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Hyperpigmentation & Skin of Color

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By: Jennifer Linder, MD
Posted: April 7, 2011, from the April 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

Much of the world’s population is considered Fitzpatrick type IV–VI. (See Fitzpatrick Scale.) By 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2000, 50% of Americans will be of dark-skinned racial backgrounds. One of the most common skin conditions in higher Fitzpatrick clients is hyperpigmentation. Although many of the popular treatments and products designed for Caucasians may be well-tolerated by consumers with dark skin, a deeper understanding of the causes of hyperpigmentation, and of the myriad of ingredients available for its treatment, will help brand owners develop effective product lines for these target markets, regardless of ethnicity.

Beyond Black and White

Within any ethnic background, a variety of Fitzpatrick skin types can be identified. With this broad global representation in mind, brand owners can expect to see an increase in consumers of one or mixed racial backgrounds with dark skin.

The most apparent difference in the skin of those from different ethnicities is, of course, the color, although there are also differences in skin thickness, vascularity, and predispositions to certain skin conditions and diseases. Hyperpigmentation can occur due to UV exposure, cutaneous trauma or hormonal fluctuations. Studies by dermatologist Susan Taylor in 2005 demonstrate that up to 86% of women of Latino, Asian and African descent are concerned about skin discolorations.1

Melanogenesis and Skin Color

Melanin is the complex molecule that is responsible for the pigment in the body—specifically eyes, hair and skin. Melanin works to protect by reducing the penetration of UV rays into the skin and, even more importantly, into the nuclei of cells where DNA resides. Both dark and light skin individuals have the same number of melanocytes—the cells responsible for melanogenesis or melanin production—although their level of responsiveness differs.

Those whose genetic heredity is that of global regions with extreme UV exposure have melanocytes that will, out of protective necessity, instigate the process of melanin deposition much more quickly than someone with lighter skin. Some people with mixed genetic heritage may have lighter skin but still have a greater predisposition for hyperpigmentation than a typical Fitzpatrick skin type I or II.