By Zukiswa Khoza.
Your skin is the largest organs on your body, it serves as the first line of defence against extrinsic factors such as toxins, bacteria and viruses. It also prevents water loss, regulates our temperature and gives us our sense of touch. Skin also reflects overall health as disruption to ones health may manifest on the skin as irritation and disease. This precious organ also gives us our skin tone, melanin (pigment) is produced by melanocytes and the density and distribution of the melanin will determine your skin tone.
Melanin Is For Protection
Black or brown skin has a denser distribution of melanin. The indigenous people of areas that have very hot climates generally have brown to black skin tones e.g. Africa, South Asia, Australia. One of the evolutionary reasons of our skin tone was to protect us against the harsh climates in these areas.
Dark skins have a slightly higher protection against ultraviolet damage but we are not completely protected. Ultraviolet damage is responsible for DNA damage of the skin, decrease in collagen and elastin which causes ageing, age spots as well as cancer. All these indications do occur in brown people but may take longer to manifest hence the term “Black don’t crack”.
Melanin And Sunscreen
With lack of maintenance and protection, our beautiful melanated skin can also succumb to the indications mentioned above. This is why it is important to avoid exposure to the sun for extended periods at a time and making use of sunscreen is very important. Newer formulations of sunscreen are less greasy and ashy making then suitable for brown people. Sunscreen should be applied daily, even on grey days. Reapplication is imperative when you’re exposed directly for long periods of time e.g.on the beach. Black skin friendly sunscreens can be found in ranges such as Dermafix, Lamelle, Eucerin. These brands cater for different skin types as well which is a major plus.
Hyperpigmentation, Laser Treatments & Chemical Peels
Hyperpigmentation is a common concern for people of colour. This may be caused by hormonal fluctuations (melasma), post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) from acne or injury. Friction on area’s such as knees, elbows and inner thighs are causes of darkening in these areas. This is all completely normal. In previous years, the cosmetic world was not as inclusive to brown or more melanated skins. Treatments such as laser hair removal and chemical peels were a no go zone as they were too dangerous and risky for brown people. When brown skin is exposed to inflammation or heat, one of its inflammatory responses includes producing more melanin at the site of the injury which would result in hyperpigmentation or discoloration of the skin. Over time, newer technologies of lasers as well as better formulations of topical treatments have become safe for melanated skin.
Maintaining a healthy skin is prevention of damage caused by ultraviolet damage and using topical creams to treat hyperpigmentation. Be wary of any creams that promise skin lightening. Skin lightening is an unfortunate product of colourism and the sale of products promising skin lightening is illegal in the country – products are prohibited from making lightening, whitening and bleaching claims. Above the psychological effects of skin lightening, the physical damage to the skin can have devastating results. Skin lightening creams that are found off the black market usually contain ingredients such as mercury, steroids and hydroquinone which have very severe side effects on the skin. These include thinning of the skin (making it vulnerable to injury and scarring, redness, swelling, skin ulcers, exogenous orchranosis which is a condition linked to long term use of toxic bleaching creams which results in blue black patches on the affected areas. This condition is almost impossible to treat. Steroid acne is another side effect from creams containing steroids. Mercury may cause damage to your nervous system as well as kidney disease in serve cases. Skin lightening is extremely dangerous hence the prohibition of such products. The are no health benefits in lightening your skin. The sale of skin lightening creams is generally rife in unregulated environments as the demand is high, making black woman vulnerable to these dangerous creams
A popular skin lightening treatment that has gained popularity due to use by celebrities is Glutathione. Glutathione is an antioxidant found in the human body, but like most antioxidants, it does not occur in large amounts in the body. It works deactivating the enzyme tyrosinase, which helps produce melanin. There are no clinical trials yet to test the long term use of glutathione.
Love Your Brown Skin
Your skin is beautiful irrespective of the shade of your skin. When treating it, your objective should always to have a healthy glowing skin which is possible to achieve regardless of your skin tone. There’s a wide variety of treatments which is inclusive to black skin . Make sure you protect your beautiful melanin with the daily use of sunscreen, treat conditions such as acne and hyperpigmentation with the guidance of a professional for the safest and best results. All skin has pores, some area’s which are darker than others due to hormonal fluctuations and friction (such as underarm and bikini area’s). This is all okay, it’s the characteristics of black skin, it does not disrupt your skin’s health or take anything away from your hygiene.
Love your brown skin.