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"Black don't crack" is the ideal that black people just don't have bad skin. We're supposed to age gracefully, with minimal effort. A little shea butter here, cocoa butter there, and voila! — perfect, radiant, pecan skin like the I-absolutely-can't-believe-she's-91 Cicely Tyson.
Even amid my worst bouts of blemishes, scarring, and unevenness, I assumed that my skin will eventually snap back. No matter how many articles I wrote warning readers of the dangers of sun exposure, singing the benefits of one oil over the next, or explaining the comedogenic scale, I did so thinking that my enthusiasm for anti-aging products was a choice, not a necessity, because I had black-girl magic on my side.
This hopeful attitude was my skin's gift and curse, a safe place and an excuse. Acne scars? Eh, they'll pass. Undereye darkness? No big deal, I was bound to age well. I had no doubt that I'd turn a corner and have smooth, even skin like the other members of my family. They'd coddled me into thinking that obsessing over every little imperfection was unnecessary, even frivolous.
Many nights I'd call my mom with an hour-long complaint about a fine line, suspicious freckle, or reckless whitehead. But no matter how I presented these crises, she wouldn't bite. She'd stick to her signature reply: "You're the only one who notices that. Why pick yourself apart?" My skin had been steadily worsening since high school but I was just being "fussy." Her kind words were just enough to satisfy me until I found the next catastrophe.
Even amid my worst bouts of blemishes, scarring, and unevenness, I assumed that my skin will eventually snap back.
My family doesn't really embrace the world of fancy shmancy skincare, and I didn't either, until I moved to Los Angeles, where skincare is god. Stem-cell treatments and LED facials aren't reserved for the Real Housewives. Even the brokest aspiring actor makes room in his budget for beautiful skin.
But at home, my murmurs about vampire facials and fillers were granted about as much respect as my occasional pescetarianism. "Girl, you don't need all that," was the family consensus. Any chit-chat about microdermabrasions and Korean skincare masks was labeled "sooo Hollywood." Everyone was tired of hearing about my weekly apple cider vinegar and aztec clay masks, biweekly vitamin C brightening masks, daily DIY toners, fade creams, and various oil concoctions. Relying on "black don't crack" does nothing to appease my analytic personality or my troubled skin, but they just didn't get it.
See, I'm sort of the pimple-ridden black sheep of my family. My mom sleeps in full makeup with no repercussions, my brother's skin is even and clear, and my dad has the most blemish-free complexion I've ever seen. No bumps, no scars. The man glows. I've never heard my grandmother or aunts chat about the latest masks or cleansers, the pros and cons of facial steaming, or whether they prefer salicylic acid to benzoyl peroxide. Undereye creping and crows feet, or for that matter, aging concerns of any kind, have never been the topic of discussion at the dinner table.
One night I watched my mom get ready for bed. She splashed a bit of water on her face and that was it. I was astounded. Where were the other 13 steps of her nighttime routine? No micellar water? No ampoule? No serums, argan oil, or undereye treatments? It seemed so unfair.
Meanwhile, during the day, I need a boatload of full-coverage products to get any kind of evenness. See, I spent years battling adult acne and hyperpigmentation on all fronts and losing. I tried rotating all manner of products in an attempt to clear my acne scars and panda bear eyes. I changed my laundry detergent to fight breakouts, replaced my pillow cases nightly, and tested every regimen I could get my hands on. When nothing worked, I gave up completely on clear skin. Instead, full-coverage foundation would become my best friend.
When makeup becomes part of the daily routine, as much as you love it, you start to resent it.
Giving up on your skin is a particular kind of defeat: It acknowledges that the face you show the world will be a made-up one. "I guess I'll just be a person who wears makeup everyday," I concluded. No quick runs to the market, or impromptu selfies. Makeup becomes part of the daily routine and as much as you love it, you start to resent it.
One afternoon, I was having dinner with my family in Oakland and planned to drive to Los Angeles straight from the restaurant. I was not about to do a six-hour drive wearing primer, foundation, concealer, and powder; it's a guaranteed breakout. The only solution was to go to dinner without any makeup.
My family hadn't seen me without makeup in years and the shock was written on all their faces. No one said anything, but the silence was deafening. (If ever you want to quiet down a dinner party of 18, show off your crater face.) Message received, guys. My face looked bad and it was time to give up the idea that the Magic would save me.
What's funny is that baring my skin for the first time actually opened the door for some real talk about skin and overall health. When I threw out the idea of splurging on a fancy dermatologist — bracing myself for a few eyerolls — they totally supported me. And not in the "if that's what makes you happy" way. In the "yeah girl, handle your business," way.
So I started hunting for the black female doctor of my dreams. In my mind if she told me I had a skin problem, it had to be for real. In the past I've tried to slide a skin question into a physical or check-up and have gotten the comment, "That's common with African Americans" in place of a real diagnosis.
One doctor even refused to remove my skin tags because according to him, "black people tend to keloid." Keloids are large growths on the skin from excess scar tissue and while they are common among African Americans, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was being dismissed. I had never had a keloid scar in my life and they're uncommon in my family, but he wouldn't perform the procedure. (After a bit of prodding, he admitted he was just too afraid.)
I'd like to think that my persistent search for clear skin is a reflection of the real black-girl magic — resilience.
I was tired of being placated, of fielding excuses: I wanted results. I wanted someone who could take into account common skin issues among African Americans and had the firsthand experience to tell me what I could do about them. I wanted someone who knew what products to prescribe, would take extra care not to alter my skin tone, and had worked a lot with women of color. No doubt qualified dermatologists are a dime a dozen in L.A., but for some reason I needed to hear from another black woman why my black was cracking.
I was referred to Dr. Susan Evans by a friend. She's got TV appearances under her belt and an impressive list of celebrity clientele, but my friend's flawless mahogany skin was the real selling point. Her office is in Beverly Hills next to the Anastasia Beverly Hills flagship, a short walk from Rodeo Drive, and just a few blocks from Lisa Vanderpump's restaurant Villa Blanca. I was a long way from the Magic, if you get my drift.
My appointment couldn't have gone better. Within seconds of viewing my skin, she could tell my background. Oddly enough, I had one skincare concern from every part of my racial makeup: eczema (common among African Americans,) raised moles (common among Native Americans,) and scarring (an issue for both Hispanics and African Americans.) "Maybe you have too much of the Magic," was my mother's way of adding a silver lining to the situation.
Dr. Evans prescribed a day cream, eye cream, and night brightener, and suggested I consider a light chemical peel for the areas with deeper scars. I even inquired about dark patches on my body that I thought came with the territory of being brown-skinned. I was relieved to hear that even though all my issues were common among African Americans, they can also be treated. They didn't have to be accepted. They didn't have to be part of being black.
I left with the night brightener and an under-eye cream. (Damned budget.) It's been four weeks since my appointment and my skin is more radiant, I'm down to a few spots only, and my under-eye pigmentation has almost completely faded. I'd like to think that my persistent search for clear skin is a reflection of the real black-girl magic — resilience (which has yet to crack, by the way). Oh, and I'm happy to report that I'm warming my family up for my next projects: veganism and Botox.
Jascmeen Bush is a fashion writer living in Los Angeles.