Our ethnic origins influence the structure and appearance of our skin. When used in the context of skin, the term ethnicity also refers to the different environmental and cultural factors that impact on skin health and appearance. How we treat and care for skin and the products that we use should reflect these differences.
African skin comprises a large portion of the world population. Therefore, it is important to understand the unique structural and functional differences among ethnicities to adequately treat the skin imbalances and signs of aging.
Characteristics of African Skin:
The most significant reported imbalances of African skin are pigmentation, oil production, barrier function and how the skin ages.
Oil glands in African skin is larger and more numerous. They may open directly onto the skin’s surface and their secretion is richer in fats. Therefore, the skin has a shiny appearance and is velvet to the touch. The larger the oil glands, the greater the oil production. As such, many people with darker skin have oily and acne prone skin.
African skin and darker skin tones have the same number of melanocytes (cells that produce pigment) present but contain more melanosomes (cells that store pigment) and they are four times larger. The benefits of melanin-rich skin are plentiful, such as natural protection against the visible signs of UV damage and premature aging. Age spots are more visible on Caucasian and Asian skin than on darker skin types, but darker skins are prone to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (e.g., post acne scarring).
People of African descent are renowned for having skin that does not appear to age. Darker skins are less prone to develop symptoms of skin aging because the skin’s elastic fibres are less degraded over time and collagen fibres are more numerous and denser. As a result, it is considered that a darker skin will take 10 more years to age than a Caucasian skin.
Individuals with darker skin are overall thought to have firmer and smoother skin than individuals with lighter skin of the same age; however, aging does occur in regard to mottled pigmentation, fine lines, soft tissue jowling and skin laxity due to the weight and thickness of African skin.
The uppermost layer of your skin, your skin barrier is your first line of defence against bacteria and environmental stressors like harmful UV rays, pollution, and toxins. When weakened, it is easier for irritants to penetrate your skin. Your skin also becomes more prone to inflammation and sensitivity.
The skin barrier in darker skin has been shown to be stronger when exposed to external stressors. Darker skin also has the highest oil content of all ethnicities but has the lowest ceramide levels. Ceramides are an important component of the skin for protection. They play an important role in the barrier function of the skin and hydration. If the ceramides in the skin are reduced, more water can evaporate from the skin. Thus, darker skin is more prone to trans-epidermal water loss because of their low ceramide levels.
There are noticeable differences between darker and lighter skins in relation to how they react to the sun, pigmentation disorders, irritation, and inflammation. Treatment for African skin should complement these changes according to the client’s skin type and condition.