Black Skin 101
Is Black skin really so different to Caucasian skin?
Although there are many similarities and to some extent yes, skin is just skin, Black skin does have some clear physiological differences, which are important to take into account.
Clearly, the most obvious difference is the colour itself and this is all down to the presence of increased melanin in Black skin. Melanin is what gives us all our unique skin colour and research tells us that regardless of skin colour, everyone has roughly the same number of melanocyte cells - the cells which produce melanin in the skin. However, differences are found in the type of melanin pigment and the way it is distributed within the cells. There are two kinds of melanin – eumelanin which has a dark brown pigment and pheomelanin which has a red or yellow tone. Black skin has a higher eumelanin content giving it the darker tone.
In Black skin, the melanocyte cells are also very active, producing higher amounts of melanin and are evenly distributed individually throughout all the layers of skin, whereas in lighter skin, they are grouped together in clusters and are rarely found in the uppermost layers of the skin. Additionally, this increased quantity of melanin gives Black skin some natural sun protection - around the equivalent of 13.4 SPF. This is by no means enough for daily sun protection, so it’s important that people with skin of colour still apply additional sunscreen.
Black skin also struggles to hold onto water and hydration in the skin which can make it feel dry and itchy and appear dull and ashy. This loss of hydration in the skin is called Transepidermal Water Loss or TEWL. This is because Black skin tends to have a lower amount of ceramides which act as a 'glue' between the skin cells to keep the skin plump, hydrated and maintain water levels. To counteract the loss of hydration, Black skin benefits from humectant ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and poly-hydroxy acids such as gluconolactone which help to hold water into the skin and maintain hydration levels. Occlusive moisturisers work well with humectants as they provide a seal and help to hold hydration in. Examples of occlusive ingredients include silicones, oils and waxes.
While Black skin may struggle with hydration, it has collagen in abundance! However, this is a double-edged sword. The collagen in Black skin is much more tightly packed and denser than in Caucasian skin and is also protected by melanin. This means it degenerates at a slower pace so fine lines and wrinkles take longer to form and appear. Ageing on Black skin does show up in other ways though such as increased hyperpigmentation and dark skin tags called Dermatosis Papulosa Nigra.
The abundance of collagen in Black skin can also lead to specific problems with scarring. Hypertrophic and keloid scarring are both more common in Black skin and are caused by an overproduction of collagen in response to an injury. Hypertrophic scarring is found where the skin has undergone trauma or injury and the scar raises, but only in the area of the injury. They can return to a normal flat scar. Keloid scarring is always larger than the original area of the injury and happens when an injury reaches the upper layers of the dermis, triggering the skin to produce collagen. When the skin doesn’t get a signal to stop the collagen production, this overproduction leaves a keloid scar. They are usually hard and shiny and can be uncomfortable depending on where they are on the body. People who are prone to keloid scarring may not be able to have certain treatments such as micro-needling and may be better suited to superficial chemical peels.
So, whilst all skin does have similarities there are important physiological differences in Black skin that should be considered. Remembering to hydrate the skin well, avoid stimulating treatments (in some cases) and use sunscreen effectively will all help to ensure you maintain the best skin health possible.
Words by Dija Ayodele, Aesthetician, Skincare Expert & Founder of Black Skin Directory.
Follow Dija @dija_ayodele