Skincare For Black Men: Don’t Forget To Oil Your Legs, And Other Tips
One of my most resonant memories from childhood is my mother telling me to “oil my legs” before I scampered outside to play football with my friends, or to ramp my remote control car off a slide in an attempt to make it fly. It was a simple request, but for those of us with black skin, this command is a sacred one. Ignore it at your peril.
Forget this rule and eventually you will emerge with ashy, parched skin, punctuated with surface cracks and looking like you’ve just ran a marathon through a sand pit. There was always that one “friend” on dry-skin watch who would have no qualms about calling you out in front of the group. It would start with a disparaging look towards your feet, followed by a comment in a mocking juvenile tone: “Your legs are looking drrryyyyyyy.”
In those days, the go-to saviour was Palmer’s Cocoa Butter (and also Vaseline), which could instantly transform your skin from ghost-like to god-like. Just as Superman is rejuvenated by sunlight following exposure to Kryptonite, black skin instantly responds to the moisturiser, resulting in a luminous, rich glow.
As you grow up, however, you realise you could be doing more with your skincare regimen and progress to more diverse, effective solutions. This might sound easy enough, but I was always led to believe that there were only certain skincare products formulated for black skin that I could actually use.
This all changed in 2009 when my business partner and I launched an e-store dedicated to men’s skincare: the best products we could source from around the globe. To make sure the products truly worked, I had to test them and I learnt a few things in the process. So, from the best way to moisturise your skin to how to avoid razor bumps, here are a few tips for upgrading your grooming (and haircare) routine.
01. Change your body moisturiser for a dry oil
Quite possibly the greatest evolution in my skincare regimen was the transition from using a traditional moisturiser to a dry body oil. The term “dry oil” sounds contradictory, but that is exactly what it is: the consistency of the liquid allows for an ease of application not afforded to body creams, while the absorption leaves the skin gently glowing with a non-greasy matte-like finish. It also allows for more complete coverage, creeping into those areas you may have inadvertently missed. There are many great options I’ve found over the years, but be sure to choose one rich with natural oils, such as the Tonka 25 Body Oil from New York perfumery Le Labo, or the Geranium Leaf Hydrating Body Treatment by Aesop, with geranium leaf and mandarin rind leading its blend of healing botanicals.
To ensure the dry oil is easily absorbed and the essential oils bypass the dead skin, use a body scrub to exfoliate your skin before applying, or that famed product from my own West African origin: a natural sponge.
02. Use an oil-free face moisturiser
Black skin tends to have an inherent glow, which can lead to shine, especially on the face. Combine this quality with colder climates and you’re left with a conundrum: “how can I sufficiently moisturise my face without leaving it looking greasy?” The solution is to use an oil-free or mattifying face moisturiser that ensures your skin remains hydrated while also combating the shine. High-quality products can achieve this in many ways: some contain astringents that tighten the skin and reduce the visibility of pores, and others use some sort of oil-absorbing powder, such as the bamboo powder used in the Sisley Mattifying Moisturising Skin Care treatment.
For those with particularly oily skin, you may find the shine will resurface when you transition from the cold outside into the warmth of indoors. If that’s the case, use a lightweight salicylic gel (such as this one from MALIN + GOETZ) that quickly absorbs into your skin to help alleviate the shine without leeching away moisture.
03. Always use a pre-shave oil (even with electric razors)
Black skin is also prone to razor bumps. While there are special razor bump and ingrown hair treatments, that can, and do, work well, the best option is always a pre-emptive strike. One simple fix is to use a pre-shave oil before you shave to help reduce irritation, as the razor will glide more freely across the skin’s surface. The pre-shave oil also acts as an emollient to soften the hairs and leave your skin less dehydrated following the shave. For this, I would suggest one with more healing properties, such as the Claus Porto Musgo Real Pre-Shave Oil, which is enriched with sweet almond and grapeseed oils.
For those with dry skin, it’s good practice to use a face scrub prior to shaving to help clear the dead skin. As you shave, it’s these dead cells that often clog your pores to cause further irritation and razor bumps.
“But what if I’m growing a beard?” I hear you say. Thankfully, there are solutions (literally, solutions) for that, too. Lab Series Electric Shave Solution is a pre-shave treatment designed specifically for use with electric razors that, as an added bonus, contains a healing hit of vitamin E. In addition, make sure you comb (or brush) your beard on a regular basis, particularly when it’s short. This helps to prevent hairs from growing in on themselves, while also exfoliating the underlying skin, reducing irritation.
04. Wash your hair with a conditioner
Black hair, with its naturally tight curls, has the propensity to trap dead skin and oils. This can be a good thing, as it helps to cultivate the hair – particularly for certain hairstyles. However, it can also result in excessive build-ups when combined with pomades and hair creams.
The problem is if that you wash your hair too often, it can leave it dry and void of its natural nutrients. Plus, for those who exercise regularly, especially those who swim, you may find that you’re washing your hair multiple times a week. The solution? Switch out your shampoo every now and then and wash your hair with a lightweight conditioner, which will make your hair clean without aggressively stripping it of natural oils. Experiment with the frequency but, to start with, try the following 2-to-1 rotation: two times with conditioner for every one time you use a shampoo. This will also help those who suffer with excessively dry scalps or resulting dandruff.
05. Uneven skin tone
The sunshine levels during a European summer are… adequate. That said, as we approach winter and the nights draw in, the distinct lack of sun can lead to an uneven skin tone for those of us with dark skin. Those who suffer with mild skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis suffer a similar fate all year-round, causing certain areas of skin to be significantly fairer than others – also known as hyperpigmentation. Regardless of the reason for this uneven tone, there are plenty of ways to address it. A personal favourite of mine is from Bevel, men’s grooming brand that specialises in skincare for men of colour. Its oil-free Face Serum is widely lauded and helps reduce the appearance of dark spots and scarring while enhancing your skin’s overall radiance for an even skin tone.
In tandem, using a fine face scrub regularly will help ensure that the dead skin is removed, revealing the fresh, non-infected skin underneath.
The moral of this story? Experiment and don’t be afraid to try new products. We’re living in an age where there are many great options available for all types of skin, regardless of colour, so do your research and dive in. If you find a product that works for you, share this insight with your peers so they can benefit from your knowledge; much as we have from those pioneers that have gone before us. And please, don’t forget to oil your legs.
Illustration by Mr Jack Bedford