The skin is the largest and arguably the most important organ of our body, divided into several layers it accounts for approximately 15% of our total body weight. The three primary layers of the skin are the epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous layer (hypodermis). Each layer is composed of certain cells and structures which contribute to the skin’s overall appearance, structure, and function.
Skin of Colour: A Historical Perspective
Throughout history, the subject of skin of colour has been covered up in multiple, complex layers of misconception, mystique, and misunderstanding. Since antiquity, people have sought answers to various questions, such as, “where does skin colour come from?”, “what was the skin colour of the first human”, and “why do people develop different skin colours?”. Naturally, ancient people sought to answer these questions through mythology, one of the earliest explanations for skin colour was proposed by the ancient Greeks. Early African mythology also produced a theory, there are various North American Indigenous legends and of course, every religion seems to have its own doctrine on the origin of skin colour; especially on the source of darker vs. lighter tones.
Although history has taken us on a journey in terms of how, why, where and when skin has changed and evolved throughout history, a widely accepted modern theory of skin colour is the vitamin D/sunlight theory. But this too, is merely postulation. With time, knowledge and technology, we have been able to further develop our theories and beliefs; coming to a more scientific and biological explanation of the skin, and why it functions differently according to its shade.
Although there has been much philosophical, religious, mythological and even scientific speculation on the causes of skin colour, science and medicine has provided us with the biological answers to these clinical observations.
The skin has epidermal units that are responsible for melanin production and distribution, a process called melanogenesis. These units are composed of a melanocyte surrounded by keratinocytes and regulated by a closed paracrine system. Melanin is the primary determinant of skin, hair, and eye colour. And plays a critical role in photo protection due to its ability to absorb ultraviolet radiation (UVR). The system is the most commonly used system to distinguish different skin pigmentation phenotypes. It characterises six phototypes (I-VI) by grading erythema and acquired pigmentation after exposure to UVR. Constitutive pigmentation reflects the genetically determined level of melanin and can be changed by several regulatory factors. These factors may be intrinsic or extrinsic influences.
Although darker and lighter skin have the same number of melanocytes, individuals with darker skin have a greater number of dendrites, and their melanocytes have greater biological activity compared to those found in lighter toned individuals. In lighter skin, melanosomes are small and grouped together, as a result, there is less visible melanin. Little melanin is contained in the keratinocytes in the superficial layer of the skin (epidermis). In darker skin, melanosomes are larger and contain more melanin which is released and dispersed more uniformly throughout the epidermis, making the skin appear darker.
One of the most recent influences on the concept of ethnic background and skin colour are the findings from the HGP (Human Genome Project), which began in 1990, a scientific and biological mission to understand the genetic makeup of people. The study of human skin colour continues to be of the highest importance to further uncover the evolution of skin colour, race and ethnicity. It is also extremely beneficial from a medical standpoint to understand various health and skin conditions and diseases.
*Melanin (our skin's pigment) is produced by melanocytes which are found in the deepest layer of our skin (the Epidermis). Skintypes with abundant melanocytes will have darker skin tones, these individuals are also prone to have differing skin problems to those with a lower concentration of melanocytes.
*Hyperpigmentation (melasma), or extra pigment, affects certain regions of the face. It can occur after injury to the skin or even post-pregnancy (often known as ‘pregnancy mask’). Some people with skintypes abundant in melanin are also more prone to problems with excess oiliness and/or acne.
Let us hope that our long history of classifying people based solely on skin colour is nearing a permanent end, and that we will finally accept that we are members of the same, human family. The real differences in skin colour have too often gone unrecognised – as they are merely dermatological; and not a social, religious, cultural, societal phenomenal difference. It is time to celebrate all shades of nude and love every spectrum of skin. With education, awareness, and thoughtfulness, perspectives will be altered and we will finally evolve into a fully accepting and embracing species.
Each day, you should be sure to provide your skin with the following...
Drinking plenty of water.
Thorough cleansing, twice a day. At night, make sure you remove all your make-up and cleanse properly before going to bed.
