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The Anatomy of Global Skin Tones

By: Pamela Springer
Posted: June 14, 2012, from the August 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.

This article originally ran in the June 2012 issue of Skin Inc. magazine. All rights reserved.

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 beauty industry, and specifically the skin care industry, are beginning to embrace the needs of women and men of certain ethnic descents. Consumers of Middle Eastern, Hispanic, Asian and African-American descent and their subgroups are in need of product options targeting their unique skin disorders. Corrective management of these skin types has to go beyond the norm. Beauty industry 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 strategies that address the unique skin-related challenges will create value for these consumers. It is also important to invest time and incorporate the knowledge of the cultural differences as it pertains to your brand's target demographics.


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.