What White (A)estheticians Need To Know About Working On Clients With Darker Skin

The face of our industry is changing. Are you part of that change?

It’s not often that I feel the need to put pen to paper to share my frustrations. I’ve been in the industry going on 23 years now and have been teaching both (a)estheticians and medical (a)estheticians since 2000. I can no longer remain silent…

Yes I understand that the Beauty Industry once upon a time was predominantly white, but that is not the case anymore, nor has it been for many years.

Was she being racist?

Do you want to know what prompted this blog? Well, recently, in one of the many forums I belong to on Facebook, an American Beauty College student asked what the group thought about an incident that had occurred recently where her black friend, who she’d invited to have a treatment in the College Clinic, had been turned away because the Instructor didn’t want to ‘damage’ her skin. She wanted know if she was being racist. I had to re-read the post because I couldn’t believe, in this day and age, that such a situation was actually possible! There was a flurry of responses, both agreeing and disagreeing, so I decided to weigh in. I didn’t think she was being racist but felt that she clearly had no experience with darker skin and didn’t want to make that known.

What surprised me me most though, was that lots of a(estheticians) in the Forum said they’d have done the same thing, because they’d feel equally uncomfortable treating darker skin. That made me hop on immediately, and do a ‘Facebook live’, inviting the Forum members to a webinar where I would provide some tips on the best way to manage hyperpigmentation risks in darker skin types. Well, the response was overwhelming! I had no less than two hundred and fifty people sign up!

Our industry should reflect the changes in society

Beauty Therapy is a global industry, pick any country in the world, and I guarantee you that Beauty Therapy in some form is practised there. In countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France (the list is long…), you’ll find a virtual melting pot of ethnicities. Did you know that for the first time ever, by the year 2050, it’s projected that the white population in the United States will be in the minority? In most Western countries this rise of the non-white races is also reflected. We see it here in Australia too. With mixed racial families, the hues and colours of our clients sometimes makes it really hard to tell what a person’s ethnic mix is.

It’s time the Beauty College curriculum changes to reflect our society. There is currently nothing that teaches about how to prepare and treat darker skin types, and there is a difference. If the differences were taught in Beauty Colleges, it would make for really confident (a)estheticians going into the workforce.

I was formerly a Beauty College Principal, have also taught medical (a)estheticians, and now run the Nutritional Skincare Academy. I always make sure I explain how important identifying these differences is. It is not ok to assume that the same treatments can be done on every single client, or to deny a client a treatment because you’re not confident.

Postgraduate courses


If you weren’t taught about how to work with darker skins, or prevent hyperpigmentation risks, there are some great postgraduate courses that you can sign up to where you will also learn about suitable treatment and product options. 

Dark skin is fragile skin

I once heard an ‘expert’ recommend hydroquinone for the treatment of melasma for a very dark skinned client, clearly assuming that as a ‘bleaching’ agent it would be fine. With dark skin, long term use of hydroquinone can cause the pigment to return but also permanently stain the skin. This is not a common occurrence in caucasian skin so the assumption is commonly made that it is safe for all skins. There are much safer options to choose from.

I have also heard trainers describe needling devices as being ‘colourblind’, and safe for all Fitzpatrick phototypes because there’s no heat created unlike laser devices, with no need to prep the skin prior to treatment. Not true, I’ve seen clients end up with post inflammatory hyperpigmentation numerous times after needling.

I’ve seen with my own eyes, dark skinned clients who’ve been burnt by chemical peels, by the incorrect settings on laser machines, even left hyperpigmented after a microdermabrasion treatment because the (a)esthetician was too aggressive or over-treated the skin.

Like the young lady who had been turned away by the Beauty College Instructor, this leaves non-white clients feeling ‘less than’ and often reluctant to visit a white (a)esthetic practice because of a lack of confidence in the experience and knowledge of the (a)estheticians.

3 assumptions some (a)estheticians make when working with black skin

  • Assume that all skins are the same and treat them as such
  • Don’t include questions in the consult to determine the hyperpigmentation risk.
  • Think that black skin is ‘tough’ skin and treat it that way, resulting in avoidable complications.

Ignorance is no longer an excuse! The world is becoming increasingly litigious, people sue at the drop of a hat. Increase your knowledge and your confidence by ensuring you have ongoing education. Be the (A)esthetician or clinic in your area known for its expertise.

All I could think of, after being turned away by the Instructor, was how the young lady must’ve felt….’crushed’. In this day and age that’s inexcusable.

Chiza Westcarr is the Founder of  the Nutritional Skincare Academy and is both a Dermal Clinician and Nutritionist.

Qualifications: CIDESCO, ITEC (hons), CIBTAC, Bachelor of Health Sciences (Clinical Dermal Therapies), Masters degree in Human Nutrition, Adv. Dip in Nutritional Medicine, Bachelor of Business Studies.

The Nutritional Skincare Academy runs a host of classes and online webinars on skin-related conditions and on nutrition as it impacts skin health. Having been in the industry for 23 years, the Nutrition and Skincare Academy was founded as an answer to the numerous gaps and challenges I saw. There are a variety of courses of varying lengths all designed to empower practising (a)estheticians.

If you are interested in attending one of our courses please click here to request some information.