This is a necessary step even for those who have oily skin.
Sun protection, sun protection, sun protection. It is absolutely crucial to protect your skin from harmful UVA and UVB light rays. Sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) is recommended every day. This will help prevent sun damage, skin cancers, premature ageing, fine lines and wrinkles.
Just as we see in nature, our skin has a unique cycle of renewal and regeneration. The outermost layer - the epidermis - is constantly regenerating every 28 - 35 days. This regeneration is dependent on several factors: age, health, lifestyle, and of course genetics. Just as we are more impacted by injury, with less resilience and miss the ‘bounce back’ we had as children or adolescents; the healing process, (as well as overall skin regeneration) slows as we age. This is why a healthy lifestyle, adequate vitamins and minerals, sleep, and protection from harmful environmental factors are all so important.
When we understand our skin, we become more patient and realistic about the things we must do to maximise our skin health. This means taking the time every day on a skin regime that works for you. Always be sure to gently cleanse, moisturise and hydrate and when it comes to resolving skin problems or concerns, be patient. Clear and healthy skin is achievable and you will get there!
Collagen is the most plentiful protein in the skin, making up 75-80% of your skin. Collagen and elastin are responsible for warding off wrinkles and fine lines. Over time, the environment and ageing reduce your body’s ability to produce collagen.
Think elastic. Elastin is found with collagen in the dermis. It’s another protein, responsible for giving structure to your skin and organs. As with collagen, elastin is affected by time and the elements. Lower levels of this protein cause your skin to wrinkle and sag.
Keratin is the main protein in your skin, and makes up hair, nails, and the surface layer of the skin. Keratin is what forms the rigidity of your skin and helps with the barrier protection that your skin offers.
As the skin ages, there is a reduction in both the number and size of skin cells which causes it to function less effectively as a protective barrier and temperature regulator. The structure of skin becomes increasingly thin over time due to intrinsic ageing effects causing depletion of collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid. These changes result in the skin becoming increasingly dry and also an increase in fine lines, wrinkles and even deep furrows. Aesthetics aside, ageing also affects the skin’s immune response, increasing the risk of certain skin cancers. So what can be done? Ageing is a natural and inevitable thing; it cannot be prevented. The most important thing is to take care of your skin with a good skincare routine, healthy diet and lifestyle (limited drinking and no smoking) and of course, to protect ourselves from harmful UV sun radiation. Don’t fixate too much on turning back the clock; focus on protecting your skin, to allow it to glow (with the help of good serums), and maintain hydration and moisture so that your skin has a nice texture. Skin can be beautiful at any age!
UV Light & Ageing
Approx. 50% of UV damage is caused by the formation of free radicals which are harmful to skin cells. UV light has been shown to activate enzymes known as matrix metalloproteinases; these break down collagen, damaging the skin’s support structure, making it sag or present deeper wrinkles. These enzymes also have the ability to prevent new collagen production. The result - sagging, wrinkles and thin, inelastic skin.
Sugar & Ageing
There is more and more research and evidence supporting the thought that sugar will contribute to premature skin ageing and inflammation by a process known as glycation. As the consequences of glycation accumulate over time, it directly damages collagen and elastin, which give our skin its structure, support and tightness. The result-reduced skin elasticity, textural changes, wrinkles, possible skin irritations and acne, and skin sagging.
Smoking & Ageing
Smoking has been associated with premature skin ageing and wrinkling, poor or delayed wound healing, and the worsening of a number of skin diseases. The link between smoking and wrinkles has been known for many, many years. Research shows that women are more susceptible to this than men. Smoking is associated with fine lines around the eyes (crows feet) and mouth (smoker lines). Aside from early drinking, smoking causes a number of recognised facial changes. These include thinning of the skin, facial redness and prominence of the underlying bony contours of the face. Smoking appears to activate enzymes that break down collagen and elastin fibers. The result - reduced skin elasticity, skin sagging, redness, and premature wrinkles.
“When we understand the biology and science of our skin we can make positive and reversible lifestyle changes in order to better achieve the results and overall appearance of our skin.”