In order to discuss common skin conditions for darker skin tones, we must first understand how our skin gets its color. For this, we start with melanin. Melanin is a cellular pigment that exists in the dead layer of our skin, the epidermis. It is the skins’ first line of defense against the sun. The moment your skin is exposed to UV rays, melanocytes are triggered and defenses rise.
You can think of melanocytes as miniature umbrellas popping open to cover your skin for protection. The more melanin produced, the darker the skin tone. Since melanin is directly related to sun exposure, it explains why people living closer to the equator have darker complexions than someone living in, for example, Great Britain. Over generations people have migrated across the world, blending their DNA and creating variations in skin tones.
“You can think of melanocytes as miniature umbrellas popping open to cover your skin for protection.”
Common Skin Conditions for Darker Skin Tones: Hyper-pigmentation
Melanin is amazing, but it has its drawbacks when it comes to skin damage. Since melanin is a defense mechanism, it activates easily to aid in the healing process of scratches, scrapes, friction, heat burns and sunburns. The moment the skin feels under attack, melanocytes activate and start secreting the pigment-rich granules used for protection. Before you know it, you have too much pigment which is called hyper-pigmentation or HP. It’s not easy to get rid of hyper-pigmentation! It comes on fast, but takes forever to get rid of. As for treating HP, there are many options, such as facial peels, laser treatments, brightening serums and lightening medications.
The least expensive and natural remedy for HP is time. Since our skin regularly sloughs off dead skin, you can simply just wait it out.
Quick Skin Care Fact
In 1975, Dr. Thomas Fitzpatrick developed a scale to determine skin type known as The Fitzpatrick Scale. Skin types range from 1-6 (6 being the darkest). The scale is used in various ways today, but the intention was to classify the reaction the skin would have when exposed to the sun.
Common Skin Conditions for Darker Skin Tones: Ingrown Hair
If you’ve never experienced an ingrown hair, count yourself lucky! These little buggers are really painful and unattractive. Ingrown hairs are typically found in men’s beard areas and women’s bikini lines. An ingrown hair is similar to a pimple, but with a hair trapped inside. The hair can continue growing around in a spiral for people with curly hair or in a line across the skin of someone with straight hair. As the hair grows, our skin continues to function normally producing oil and sweat, which leads to a backup inside the hair follicle sac. Good and bad bacteria begin to breed along with increasing white blood cell activity. This extra activity causes swelling and you may be able to guess what happens next–hyper-pigmentation!
In essence, if you have a darker skin tone you’re bound to have hyper-pigmentation as a result of the ingrown hair even if you are successful in removing the hair. The quicker you can reduce the swelling and remove the hair, the better. You can do this yourself by using a skin tonic like Adios, containing salicylic and glycolic acid or by seeing an Esthetician or doctor.
Common Skin Conditions for Darker Skin Tones: Dermatosis Papulosa Nigra
Dermatosis Papulosa Nigra is a common skin condition that causes the appearance of small brown or black spots on the skin. The cause of the condition is still unknown, but the number and size increase with age. The spots typically appear on the cheek bones or around the eyes. They can appear flat or raised, like a skin tag. Because of this feature, people often refer to these spots as “moles”. However, they are physically different from true moles.
Thankfully, these spots are not cancerous or medically hazardous. Nevertheless, many seek treatment in an attempt to reduce their appearance. Removing these spots is complicated, as the process can cause blotchiness and scarring. Options for treating dermatosis papulosa include scissor excision, shave excision, cryosurgery, electrodessication, curettage, dermabrasion, and laser removal. All in all, the best treatment depends on how many spots you have and your overall skin tone.
There are several other common skin conditions for darker skin tones which I will address in future posts. Stay tuned for an upcoming spotlight on traction alopecia.
The Fitzpatrick Scale photo by John D’Orazio, Stuart Jarrett, Alexandra Amaro-Ortiz and Timothy Scott – John D’Orazio et al. “UV Radiation and the Skin” Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2013, 14(6), 12222-12248; doi:10.3390/ijms140612222 http://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/14/6/12222/htm, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49672997