los Angeles, California My lineage can only be traced back as far as the South Eastern portion of the US. North and South Carolina on my maternal side and Eastern Shore, Maryland paternally.
There are a few products that I would consider staples in many African America households in America: Vaseline, cocoa butter, and cold cream. I vividly remember my mother slathering Vaseline on my brother and I during the winter months as children (I hated it!), then cocoa butter for scars and evening skin tone (bye stretch marks!), and cold cream for cleansing.
MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MY SKIN
My relationship with my skin is a bit rocky. I have always been a pimple popper (gross, I know). As a teen I had mild acne and I went to a dermatologist for treatment. I cycled through a few different prescriptions that either dried my skin out or caused more acne.
In college, I stopped using most of those treatments and my regimen was all about exfoliating with apricot scrub, toning with witch hazel, using clay masks occasionally, and wearing sunblock during the day. When I didn’t use that scrub, I washed with African black soap or Dodo Osun, which is something I had heard about from a friend and found at a local health food store. I was told it was great for acne and dark marks. If you aren’t familiar with raw African black soap…it kinda resembles a block of poo (according to my brother and mother). It’s made from things like roasted cocoa pods, dried plantain skins, shea butter, roasted palm leaves, etc. I loved it so much that I’ve purchased in bulk for many years; it’s actually been the one constant in my skincare routine since I started using it.
After college, I started experiencing cystic acne on my cheeks and chin more regularly. My gynecologist at the time called it out during a visit after a skipped period and tested me for PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome). As part of the cosmetic treatment for my hormonal acne, I was prescribed Retin-A Micro and recommended glycolic acids to clear my hyperpigmentation. While the results were amazing, the treatments were expensive AF. Additionally, they caused sensitivity to sun and dehydrated my skin, which caused more sebum production.
BEAUTY BRANDS NEED TO STEP IT UP
As a means of covering acne scars and providing sun protection, I attempted to try trends like CC creams years ago. Cool, right? Wrong. Finding a shade that matched my complexion took months. With some brands, the darkest shade was still too light for me. When I finally did find a product that matched my undertones well, it got oily within an hour. I produce lots of sebum. Matte versions of the same product and color oxidized and ended up being the wrong shade. So I basically had to mix two shades. Seems like a lot, huh? Well, unfortunately this is a struggle many African American women have faced for a long time.
Brands are just starting to attempt to address the lack of shade ranges for woman of color. Which is insane, considering that research has shown that African American consumers tend to spend nine times more on hair and beauty even though we represent only 14% of the population in the U.S. Skincare brands could take some time and learn about black culture and skincare needs, be more inclusive when casting black models, and be a bit more thoughtful and responsible with marketing. They could also create a sunscreen with good quality ingredients (sans silicones) that doesn’t turn brown skin blue-grey or oily if it’s clear. Hint, hint.
Speaking of sunscreen, it’s the last step in my morning ritual. I adopted and modified a multi-step Korean skincare routine earlier this year. (I am a bit of a beauty product junkie and I love learning beauty secrets from other cultures.) In the morning, I cleanse with African black soap. Then, I follow with a toner, a Vitamin C powder that I mix with my moisturizer, and follow with Supergoop’s Unseen Sunscreen. Since you are supposed to reapply sunscreen after a few hours or sweating, I use a tinted setting powder with SPF 40 for touchups.
When it’s colder or I’m traveling back to the east coast, I incorporate a few drops of rosehip oil with my moisturizer. At night, I oil cleanse with sweet almond oil and follow with my black soap. Every other night, I exfoliate with Pixi Beauty Glow Peel Pads. Then, I follow up with a toner, moisturizer, and a 1% retinol oil. If I am having a hormonal breakout, I spot treat with neem oil. (It smells repulsive, but is fantastic.)
Lately, I’ve also been relaxing a bit more with sheet or clay masks. I stopped mixing my own products years ago, so I try to grab Cupcake from Lush Cosmetics if they have it in stock. For my body, I keep it more simple—an organic shower gel and unscented lotion in hot months and shea butter when it’s cooler.
What I love most about my skin is how it glows when I treat it right.
As told to ILLUUM.
For more from Amber, follow her on Instagram.
Images via Instagram.