What's in your skincare?

It is important to know the ingredients in your skin care products and the role they play.

The Black Skin Directory Ingredients Glossary is a handy guide that gives you a snap shot of ingredients you may come across that have enhanced benefits for darker skin tones.


Glycolic Acid

Derived from sugar cane, Glycolic Acid belongs in the Alpha Hydroxy Acid family. Known for having the small and most penetrative molecule size, it’s one of the original AHA’s used in skincare for decades.

Gylcolic acid is an exfoliant with anti oxidant and anti inflammatory properties. Its job is to loosen the bonds that hold the uppermost underperforming dead skin cells, causing them to shed and reveal underlying skin.

Used for its anti aging credentials, glycolic acid also improves the appearance of age spots, acne, acne scarring, hyperpigmentation, melasma, photoaging and oily skin.

Lactic Acid

A very popular Alpha Hydroxy Acid derived from milk.

When applied on the skin, it helps to reduce the signs of ageing, tackles fine lines and early wrinkles. This is achieved through its action of exfoliating the surface of the skin and encouraging the shedding of dull/underperforming skin cells. On dark skin, this also gently lifts any dullness to the complexion.

Mandelic Acid

Also a member of the Alpha Hydroxy Acid family, Mandelic acid is quite mild and is derived from almond nuts. Like acids in this family, it’s also an exfoliant and encourages the shedding of dead skin cells.

It’s an excellent option for oilier skin types as it is a lipophilic acid that is readily absorbed by oily skin making it a great choice for acne prone skin and treating hyperpigmentation. It helps to reduce oil over time without over drying the skin.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic Acid belongs to the Beta Hydroxy Acid family and is derived from the bark of willow trees. Sometimes maybe called ‘Willow Bark Extract’.

It is also an exfoliant and has an anti inflammatory effect on the skin by calming breakouts and angry skin. It works very well on oily/acne prone skin types as it can penetrate deep in the pore lining and help break down the sticky bonds that hold dead skin cells together which would otherwise clog pores leading to comedones, white heads and black heads. 

Azelic Acid

Derived from grains such as wheat, barley and rye. Very effective against acne and used as a bleaching agent for skin, therefore great for treating hyperpigmentation and dark marks on the skin. Helps to shed skin cells and is antibacterial.

Hyaluronic Acid

Over the last ten years, Hyaluronic Acid has become very popular in skincare, but in effect it is a large sugar molecule that is naturally produced in large quantities by the body. It acts as a humectant, enabling the skin to retain water, thus keeping it hydrated. 

When darker skin is dry and dehydrated, it has a tendency to appear dull and grey. Hyaluronic Acid is a great supporting ingredient for radiant looking skin.

Ageing naturally depletes Hyaluronic Acid in the body and this can lead to dry skin, wrinkles and loss of shape and volume underneath the skin.

Hyaluronic acid can be applied topically to the skin in a gel or cream. Though, not hyaluronic acid is created equally, so it’s important to ensure you select a ‘low molecular’ weight hyaluronic acid for optimum beneficial effect.

 It can also be injected into the skin as a filler to soften lines and wrinkles, tighten skin and encourage improved hydration.

Lactobionic Acid

Although technically an acid from the Poly Hydroxy Acid family, Lactobionic Acid is derived from milk sugar is also a potent anti oxidant with the ability to strengthen and moisturize skin.  It is non-irritating and helps to combat uneven pigmentation, enlarged pores and rough skin.

Maltobionic Acid

Also a member of the Poly Hydroxy Acid clan, Maltobionic Acid is derived from malt sugar providing protection form environmental and free radical damage to the skin. This helps to preserve collagen provide structural support and scaffolding of the skin.


Another Poly Hydroxy Acid, which is found naturally in the skin providing copious amounts of anti aging benefits without irritation, even for sensitive skin conditions like Rosacea or for skin that has undergone recent cosmetic procedure like peels or laser. Its main role is to strength the skins barrier function and reduce sensitivity to irritants.



Liquorice extract

Containing an active called Glabridin, liquorice extract has the ability to treat hyperpigmentation resulting from sun damage and trauma to the skin.  It is often seen as a natural skin-brightening alternative to hydroquinone.

Kojic Acid

Kojic acid is produced by several different species of fungi that have the ability to limit the synthesis of melanin in the skin.

It is often found in skin whitening and brightening products to combat hyperpigmentation, dark marks and scarring.

Studies have shown some irritation with prolonged use of Kojic Acid, especially if above 1% of the total ingredient formulation.

Alpha Arbutin

This is an enhanced biosynthetic form of Arbutin, which is naturally derived from bearberry plants.

Its main function in skincare is to brighten and even skin tone by inhibiting the body from processing Tyrosine – the protein behind excessive melanin production that contributes to hyperpigmentation and melasma.


A skin-lightening ingredient that is used medically to brighten and even the skin tone. Its main function is to suppress melanin in order to prepare skin for further treatments and to lighten darkened patches of skin.

It is a controversial ingredient within skincare, but when used short term and under prescription with careful monitoring, it can be very effective. 

In the UK, Hydroquinone is a prescription drug and using it without medical guidance can lead to Ochronosis, a noticeable condition in which the skin becomes dark and thickened.


Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and alongside its natural derivatives (Retinaldehyde, Retinoic Acid, Retinyl Ester, Retinol, Retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate) it sits in the retinoid family. Vitamin A plays a key role in cell growth and development, making it an excellent topical ingredient for skin conditions like acne and psoriasis, but also hyperpigmentation.

Through a series of oxidative and transformation processes, Vitamin A must be converted into its metabolically active form - retinoic acid - to be beneficial to skin.

Vitamin A has the ability to speed up cell turnover to make way for new cell proliferation underneath. This way, old mottled and pigmented skin cells are also prompted to turnover and are shed quickly to reveal a clearer and fresher skin tone.

In addition, retinol will thicken collagen in the deeper layers of skin, delaying the formation of fine lines and wrinkles.

Vitamin A is best incorporated into any skin care regime slowly. Even though tolerance levels can be high, it is not uncommon for irritation to occur if care is not exercised. Irritation can include dryness, scaling, flakiness, burning/tingling sensation and or itching.

If using Vitamin A, a daily sunscreen of at least SPF30 must also be used.

Vitamin C

Also known as Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin C is a powerhouse ingredient for dark skin. It is an anti oxidant that plays an important role in the production of collagen and helps to protect from the harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays.

Using Vitamin C in your skincare can help to repair damaged skin, brighten and fade any existing spots of hyperpigmentation.

Vitamin D

The sunshine vitamin is essential for strong and healthy bones, but also necessary for the skin. In its Vitamin D3 form, the outcomes of skin conditions like acne and rosacea are improved due to its antimicrobial activity. Insufficient amounts of Vitamin D will cause skin to appear thinner and more fragile. Darker skin tones require even more Vitamin D than Caucasians as melanin prevents the skin from absorbing enough of the necessary sun rays.

Whilst Vitamin D production in the body is triggered by UVB sun rays, you can also up your intake by eating more oily fish, eggs, mushrooms, cereal and dairy produce.