Seasonal Color Loss Is Real. Do You Have It? Can You Fix It?

What do black people do, exactly, when their melanated glow is lost to winter?

Beauty questions rarely give me pause, but I wasn’t sure what to suggest when a friend showed up to dinner a few weeks ago looking much paler than usual. A passing joke — “Well, damn, Casper!” — was all I had to offer.

We chuckled, lamented her lightness and shrugged, as if to say, “Meh, what can you do?”

I considered the problem later and realized that it’s not culturally resonant for us to tan (outside of a beach vacation) or self-tan. Some black women do both, of course, but it doesn’t leap casually to the mind as a solution (and sunbathing is bad for black skin, too, to be clear). We’re not as likely to consider color as something we need because we just have it!

And of course, colorism has always been and still is a major feature of the black experience. Though many of us reject the notion that proximity to whiteness is preferable, societal racism and colorism (within and outside our community) have undoubtedly shaped our culture as it relates to skin color — and purposely darkening our skin.

We’re obviously not here for any of that in 2019, though. And so in order to not be caught off guard again on how to get a bronzed look, I consulted two experts: Cheryl Burgess, a dermatologist in the Washington, D.C., area who is black and treats many black patients; and Saisha Beecham, a makeup artist whose clients include Logan Browning, Gabby Douglas and Sanaa Lathan.

We found both skin care and makeup fixes for seasonal color loss. (Yes, we’re calling it that.)

Here’s why black skin looks dull in winter

Some of the color change you’re seeing can be attributed to the state of the skin. Ashiness is the outward sign, and dehydration is the offender.

“Not lack of oil,” Dr. Burgess said. “We’re talking about the moisture content of the skin. And when we lose that moisture, our skin looks ashy. Even the lightest black skin can look ashy. It’s something that you just can’t see on white skin, but it’s there.”

Dehydration and dryness are different. Dry skin naturally underproduces oil. Dehydrated skin lacks water and is more common in winter because the air is arid — indoors and outside. In those conditions, water in the skin evaporates easily, leaving it parched (and ashy).

In addition to the ashiness, dehydrated skin may feel tight or more sensitive and itchy than usual.

Correct ashiness with hydration

Humectants, like hyaluronic acid, draw water to the skin and trap it there. They appear in liquid formulas, like essences, and in lotions and creams that are emollient. “Look at the formula in combination with the type of skin you have,” Dr. Burgess said.

An oily or acne-prone skin type should start with a less emollient hydrating formula, like Base Butter Radiate Face Jelly ($21.50), a lightweight gel that soaks in fast so you can layer on sunscreen or makeup. It gets its humectant power from an organic aloe vera base and vegetable glycerin. Apply it right after cleansing.

If your skin is very dehydrated (or dry), you may also need to upgrade from your basic moisturizer. Epara, a line designed by its Nigerian founder, Ozohu Adoh, treats dehydration and hyperpigmentation, two issues commonly found in black skin.

Epara Moisturizing Face Cream (about $139) contains humectants and emollients that create long-lasting hydration and improve barrier function over time (which helps your skin hold in the hydration it has).

And then there’s the lack of sun

We tan without trying during the warmer months because of increased sun exposure: Skin-darkening UV rays are stronger during the summer, and we’re typically outside more. So when you look in the mirror in February and see a paler face staring back, you’re actually seeing your complexion without a tan you may not have known you had.

Self-tanner delivers that extra-melanated look you love, and it lasts a few days — a solid fix for monthslong seasonal color loss.

“Now, most self-tanners work well on black skin,” Dr. Burgess said. “If you’d asked me that 10 years ago, I would have had a different answer. The tanning agent attaches to the outer layer of the skin, the keratin, and darkens the skin tone.”

First, you’ll want to exfoliate your face to makes sure the self-tanner goes on evenly. Flaky or extra-dry spots will absorb excess tanner and look unnatural. Use a gentle, no-scrub mask, like Beija-Flor Naturals Pink Coconut Brightening Mask ($18). It’s a powdery mix of pink clay, honey — a humectant — and coconut that hydrates while it exfoliates. Wait a few minutes until your skin is dry.

Tan-Luxe the Face, in medium to dark ($52), is the right intensity for light to medium complexions. Just add a drop or two to your moisturizer for your initial application and apply to your face and neck. A subtle tan will develop over the next few hours.

Fake Bake Flawless Darker ($32) is a cult favorite self-tanner for dark complexions. The liquid tanner has a chocolate brown tint, absorbs quickly and gradually bronzes the skin.

Glow up with bronzer and face oil

Ms. Beecham, the makeup artist, has created many a noteworthy bronzed complexion. She has done Nia Long’s makeup for a decade and groomed Chadwick Boseman for the Golden Globes. She recommends using a winter foundation shade or tinted moisturizer that suits your lighter winter complexion and warming it up with bronzer.

For her own brown skin, she uses Flesh Touch Flesh Highlighting Balm in Squeeze ($18), which has a subtle shimmer. “It looks really beautiful on us,” Ms. Beecham said. “Sometimes I don’t feel like wearing foundation, and I’ll just apply it over my cheeks and around the perimeter of my face and blend it in. When I do that, I always get so many compliments.”

Even though you’re covering a lot of area, use a light touch. You can always layer on more for a dramatically tanned look.

For light complexions, Fenty Beauty Shimmer Skinstick in Rum ($25) has the right warm tone and shade of bronze. Danessa Myricks Illuminating Veil in Queen ($22) warms up dark skin perfectly and has a beautiful, natural sheen finish.

Ms. Beecham swears by Juara Radiance Vitality Oil ($75), a blend of 12 different plant oils and extracts. “It brings life back to your skin, naturally,” she said.

“You know what would be perfect? Use that oil and then just put a bronzer around the perimeter of the face.”

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