There are many benefits of skin of color, but also many specific issues. Today, I’ll discuss some of the intrinsic benefits, and in a future episode, I’ll cover the specific sensitivities. As a note, when we say “skin of color,” we’re referring to the skin of people of African American, Asian, Indian, and Hispanic ancestry.
So let’s begin with the benefits! The most important and most obvious advantage is the natural photo protective effect. For example, medium toned African American skin has a natural “built in” SPF of 15. This is the result of the increased melanin in African American skin. As you’ll recall, melanin is your brown skin pigment that is normally confined to the epidermis, your top layer of skin. The more melanin you have, the darker your skin, and the less susceptible you are to the harmful effects of the ultraviolet rays of the sun, both UVA and UVB.
So that means fewer skin cancers and also, less ,or really delayed, photo aging. Let’s look at both.
The incidence of all three major types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and even Melanoma, are much lower in people with skin of color and as you’d expect, even less in medium and darker toned African Americans than in Asians, Indians and Hispanics. However, there is one very deadly type of skin cancer that is much more common in African Americans, and that’s a type of Melanoma called Acral Lentiginous melanoma. It occurs as areas of dark pigmentation on palms, soles, finger or toe tips, under the nails and on the oral mucosa.
In addition to helping prevent skin cancer, the extra melanin in skin of color helps protect it from premature photo aging, so facial wrinkling, dull skin texture, broken capillaries, brown spots and blotchiness are all delayed until a much older age. Skin of color also tends to have more of a luster.
Just remember however, it’s great that skin of color provides inherent protection, but I only mentioned SPF, which protects against UVB. So if you have skin of color, you still need to apply sunscreen daily to protect you from UVA.
And while these are some of the benefits, there are trade offs to the greater amount of melanin in these darker skin types and I’ll discuss those in another DermTV episode.