Skin Aging and Ethnicity

Skin Aging and Ethnicity

As a child, I always heard African American women reply, “Black doesn’t crack,” when someone complimented their ageless skin. As an adult, I reply similarly when people ask my secret to ageless skin.

That got me thinking. Is there any scientific truth to that statement, or is it just old-timers’ conjecture? Honestly, I thought it was just conjecture. But researchers disproved my hypothesis. “Black doesn’t crack” is real.

In all fairness to my Hispanic/Latina and Asian sisters, their skin is ageless, too.

“How so?” you ask. In order to understand the age-associated changes in your skin, you must look at the biophysical (cells, molecules, genes) properties of skin.

 Let’s start with melanin.

 Melanin is what gives your skin its color. The more melanin you have, the darker your skin tone. The amount, size, and distribution of melanin determines your level of photoprotection, which affects the rate of extrinsic aging (photodamage).

Skin color with an abundance of melanin contributes to slowing skin aging due to ultraviolet (UV) exposure. Thus, darker pigmented populations have more epidermal sun protection factor (SPF). In a study by Vashi, et. al. (2016), African Americans’ epidermal SPF is 13.4. Conversely, Caucasians’ epidermal SPF is 3.4.

This explains why photodamage is less severe and occurs 10 to 20 years later for people with darker skin color (Vashi, et. al. 2016). Richly pigmented skin also retains its structural integrity and youthful skin properties unlike their lightly pigmented counterparts (Rawlings, 2006).

According to Dr. Thomas Fitzpatrick’s skin phototypes classifications, lightly pigmented skin has greater photosensitivity to UV light. Rawlings (2006) concluded, “Caucasians have an earlier onset and greater skin wrinkling and sagging signs than other skin types…”

Conversely, darker melanin skin displays mottled pigmentation, dermatosis papulosa nigra (brown/black spots around the cheekbones and eyes), rough skin, seborrheic keratosis (noncancerous skin growths), and solar lentigines (liver spots) as a result of extrinsic aging (Vashi, et. al. 2016).

The role of genetics.

Genetics and time are two characteristics you cannot change. These two variables contribute to intrinsic, or chronological, aging. Over the passage of time, your skin thins, you develop fine wrinkles, skin laxity, and bone remodeling (mature bone is destroyed and new bone is synthesized) occurs (Vashi, et. al. 2016).

Vashi, et. al. (2016) adds that the intrinsic signs of facial aging are less severe in darker pigmented skin and occur 10 years later than lighter pigmented skin. For example, one marker of clinical aging is thinning lips. Brissett and Naylor (2010) found that African Americans are less likely to lose lip volume and form wrinkles around the mouth area compared to Caucasians.

 It’s good to be thick skinned.

The natural progression of aging affects the dermis (thick layer below the epidermis thickness) causing folds and wrinkles to develop. The dermis is thicker and more compact in Asian and black skin. Greater pigmentation equates to a thicker dermis layer. This factor contributes to less facial wrinkles in Asians and African Americans.

What can I do to age gracefully?

Everyone has to age. There’s no getting around it. The alternative is not an enticing option. Now that we’ve addressed the things you cannot control, let’s turn to the things you can control.

  • Early onset of skincare habits that protects against the effects of sun exposure. Translation: wear your mineral-based sunscreen 365 days.
  • Choose your cleansing, moisturizing, make-up, and sun protection products wisely. Steer clear of harmful petrochemical, synthetic fragrances and dyes.
  • Develop a realistic skincare regimen that fits your skincare needs and lifestyle. For example, if you can’t adhere to a 5 to 10-step skincare regimen, which I don’t blame you, don’t begin one. Simple yet effective is always best and you’re more likely to stick with it. 
  • Eat wild-caught fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids 2-3 days per week. The fish oils will give you a photoprotective effect.
  • If you smoke, kick the habit. Tobacco smoke causes premature skin aging.
  • Don’t sleep in your make-up. Take the time to remove it before going to bed. It’ll save you from potential skin problems down the road. This is why a simple yet effective skincare routine is key.
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