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Sensational Skin: The Best Care for Every Skin Tone

The best care for your complexion doesn't have to involve pricey creams and facials. Check out these fresh, effective skincare solutions, tailored to your skin tone.

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woman with fair skin
Fernando Milani
Peter Ardito
Fernando Milani
Peter Ardito
Fernando Milani
Peter Ardito
Fernando Milani
Peter Ardito
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Fair Skin

The expert: Ellen Marmur, MD, associate professor at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City

Complexion challenge: Fine lines

Pale skin has less melanin, a pigment that protects against UV radiation, than dark skin does. People with light complexions are vulnerable to the sun's aging effects because UV rays dissolve collagen, the tissue that prevents wrinkles from forming, Dr. Marmur says.

Skin solution: Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen year-round. Every. Single. Day. Use a moisturizer with SPF, and if you're going to be outside for more than a half hour, layer on another sunscreen. To help prevent wrinkles, boost your skin's collagen by dabbing on a retinol treatment before bed. A couple of times a week, use pads that contain glycolic acid to exfoliate.

Complexion challenge: Skin cancer

Fair skin is more susceptible to DNA damage caused by UV rays, which can lead to skin cancer. In fact, Caucasians are 22 times more likely to develop melanoma in any given year than African Americans.

Skin solution: "Once a month, scan your body from head to toe and front to back for odd-looking or changing moles," says Dr. Marmur, who is a skin cancer survivor. If a spot alters in size, color, or shape, see a derm right away.

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Our Product Picks for Fair Skin

Neutrogena Anti-Wrinkle Deep Wrinkle Filler ($18.99, drugstores)

Clarins UV Plus HP SPF 40 Day Screen ($38,

First Aid Beauty Fab Facial Radiance Pads ($28 for 60 pads,

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Olive Skin

The expert: Jessica Wu, MD, a dermatologist in Los Angeles and author of Feed Your Face

Complexion challenge: Sensitivity

Olive tones have fewer wrinkles, but they can become irritated more easily. "Since pigment cells are active, olive skin can react strongly to inflammation and produce a stain," Dr. Wu explains.

Skin solution: Stick to a gentle facial cleanser and use a mild moisturizer. Opt for a sunblock that has zinc oxide, which is less likely to aggravate your complexion. If past reactions have left you blotchy, gradually even things out by applying a daily treatment containing soy.

Complexion challenge: Eczema

Your skin is prone to these itchy patches, especially during the cold winter months. Even worse, once they clear up, they may leave behind spots that can take months to fade. "This is especially tricky on the body; the skin below the neck is thicker, so when patches occur, the pigment sinks deeper and is harder to treat," Dr. Wu says.

Skin solution: Dr. Wu uses Dove Sensitive Skin Body Wash with NutriumMoisture ($4.49, drugstores) and Vaseline Cocoa Butter Gel Body Oil ($3.99, drugstores), a combination that helps prevent flare-ups.

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Our Product Picks for Olive Skin

Sephora Supreme Cleansing Foam ($15, Sephora stores)

Coola Mineral Face SPF 30 Cucumber Matte Sunblock ($36,

Fresh Soy Face Serum ($45,

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Medium Skin

The expert: Hema Sundaram, MD, a Washington, D.C.-area dermatologist and laser specialist

Complexion challenge: Hyper-pigmentation

You're susceptible to dark patches that result from even the slightest skin injury. "Any inflammation can kick-start melanin production in your tone, leading to hyperpigmentation," Dr. Sundaram says.

Skin solution: Treat splotches by applying a bleaching cream with hydroquinone, niacinamide, or soy. Sunlight makes the condition more visible, so slather on a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily. Try a tinted moisturizer with SPF 30 that has light-diffusing particles to hide discolorations.

Complexion challenge: Acne

"Medium tones tend to have oilier skin, which is more acne prone," Dr. Sundaram says. "Hair-removal methods, such as tweezing, threading, and waxing, cause even more breakouts, because they traumatize your hair follicles, worsening the growth of pimple-causing bacteria."

Skin solution: Resist the urge to use superpowered cleansers and astringents. They'll overdry skin, prompting it to produce more oil. Instead, Dr. Sundaram suggests using a spot treatment with salicylic acid or pore-unclogging tea tree oil daily.

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Our Product Picks for Medium Skin

Happy Me Overnight Pimple Eliminator ($8.99, drugstores)

Black Opal Advanced Dual Complex Fade Gel (15.95, drugstores)

Aveeno Positively Radiant Tinted Moisturizer with SPF 30 in Medium ($16.59, drugstores)

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Dark Skin

The expert: Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD, a dermatologist in Miami and founder of Specific Beauty

Complexion challenge: Dark spots

You probably dread pimples more than your pale friends do. "When someone with dark skin has a blemish, it turns into a spot that lasts for four months on average," Dr. Woolery-Lloyd says.

Skin solution: Diminish acne marks with a daily fading treatment with kojic acid. Prevent new ones from forming by using a broad-spectrum sunscreen.

Complexion challenge: Melasma

Every tone is susceptible to melasma, a condition in which patches of skin grow darker than the rest of the face. But because dark skin has the most melanin, the problem can be more pronounced.

Skin solution: "Melasma is a genetic, chronic, and often hormonal condition; there's no cure," Dr. Woolery-Lloyd says. A good sunscreen routine is crucial, because UV rays can darken areas even more. A recent study found that 30 percent of African Americans never use sun protection. Everyone faces the risk of skin cancer, so wearing SPF is a must. Slather a broad-spectrum product all over daily, and if you run outdoors, use a waxy SPF stick, which is less likely to slide off when you sweat, on your upper lip.

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Our Product Picks for Dark Skin

SkinCeuticals Pigment Regulator ($85,

L'Oreal Paris Youth Code SPF 30 Day Lotion ($24.99, drugstores)

Hawaiian Tropic Sensitive Skin Stick SPF 50 ($4.99, drugstores)

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, February 2011.

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