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Darker Skin:
Going below the surface with Dr. Mona Gohara

Darker Skin

Despite prevailing misconceptions, if you’ve got darker skin, you’re not immune to the effects of sun damage and premature aging. While the rules of cleanse, moisturize and SPF apply to everyone, darker tones do need unique care. We asked Dr. Mona Gohara, assistant clinical professor at the Yale University School of Medicine Department of Dermatology in New Haven, CT and a key promoter of skin care awareness and sun safety in non-Caucasian populations, about the chemistry and concerns of darker skin: 

1) What is the basic skin biology of people of color?

There are three layers which comprise the human skin-the epidermis, the dermis and fat. Within the epidermis there are pigment producing cells called melanocytes; melanocytes produce melanin which is the substance that confers skin color. We all have the same number of melanocytes, regardless of complexion--the browner you are the more melanin you are producing. In short, melanin determines skin color. Melanin has many different functions in human skin. Most importantly, it provides inherent protection against the sun and is a natural antioxidant.

2) What are some of the common skin issues affecting people with darker skin tones? Are these issues different than people with lighter skin tones and if so, why?

Post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is a condition which occurs more frequently in individuals with darker skin. It is localized skin darkening which occurs after trauma or inflammation. For example, when people of color get a pimple, for some reason melanocytes “rev” up and produce more melanin. As a result, when the lesion fades, the skin gets darker. The same phenomenon applies for cuts, bruises and resolving rashes. To treat PIH, you need to use an SPF of 30 or higher everyday, and give it time. Other remedies such as hydroquinones, retinol, glycolic acid, and chemical peels can also help speed up the process. 

Melasma is another type of skin darkening that happens in individuals of African, Latin, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean descent. Patients with melasma notice brown or gray-brown patches on the cheeks, bridge of nose, forehead, chin or upper lip. Although the exact cause is unknown, it is thought that pregnancy, birth control pills (or other hormone therapies), and some medications, together with sun exposure, may trigger this disease. Again, judicious application of SPF 30, or higher, and fading creams which include hydroquinone, are best forms of treatment. 

There are some natural alternatives that treat both PIH and melasma as well, including soy, coffee berry extract, and licorice root. 

 

 

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