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How ethnicity plays a role in skin types

How ethnicity plays a role in skin types
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The most obvious ethnic difference in skin is colour, but there are other important factors to consider when undergoing dermatological and cosmetic procedures. For example, genetics determine the skin’s barrier depth, moisture-retaining qualities and sensitivity. 

There is no one-size-fits-all for skin, no matter your genetic makeup, so finding a cosmetic dermatologist experienced in your skin type is essential. Some procedures and technology are more suited to some types than others.

What are ethnic skin types?

The discussion of skin types between racial and ethnic groups tends to boil down to a few key factors that are common to all people: the structure of cells, barrier function, reactivity to UV, sensitivity and underlying pigmentation factors. Naturally, variations will always occur within racial groups due to genetic diversity. 

When we ask, ‘what are ethnic skin types?’ we’re asking what might your skin be prone to versus another genetic group and what considerations should your doctor make when choosing cosmetic treatments. 

How does skin type impact cosmetic treatments?

Your skin type can matter greatly when undergoing skin treatments; for example, some lasers don’t play nicely on darker skin tones. 

A laser can work within specific wavelengths, usually corresponding to a colour band depending on what we’re treating. For example, if we set the laser to the red frequency, the laser can target blood vessels without affecting nearby non-red skin. However, if the laser isn’t precise enough or is inappropriate for the job, it could end up targeting melanin (pigment) in regular healthy skin, thus causing a burn. 

The treatment itself depends entirely on your cosmetic doctor, who should have experience treating your skin type before you let them anywhere near you. At ENRICH Clinic, our doctors look like you and know skin. 

Medicine, including dermatology, has historically been an overly white cis-hetero male pursuit; thus, research and experience in beautifying skin focused almost solely on white people, white women specifically. Thankfully, this is changing quickly. 

Increasing celebration of diversity and an increasing effort at dismantling the accepted beauty standards allows more people to enjoy the spoils of cosmetic dermatology’s many significant innovations and advancements.

Low-risk, high-reward cosmetic treatments such as anti-wrinkle injections and dermal fillers are much safer and more accessible than they used to be – think back to the 70s and 80s and all the botch jobs we saw in celebrities. We just don’t see that anymore because we have dramatically improved ingredients and techniques to the point where it can now seem like some of our favourite celebs never age. Madonna, here’s looking at you!

ethnic skin types

Understanding skin colour

Research explains the four main elements that make up skin colour. Caucasian skin’s pinkish colour comes from haemoglobin and oxyhaemoglobin, which absorb specific wavelengths of light and reflects to the human eye as reddish. 

Melanin is responsible for brown and black skin tones, while carotenes create yellow-orange pigmentation. Other hues are due to combinations of all four elements, so there is considerable variation in skin tone across populations – even within the same genetic (ethnic or racial) group.

All of the world’s human skin contains varying amounts of the four skin-colouring elements. People with very little melanin or carotenes in their skin (a.k.a. white people) are, as a racial/genetic group, fewer in number than many other groups in the global population. 

While the term ‘person of colour’ is often used to describe a person who is ‘not white’ (Caucasian) and has experienced racial inequities as a result, the underpinnings of this term are ethnically diverse levels of melanin, carotene, haemoglobin and oxyhaemoglobin as is visible from the outside of the skin. 

different skin colours and types

Photo-ageing and the influence of skin colour

We’ll all get wrinkled and saggy at some point (except Madonna), but some ethnic groups are spared the worst of it for longer due to our inbuilt sunscreen: melanin. When we expose skin to UV rays, melanocytes (special skin cells) produce melanin and turn skin darker. It’s a natural slip-slop-slap for a skin cell. 

Without melanin (or with low amounts), photo-ageing can occur at an accelerated rate, which is likely one of the reasons white people want more cosmetic procedures – they show their age faster than everyone else. 

Conversely, racial groups with naturally abundant melanin usually have younger-looking skin for much longer. The more UV underlying skin cells get, no matter your racial group, the more wrinkles will likely appear because it’s a dose-dependent result. 

Differences in skin structure

Then, there are differences in skin structure. These differences can include moisture levels and skin barrier depth. 

What we know so far (generally speaking): 

  • Caucasian skin will see wrinkling, sagging, age and sun spots, freckles, moles and other signs of sun-damaged skin more readily than other racial groups. 
  • Darker skin tends to retain the characteristics of younger skin for longer. 
  • Skin barrier function is reportedly stronger in darker skin tones (the stratum corneum is the skin barrier).
  • Asian skin is reported to have similarities with Caucasian skin in terms of water loss and has the weakest barrier function.
  • Asian skin is understood to have lower natural moisturising levels when compared with Caucasian and African skin.
  • Skin ashing is common in African skin due to increased shedding of the outer layer of skin cells (desquamation), which appears to have genetic roots (Cathepsin L2 levels) with varying oil levels. 
  • Compared with other groups, African skin can have a larger pore size and increased sebum production and skin surface microflora.
  • African skin has increased mast cell granule size, meaning the chance of greater sensitivity. Degranulation of a mast cell occurs, for example, in an allergic reaction, releasing histamine into the local area. The greater the granule size, the more histamine is released when it degranulates, thus the more significant the response. 
  • Despite the mast cell granule size, skin sensitivity occurs at similar rates across all ethnic groups, but there are subtle differences in what will trigger a reaction. Asian skin may be more sensitive to chemicals in the environment (possibly due to thinner barrier and more sweat glands). 

Finding a great cosmetic dermatologist for your skin type

At ENRICH Clinic in Melbourne, our team is diverse, and we’re no strangers to all kinds of skin. We’re happy to take your questions on our experience levels with your skin type and condition – we’re the best in the business and not afraid to tell you all about it! Get in touch to book a consultation

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