Celebrating melanin-rich beauty; the history and the differences.
Across the globe, white Euro-centric ideals of beauty continue to dominate the mainstream industry; marginalising the representation of melanin-rich-skinned women. But, beauty matters to all women. And being confident matters to all women; no matter their culture, race, or ethnicity. So, how do we (as melanin-rich women) navigate through the haze of white-centricity?
We start by educating ourselves about our own melanin-rich skin from licensed professionals, pharmacists, dermatologists, and academics who make it their mission to discover the physiology and fundamental functions of melanin. In this article, we want to share our own scientific knowledge from the research and development that we’ve been so dedicated to, with the aim of building a reliable network for our community of black and brown women. But first…
What does the current beauty landscape look like?
Traditionally, women of colour in Europe have had to rely solely on the beauty tips that exist along the margins of the mainstream beauty industry. Whether it be through their families, immediate communities of colour, or today, through online platforms. From the age of adolescence to adulthood, women of colour across Europe have found themselves going through a process of trial and error; using products that weren’t made or designed for them. Instead, they’ve had to settle for “just fine” out of a selection catered to a skin type that isn't theirs.
Sadly, the dominance of white European standards of beauty is worldwide, and with this comes the hugely thriving (and extremely harmful) industry of skin bleaching. We explore the full range of detrimental effects, both mentally and physically, in our article ‘The truth behind the pursuit for flawless skin.’ And as an ever-expanding industry, it means that the effects of colonialism are still very real, and endure to this day.
The ‘struggle discovery’ is real.
How did you learn to take care of your skin? Many of us have had to draw upon our cultural and racial heritage for basic skincare information, along with the consumption of African American-dominated representation. It’s often been referred to as a ‘struggle discovery,’ just to find out the basics of caring for melanin-rich skin. From an early age, we’ve understood that the trials we go through aren’t even a thought for our Caucasian friends; something that we believe has been universally felt amongst women of colour in Europe.
Melanin-rich skin has for too long been left out of the beauty equation when it comes to research and development, resulting in a serious lack of accessible information surrounding the unique characteristics, concerns, and specific needs it requires to flourish. There’s no question that the cause of this neglect has stemmed from a history steeped with colonialism, and that’s why action needs to be taken to remedy this. Through our own research and development, we’ve discovered that melanin-rich skin requires a different approach than Caucasian skin, and the need for melanin-centric skincare is of paramount importance.
Healthy skin is attractive skin. Here’s what we know.
In our contemporary, health-focused world, healthy skin is attractive skin. Healthy skin suggests a woman with beauty secrets that you want to speak to. Healthy skin sparks a conversation piece about products and beauty regimens. Healthy skin makes a confident and happy woman. Healthy skin conveys the message that a woman is groomed, and takes good care of herself. The skin is the largest organ in the body, and the primary interface between the self and the outside world. Skin, alone, communicates so many messages to the outside world.
Here are the main structural and functional characteristics of melanin-rich skin:
- The outermost layer of skin (known as the stratum corneum) has 20 layers of thickness for darker skin tones, while lighter skin tones only have 16 layers. This means, to effectively hydrate the skin, formulations need to be vectorised in order to penetrate layers of the skin.
- Skin cell shedding (otherwise known as desquamation) occurs at a rate 2.5 times higher in darker skin than with lighter skin phototypes, resulting in a duller appearance.
- Darker skin tones can produce more oil and sebum, making them more prone to acne.
- Intercellular lipids are 15% higher, aiding in regulating the skin barrier function.
- Darker tones have larger and hyperactive melanocytes (the little cells that produce the melanin pigment), which also play a protective role for the skin. This means that every trauma to the skin will trigger the melanocytes to go into overdrive, producing excess melanin and potentially causing hyperkeratosis, keloid scars, and dyschromia with hyperpigmentation or light spots.
- Skin dryness or xerosis can be exacerbated by the slowing of cell metabolism when met with colder climates.
- Acne can be aggravated for those with darker skin because of excess sebum production, slower cell renewal, and hyper-reactivity to male androgen hormones.
- Prominent, accentuated, and rough hair follicles known as Keratosis Pilaris are common, and may cause inflammation along with scarring.
- Melanin-rich skin has some inherent ultraviolet light protection due to the increased melanin content. Since sunlight is important for the transformation of 7-dehydrocholesterol to vitamin D3, this added protection can limit ultraviolet exposure, causing a vitamin D deficiency in darker skin tones. This may even be associated with impaired skin metabolism levels, which can lead to dull, dehydrated skin.
- Skin with medium to higher content of melanin thrives in the sun and humidity, and the lack of solar energy within colder climates can be associated with an impaired skin barrier. This can result in a sensitised complexion, with a reduced ability to retain water and consistent cell hydration.
