How is Black skin different?

The obvious difference is color which is driven by the amount of melanin in the skin. Melanin is produced within the skin, in cells called melanocytes, and the quantity produced determines skin color. Skin color occurs on a spectrum and dermatologists will often use a Fitzpatrick Skin Type Scale to describe skin color based on its reaction to sunlight exposure. Black people typically fall between IV and VI on this scale.


Fitzpatrick Skin Type Scale

Skin Type

Typical Features

Tanning Ability


Pale white skin, blue/green eyes, blond/red hair

Always burns, does not tan


Fair skin, blue eyes

Burns easily, tans poorly


Darker white skin

Tans after initial burn


Light brown skin

Burns minimally, tans easily


Brown skin

Rarely burns, tans darkly easily


Dark brown or black skin

Never burns, always tans darkly

There are also less obvious differences in skin and understanding these will help you make the best decisions for your skin.


Acne, Hyperpigmentation and Scaring

Although the path to acne formation is similar across skin types, what is notable is that Black skin has significantly more inflammation associated with acne. Contrary to popular opinion, Black skin is actually more vulnerable to trauma and inflammatory conditions. The melanin producing cells in Fitzpatrick’s skin type IV and higher are easier to trigger, often resulting in stubborn hyperpigmentation and more frequent occurrence of scaring. In fact, for a lot of Black women, the dark marks left after a breakout is more frustrating than the acne itself, because of the time it takes for the marks to fade. Thankfully, wearing sunscreen daily goes a long way in protecting the skin and preventing uneven or dark marks from forming. The takeaway here is to be gentle with your skin as it is more vulnerable than it appears; introduce active ingredients slowly and at low concentrations and work your way up.


Ashy Skin

Fitzpatrick’s skin types IV, V and VI have also been shown to have lower ceramide (helps increase hydration and maintain protective barrier) levels and are more susceptible to trans-epidermal water loss (loss of water through the skin). This has important implications because as the body produces new skin cells below the surface, the older cells are pushed up and these dead skin cells sometimes accumulate forming dry scales that are more pronounced in Black skin.  Anecdotally, Black folks have always understood the importance of moisturizing the skin, so as not to appear ashy. Skincare that prioritizes gentle exfoliation and protection of the moisture barrier works best on Black skin. An ideal moisturizer will include ceramides to help reinforce the skin’s natural barrier, humectants to attract water to the skin, and an occlusive to prevent excess water loss.


Skin Thickness, UV Protection and Laser Treatment

When viewed under the microscope, Black skin is thicker, with thickness increasing proportionately with higher concentration of pigmentation. This thickness along with the UV protection melanin provides is the reason for the lower incidence of wrinkles in Black skin. Unfortunately, the ability of darker skin to absorb UV light becomes a problem when procedures involve lasers. Majority of laser wavelengths have significant overlap with the absorption spectrum of melanin and Black skin will absorb significantly more of laser energy. This can result in skin cell damage, dark patches, permanent loss of pigment, and in some cases, scarring, can occur if these procedures are done too aggressively. For this reason, it is especially important to work with providers that have experience with Black skin when getting a laser procedure done.


Black Skincare Guide

These skincare rules apply to everyone, but are particularly important for Black skin

  1. Avoid irritation as it can lead to inflammation which can lead to hyperpigmentation
  2. Prevention is better than the cure; following a solid routine that incorporates gentle exfoliation to minimize the likelihood of acne formation
  3. Wear broad spectrum sunscreen daily to keep hyperpigmentation under control
  4. Be gentle with your skin, avoid aggressively pulling and tugging on your skin and make sure to have adequate slip when massaging the skin

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