Acne is a very common issue for people of Asian descent. Unfortunately, few studies have been performed specifically on people with Asian skin.
Very few studies have looked at the prevalence of acne in Asian people compared to people of other ethnicities. The results of these studies have been mixed. While one study concluded that acne is less common in Asian skin compared with Caucasian or African-American skin, another study found that it all depends on the type of acne.1-4
According to an article in the British Journal of Dermatology, "There are very few studies on the prevalence of acne vulgaris among Asian teenagers."1 However, there is some evidence that Asian children and adolescents may suffer with acne less than other ethnicities.2-3
A study published in 2012 in the journal Pediatric Dermatology examined 31,153 children and adolescents up to 17 years of age in the United States and showed that Asian children and adolescents had less acne than their Caucasian or African American counterparts.3
Another study, published in 2011 in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, examined 2,895 women of various ethnicities in the United States. Overall incidence of acne in Asian women was slightly lower compared to African American or Hispanic women, but slightly higher compared to Caucasians and Indians. When the researchers separated out types of acne, Asian women had the lowest amount of “comedonal” acne, which refers to non-inflammatory blackheads and whiteheads, than any other ethnicity. However, they had the highest amount of inflammatory acne, which refers to red pimples, sometimes with a white or yellow center. Asian women had more of a milder form of acne, called physiologic acne, than Indian women, but less physiologic acne than other ethnicities.4
What Is Different about Asian skin?
Several features of Asian skin make it different from skin of other ethnicities and pose special challenges in treating acne. A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (see table below) in 2002 reported that Asian people had the least incidence of cystic lesions, the most severe type of acne lesion. The cohort of Asian people was small, however, so this report should be viewed as preliminary.5
People with Asian skin tend to have a bigger issue with marks left behind after acne lesions heal.6-9These marks, scientifically referred to as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, can be stubborn, staying on the skin for a longer time in people with Asian skin and can be challenging to treat. See the hyperpigmentation page for more on these marks and treatment options. In addition to hyperpigmentation, people with Asian skin have a somewhat higher incidence of raised (keloid) scarring from acne. Next, Asians may respond differently to hormone therapy, but again, research is limited in this area.10Lastly, Asian skin is thought to be thinner than other skin types, making it more sensitive, as outlined in this 2016 article in the Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery:
How to Treat Acne in Asian Skin
Acne develops in the same way regardless of skin color, and acne is treated in the same way in people of every ethnicity. Acne can be effectively treated with topical medications, particularly with a properly applied benzoyl peroxide regimen. Doctors sometimes prescribe the oral medication Accutane (isotretinoin) to people with severe, widespread, and scarring acne as well.11-14Because of the severe side effects of Accutane, including birth defects that Accutane can cause, authorities in Japan have banned its use in that country.
In 2014, a group of leading dermatology experts from six Asian countries (SASA) assessed the differences between Asian and Caucasian skin and formulated guidelines for treating acne specific for Asian skin. Lending further credibility to the argument that all acne is treated similarly no matter the ethnicity, the guidelines for Asian skin bear a striking resemblance to those for any other ethnicity, with the possible exception noted that due to cultural norms, oral contraceptives may not be as acceptable to people of African descent.15
The Bottom Line
Prevention is key. Get yourself completely cleared up so you are actively preventing future acne lesions, hyperpigmentation, and scarring. Then, if you so desire, you may try one of the various methods to treat hyperpigmentation.