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The Anatomy of Global Skin Tones

By: Pamela Springer
Posted: May 31, 2012, from the June 2012 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
professional skin care client with skin of color

The role of the ethnic consumer continues to be an important part of the skin care industry. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that, by 2050, 49.5% of the U.S. population will have skin of color, replacing baby boomers as the critical growth demographic within the United States and United Kingdom. People of mixed racial heritage have surpassed Hispanics as the fastest-growing demographic group.

The skin care industry is beginning to embrace the needs of women and men of certain ethnic descents. Clients of Middle Eastern, Hispanic, Asian and African-American descent and their subgroups are in need of product and service options targeting their unique skin disorders. Corrective management of these skin types has to go beyond the norm. Skin care professionals must better understand the skin’s mechanism as it relates to ethnic differences, as well as its reactivity to topically applied substances. Once these differences are understood, effective protocol strategies that address the unique skin-related challenges will create value for these clients. It is also important to invest time and incorporate the knowledge of the cultural differences as it pertains to your area’s demographics.

Epidermis

The epidermis is comprised of epithelial tissues that have a thickness ranging from 0.05 mm on the eyelids to 1.5 mm on the soles of the feet. It contains no blood cells but is nourished by the blood vessels housed in the dermis. It is the outermost layer and is comprised of five distinct sections: the stratum corneum (horny layer), stratum lucidum, stratum granulosum (granular layer), stratum spinosum (spiny layer) and stratum germinativum (basal layer).

The discerning factor in many ethnic groups is skin color. The color of the skin is produced in the deepest layer of the epidermis—the basal layer—which houses not only the keratinocytes responsible for the progression of cells to produce the epidermis, but also the melanocytes responsible for the production of melanin. Melanin plays a key role in protecting the skin from the penetration of UV rays. The darker the skin, the less UV penetration and the lower the incidence of skin cancer. The number of pigment-producing cells, called melanocytes, is equal, no matter what the skin color. The difference is the structure and function of these cells.

To produce melanin, there has to be two components: an enzyme—tyrosinase, and an amino acid—tyrosine. When these two components go through a conversion process called dopa, melanin is produced. In skin of color, there is increased tyrosinase activity, producing a more concentrated melanin content. The pigment granule’s size is the basis for skin color differences; the darker the skin, the larger the granule.