First, skin is skin. Yes, we have more melanin, but other than that, the skin of people of color is the same as the skin of other people. However, certain characteristics are more common among people with melanin rich skin, which make our skin care needs unique. The issues that must be addressed for melanin-rich skin include the following:
One key characteristic of darker skin is our high level of melanin. Melanin protects us from sun damage, so we age differently and have fewer issues with wrinkles. However, because we are melanin-rich, age on our skin shows differently with dark marks and hyperpigmentation. Regarding sensitivity, people of color are twice as likely to have sensitive skin, which means our skincare products need to be clean with limited additives – especially the products we use every day. Having sensitive skin also means our anti-aging products should not be too harsh as they can cause reactions, and sometimes worsen hyperpigmentation. When considering skin types, people of color are more likely to have oily skin – even as adults. This means we are often dealing with acne and anti-aging at the same time. It also means that anti-aging products for our skin should not contain heavy emollients that clog our pores. By understanding these differences and having knowledge of what your skin requires, you can make decisions to create a skincare routine that works with, not against, your skin.
Melanin and Aging
The most obvious feature of deeper skin tones is its melanin content, which determines our color. Everyone has some melanin, and as it becomes more concentrated in your skin, you appear darker. The importance of melanin for our skin is its ability to protect skin from the damaging effects of the sun.
Daily sunscreen use is necessary for everyone regardless of their color, but people with beautifully melanated skin tones are more resistant to skin damage caused by the sun’s rays. The protection from melanin in your skin determines how you age. People with lighter skin tones tend to develop fine lines and wrinkles – and do so at a young age. However, people with darker skin tones age differently. We are less prone to wrinkling, but instead experience dark marks, discoloration, and hyperpigmentation. Much of this age related discoloration, like wrinkling, is caused by accumulated sun damage.
In short, the level of melanin in your skin determines how it shows signs of aging – if your skin is a richer, darker tone your skincare routine should focus on treating discolorations and include renewed efforts to protect your skin against the sun.
People of color are more likely to say they have sensitive skin. This is supported by research which shows that darker skin contains more components associated with allergic reactions. As a result, people of color are more likely to have reactions to skincare products, especially those with perfumes, artificial dyes and other chemicals. Over time, using products that irritate your skin can lead to more issues with hyperpigmentation. If you have sensitive skin, look for products with clean and simple ingredients that gently cleanse, treat and moisturize your skin without stripping or irritation. If you do not think you have sensitive skin, it may still be worth treating your skin as if it were sensitive and avoid products that cause irritation to keep your skin in its most healthy state.
Another benefit to having darker skin is we tend to produce more oil, or sebum. This helps keep skin moisturized and fights against wrinkles. However, it also means we are more likely to have acne—even into adulthood. Treatments for acne are available from dermatologists, and from over the counter products. However, we must pay special attention to making sure the treatments and the acne lesions do not lead to dark marks or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. When we experience acne as adults, we may be tempted to use products to strip the oil from our skin, but that is also a time when we need to focus on maintaining moisture in our skin and using anti-aging products.
The good news is when skin is well hydrated, it can produce less sebum. By applying the concept of “working with your skin, not against it” you can use oils that do not clog your pores to make sure your skin is well moisturized. This can actually cause your skin to produce less oil because you are giving it what it needs and are making sure it remains well moisturized.
A common challenge faced by people with darker skin is hyperpigmentation. One type of dark mark is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which occurs when the skin reacts to an injury like acne, a cut or a burn, and these marks can take several months to fade.
Another common cause of dark marks is a condition called melasma. These are dark patches on the face that are more common among people with darker skin tones—especially women. It isn’t totally clear what causes melasma, but it is thought that sensitivity to hormones plays a role as this is common among women who are pregnant or using birth control pills. As we have already discussed, sun damage can also cause hyperpigmentation as we age. Products that address hyperpigmentation should help with skin renewal and turnover. When combined with antioxidants to brighten the skin and ingredients to reduce excess melanin production, you will find that they will be effective for giving you an even skin tone.
While all skin is the same, the fact is melanin-rich skin has unique characteristics that require a specific approach to skincare. With an understanding of your skin's needs, you can select the best products and develop a routine that will reward you with a beautiful, glowing complexion.
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