The skin is the biggest organ of the body and it plays many important roles. The skin helps regulate body temperature, keeps out foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria, and it is critical to our sense of touch. While the functions of the skin are the same for everyone, it does vary from person to person cosmetically. Everybody has the same skin, but skin tone and color are not the same. When you look around at the many people in your surroundings, you will see a wide variety of skin tones, colors, and shades. Human beings are depicted by their wide range of skin types, ranging from very light skin to very dark.(1, 2)
While our skin type, color, and tone are affected and determined by our genetics and the amount of the pigment melanin, the way you take care of your skin also depends on your skin tone, color, and other differentiating factors. It may surprise you to learn that your skin tone even affects how quickly you will develop sunspots and wrinkles. It also affects who is more prone to hyperpigmentation, which is darkened spots on the skin.(3, 4)
Skin tone does not only depend on your race, as even people from the same race can have widely different skin tones. Ethnicity and race are not usually the correct reflection of a person’s skin tone. Most experts and dermatologists refer to different skin types by giving them numbers from 1 to 6, with skin type 1 being the palest that burns easily and never tans. The mid-tones include 3 to 4, which tan easily, are light brown, and rarely suffer from sunburn. This mid-range of skin type is sometimes known as Fitzpatrick skin typing after the doctor who developed it. The Fitzpatrick skin typing system looks at how much pigmentation is there in someone’s skin and how their skin responds to being exposed to the sun.(5, 6, 7)
With so many differences in skin types and skin tones, it is natural that skincare also varies. Let us look at how your skincare should vary depending on your skin tone.
How Skin Care Varies With Skin Tone?
Skin Tone and Sun Damage
Doctors refer to sun damage as photoaging, which means damage caused to the skin including sunspots and wrinkles that happen due to exposure to the sun. This usually happens a lot faster in people who have lighter skin tones. Such people are also more prone to skin cancers.
On the other hand, people with darker skin tones usually have delayed onset of any signs of photoaging. Similarly, they also have a lower risk of skin cancer. However, this does not mean that they don’t suffer sun damage. It is recommended that no matter your skin tone, you must wear sun protection because even if you are darker skinned, your skin is still getting damaged by the sun. Remember that a lower risk of skin cancer does not mean that there is zero risk. After all, all skin types can get skin cancer.
It is a common myth that people who have darker skin cannot get skin cancer. Such misconceptions can prove to be dangerous as this can lead to a misdiagnosis or delay the diagnosis. Skin cancer does occur in darker-skinned people as well, though what is unfortunate is that since it is so rarely discussed that the cancer gets diagnosed at a much later stage by when it has already progressed quite a bit.
In fact, in people with darker skin tones, it is possible for cancer to develop in places where the skin does not usually get exposed to the sun, including the bottoms of the hands and feet.
When it comes to skincare to protect against sun damage, the universal truth is that all skin tones must apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 or above every day. You should even apply sunscreen on a rainy or cloudy day. This will help prevent skin cancer and also slow down photoaging.
Sun protection is always recommended for all skin tones because you may think that you are not experiencing skin burns but in reality, your skin is still getting damaged. People with lighter skin tones who remain outdoors for long periods of time should ideally use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 60, especially if they are swimming, getting wet, sweating, or have an active schedule. Physical blocker sunscreens that contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide are the best ones to get as they offer maximum protection. However, when it comes to darker skin tones, these products are not that effective and neither are they cosmetically appealing. This is because these products can often build a white film on the skin, which is more visible in people with darker skin tones.(8, 9, 10)
For darker skin tones, it is better to use tinted sunscreens that match their skin tone. Tinted sunscreens also offer other benefits, including protecting against a bit of the longer wavelengths of UV rays that the skin could be more sensitive to.(11, 12)
Apart from wearing sunscreen, you should also wear sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, and long-sleeved shirts to remain protected from the sun.
Problems Caused by Topical Acids
In general, it has been observed that people with darker skin tones are more sensitive to using topical ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids as compared to lighter or Caucasian skin tones. In individuals with darker skin tones, these products can often cause an unwanted inflammatory response. This, in turn, causes side effects like post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.(13, 14, 15)
Discoloration of the skin can also happen due to the use of certain medications, cosmetic products, and some skin conditions. A majority of the problem happens when inflammation starts to interfere with the basal cell layer in the skin, which causes the pigment melanin to become trapped. This post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation problem has been found to be more common in darker skin tones, though it is possible to occur in lighter skin tones as well. Such a type of discoloration can affect both males and females. This is why before using any new cosmetic product, you should also test if you are sensitive to it.
Taking proper care of your skin not only slows down photoaging, but it can also help prevent hyperpigmentation from getting worse. Hyperpigmentation can happen in all types of skin tones, but it is more commonly seen in people of color. Hyperpigmentation can develop from eczema, acne scars, or even at sites of trauma. There are some health conditions as well, like melasma, that cause hyperpigmentation. Melasma shows up on the skin as darker patches of pigmentation, especially on the face.(16, 17)
Regular exposure to the sun can often worsen hyperpigmentation, which is another reason why wearing sunscreen is so important. Some products that can be used to treat hyperpigmentation include vitamin C serum or products containing vitamin C, azelaic acid, niacinamide, and glycolic acid.
Dealing with Dryness
No matter the color and tone of your skin, you will be affected by dry skin at some time or the other in your life. Taking care of dry skin is especially important if you have a darker skin tone because dry skin becomes even more visible against darker skin, leaving a light white layer. This dry appearance of the skin happens due to the scales of shedding skin.
Using a very good and thick moisturizer can be a great product to help rebuild the skin barrier in people with darker skin tones. However, while buying the product it is important to pay attention to how thick the product is on your skin, not how thick it appears to be in the container. While buying a product for dry skin, look for ingredients like glycerin, castor oil, ceramides, hempseed oil, and petroleum jelly. It is best to cover your skin with moisturizer after a shower or bath so that there is still some dampness present on the skin. This helps trap the moisture within the skin.
Dealing With Skin Sensitivity
Just like dryness, sensitivity is also a common problem that affects all skin tones. For sensitive skin, it is best to use bland products and always read the label to check the ingredients before buying. You should ideally choose those skin care products that are unscented, do not contain any artificial coloring, and are labeled antibacterial.
For sensitive skin, the skincare routine should be simple. Use a gentle face wash, a simple and bland moisturizer that ideally has an SPF built in, and another plain unscented moisturizer in the evening. Avoid having too many serums or anti-aging creams in your skincare routine as some of these might act as irritants. Avoid using physical exfoliators as these can be too harsh for sensitive skin. A gentle exfoliating product that contains glycolic acid or salicylic acid once a week should be enough.
Following these skin care tips can be helpful for all skin tones and skin types.
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