GLAMOUR columnist Dija Ayodele’s revolutionary skincare guide for women of colour is essential reading for all
There are two different types of melanin pigment: eumelanin – a dark brown pigment, and pheomelanin – a red or yellow tint. Black people and those with darker skin tones have more eumelanin, hence our different shades of brown skin colour.
The key factor when it comes to skin colour is the size and the amount of melanocytes and melanosomes. Some studies have shown that Black skin produces twice as much melanin as white skin. Together, with the more even distribution of melanin in Black skin, it gives some protection from premature ageing caused by UV radiation from the sun. On average, research points to Black skin having an approximate natural sun protection factor (SPF) of 13.4. White skin sits somewhere around 3.3.
But before you run amok with no sunscreen, remember that the increased melanin levels in Black skin also make it more vulnerable to discolouration, be it loss of colour (hypopigmentation) or patchy,uneven deposits of colour (hyperpigmentation).
Another point of difference between Black and white skin is the rate at which water is lost through the skin. One of the functions of the skin is to provide a barrier against water loss and to help the skin stay hydrated. Anything that disrupts the skin’s delicate barrier can cause increased water loss, which we in the business refer to as TEWL: ‘transepidermal water loss’. A significant number of studies show that whilst Black skin has on average a higher sebum content and a more compact stratum corneum than white skin, it also has lower ceramide levels (fatty acids that waterproof the skin), so it is prone to increased water loss. This contributes to increased dryness of the skin and the increased likelihood of us experiencing dry, flaky and ashy skin conditions. Ever get that dry, itchy feeling on your pins after removing your tights? That is TEWL in action.
They say too much of a good thing isn’t good for you, and that can be the case with collagen. Black skin is more prone to what’s known as ‘hypertrophic’ and ‘keloid’ scarring, both caused by the overproduction of collagen after injury.
A keloid scar forms when an injury penetrates the epidermis through to the upper portion of the dermis, stimulating collagen production. If the collagen doesn’t receive a signal to stop regenerating, it continues to be produced at a higher rate and this accumulates as keloid scar tissue into the surrounding skin. Some people can be so prone that even a pimple can cause a keloid scar and they have to be especially vigilant about treatments and products that work on the basis of controlled injury (e.g.micro-needling) to the skin as it is difficult to predict how their skin will react.
Differences in collagen
The statement ‘Black don’t crack’ is often used as a compliment because Black women tend to have a later onset of fine lines and wrinkles compared to white women of a comparable age. There is a reason for this and it’s all to do with collagen and the effect of UVA rays on the skin.
Black skin has thicker, tighter, and smaller collagen fibres, formed into bundles, and melanin acts like an overcoat protecting these bundles from the damage that UV causes when it penetrates the skin. So they stay intact for longer, firmly propping up skin. In comparison, collagen in white skin is much more susceptible to UV damage due to the lack of readily available protective melanin.
The collagen construction in white skin is under much more stress and strain from extrinsic ageing factors because it is not as robust. Whilst skin may be ‘just skin,’ understanding the differences between Black and white skin is crucial in knowing how best to look after yours.
Black Skin: The Definitive Skincare Guide is published by HQ, £20, available now at Waterstones