- Darker skin phototypes can be uniquely sensitive, and minimal trauma will trigger the overproduction of melanin; which can lead to persistent hyperpigmentation.
- Classified as darkly pigmented eumelanin and lighter pigmented pheomelanin, melanin-rich skin contains mostly eumelanin. This red pigment can often be associated with a healthy glow in deeper skin tones.
Cause and effect of daily skin concerns; let’s solve them.
Now that we’re familiar with the fundamentals of our melanin-rich skin, let’s take a look at the most common concerns we face on a daily basis. And more importantly, how to solve them:
The cause: For darker skin, any inflammation or trauma to the skin triggers melanocyte activity and melanin production, causing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Hormone imbalances, as well as chemical/harsh product irritations, can also cause hyperpigmentation.
The solution: Be kind and gentle to your melanin-rich skin. Stay away from any harsh ingredients that may either cause irritation, disrupt your endocrine system, or create inflammation-inducing micro-tears, such as mechanical exfoliators.
The cause: Sebum plugs can become oxidised, forming open comedones (commonly known as black heads) on the skins’ surface. Pollutants and comedogenic products can lead to excess sebum, forming closed comedones (known as white heads), which are transformed into inflammatory acne with bacterial proliferation.
The solution: Stay consistent with your cleansing routine, and remember to double-cleanse with an oil-based cleanser after wearing makeup or sunscreen. The antimicrobial action within cleansers help to eliminate acne-causing bacteria, while adding a chemical exfoliator to your routine twice a week can remove excess sebum, dead skin cells, and grime from clogging pores.
The cause: Cell renewal can often become slow and impaired when combatting colder climates, with cells becoming less compact, fragile, and dry. Dead skin cells accumulate on the top surface layer, which not only clogs pores, but also results in a dull complexion. This process of hyperkeratosis can also cause what scientists call cellular anoxia, which puts cells at risk of pathogenic bacteria. Dull skin can also be exacerbated by excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption, smoking, poor skincare regimens, and a lack of water intake.
The solution: As the upper epidermal layer is thicker, it needs humidity to sustain an optimal level of cellular cohesion. When that isn’t possible (such as in winter, for example), minor lifestyle changes can also make a massive difference to your skins’ radiance, as well as including more antioxidants and vitamin-D actives into your regimen.
The cause: Darker phototypes are more likely to experience an impaired skin barrier, caused either by harsh water, weather, or colder climates, lack of sunlight, stress, pollution, or harsh products. These can all trigger the sebaceous gland to overproduce sebum, which indicates an influx of dehydrated cells, even while the skin appears oily.
The solution: An impaired skin barrier needs plenty of nourishment; whether through emollients, humectants, restorative ceramides, amino acids, and essential fatty acids. These ingredients work to repair and rebuild the damaged cell wall, and your complexion will be looking (and feeling) healthier and happier.
Tips & tricks we think you should know for a happier and healthier epidermis:
- Toning your skin straight after cleansing is a fantastic way to restore the delicate pH balance and get your skin microbiome back on track for a healthier epidermis.
- Daily gentle toning can actually prevent additional breakouts caused by excess debris found deep within the pores.
- Moisturising twice daily after layering serums is essential for retaining moisture and pushing treatment active ingredients deeper into the skin.
- Normalise pigmentation by using a nourishing network of biodynamic ingredients rich in vitamin C and natural tyrosinase enzyme inhibitors, such as Palmita Palmaria Extract, natural Glutathione, Cysteine, along with gentle doses of Alpha Arbutin, hexylresorcinol, or Astaxanthin.
- Maintain healthy skin by staying proactive in your skincare routine, and use preventative doses of active ingredients to keep pesky (and common) concerns at bay.
Want to find out more?
We have so much more information about how to identify your skin phototype, routine guides on how to treat hyperpigmentation, acne, enlarged pores, dullness, and dehydration, as well as insights into maintaining a healthy complexion. Have an explore of our ‘blog’ section, where we’ll be continuing our mission to deliver scientifically proven information to the wider melanin-rich beauty community.
We’re in this together, and we believe spreading awareness, education, and individual experiences surrounding melanin-rich skin is just the beginning of something even greater. We want to build confidence through empowerment, and nothing is more empowering than healthy and happy melanin-rich skin, despite what it’s come to represent historically, culturally, and socially. We’re here to rise above the mainstream “conventional” beauty narrative, and celebrate what it means to be a beautiful, confident, and powerful black or brown skin woman.
Join us on this journey, and share your stories, experiences, and thoughts with us in the comments below. We’d love to hear from every one of you.