Common Asian Skin Conditions and Treatments

November 22, 2015

If you’re of Asian descent, you have genetic influences from a range of countries including China, Japan and the Far East as well as India, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Asian skin tones range from very light, pale skin to light or dark brown skin. While the different countries’ climate and characteristics may affect your skin health, there are some skin conditions that are common to all men and women of Asian descent.

“My goal is to provide personalized, comprehensive medical and surgical dermatology for people of all ages and ethnicities here in our new Central Texas home.”
- Weilan Johnson, MD, Dermatology Associates of Central Texas


Because Asian countries are generally warm in climate, Asian skin naturally produces more oil. This, in turn, leaves individuals of Asian descent more vulnerable than Caucasians to acne outbreaks. In most cases, acne outbreaks for Asians will be in the form of keloids, or hardened bumps and reddening. Unfortunately, these types of acne growths are more likely to lead to permanent scarring if they are not treated quickly and thoroughly.

Asian skin has an increased amount of melanin, and the cells that make melanin tend to be more sensitive to any type of inflammation or injury. Because Asian skin becomes more inflamed with deeper acne pustules and papules, patients are often left with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), small dark spots or large patches that remain on the skin after a skin injury (such as a burn, cut, scratch or bruise) or inflammation. Virtually any type of rash, as well as acne can result in this disorder.

Medications to clear acne can be recommended, many of which are over-the-counter products. These products can help reduce the incidence of PIH. Another product that is very effective and often overlooked in protecting Asian skin from uneven skin tone is sunscreen.

Sun protection is important for all skin types and helps prevent signs of aging, including preserving skin tone and helping minimize pigmentation problems from acne. Minimizing intense sun exposure, wearing sun-protective clothing and wide-brimmed hats, along with applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF 30 or 50 is recommended.

Exfoliation can be helpful too, in removing the surface skin cells and improving both acne and hyperpigmentation. Once acne is under control, the second goal is to address the resulting pigmentation problems. Chemical peels and cosmeceuticals can be helpful. However, these are procedures that should be performed only by a board-certified dermatologist.

Hyperpigmentation and Hypopigmentation

Wrinkling is the primary visual side effect that shows up on the skin of men and women. Because Asians have much higher natural hydration levels than Caucasians or Africans, rather than wrinkling, the primary age-related skin condition you may face is dark spots. Spots of hyperpigmentations, freckles and general unevenness of skin tone can be quite prominent against the usually warm, smooth Asian skin, making these skin abnormalities stand out more than they would in other individuals.

Melanin is the pigment or chemical that contributes to your natural skin color. Skin disorders that involve too much melanin (hyperpigmentation) darken the skin, while those involving too little melanin (hypopigmentation) lighten the skin.

Common skin disorders that affect many South Asians and involve too much pigment include melasma and postinflammatory pigmentation.

Melasma involves tan or brown patches primarily over the face. This condition can be seen in pregnancy, but it is also common in South Asians and other demographics with darker skin. Sun exposure and skin irritation can worsen melasma, which usually appears mostly on the face.

Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) results in small dark spots or large patches that remain on the skin after a skin injury (such as a burn, cut, scratch or bruise) or inflammation. Virtually any type of rash or even acne can result in this disorder. Unlike melasma, PIH tends to heal more quickly and can occur anywhere on the body, while melasma usually appears on the face. Keep in mind that inflammation and injury to the skin can cause hypopigmentation as well.

Common Hypopigmented Skin Disorders

Vitiligo is equally common in all races, but is more prominent in South Asians due to the contrast of light patches on darker skin. Vitiligo is a condition in which your immune system attacks your skin pigment cells, resulting in smooth, white patches that can occur on the skin and mucous membranes, such as the lips or genitals. Although vitiligo may exist alone, it can also be associated with other medical conditions that involve your immune system such as diabetes, thyroid disease, Addison's disease (disease of the adrenal gland) and pernicious anemia (vitamin B12 deficiency).

Apart from vitiligo, there are skin conditions, such as tinea versicolor and pityriasis alba which can result in hypopigmentation. Inflammation or injury to the skin can cause either hypopigmentation or hyperpigmentation.

The first step is to confirm a diagnosis of a skin disorder to first eliminate the underlying cause of the pigmentation (acne, eczema, etc.) before treating the excess pigmentation. Vitiligo can be difficult to cure, but the symptoms can be managed with treatment from your board-certified dermatologist.

Improving Skin Health

For optimum skin health, it’s recommended to make a conscious choice to eat healthy, fresh vegetables, fish and fruits, avoiding fast foods and snacks. Taking a holistic approach to beauty and healthy skin, Asian Americans represent the kind of beauty and good health that starts from the inside out.

However, if you find yourself with a worrisome skin condition or one that does not improve, don’t delay in seeing a board-certified dermatologist. Make an appointment right away. They are experts who fully understand the best treatments and procedures for all skin care types and conditions.

Topics: acne, Asian, hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, melasma, postinflammatory hyperpigmentation, Skin Conditions, skin treatments, vitiligo

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