The skin comes in many different shades but the differences between various ethnicities are about far more than simple color. While individuals of any color can face a host skin disorders, individuals with darker skin tend to experience some particular issues that are not as prevalent in their lighter skinned contemporaries. In order to fully understand the issues that people of color face, you must first look closer at the differences in skin types.
Differences Are More Than Skin Deep
Because people of African, Asian and Hispanic descent have darker skin tone, the common assumption is that they have a larger amount of melanocytes, the cells that produce skin pigmentation. In fact, this isn’t true. Individuals of color actually have the same amount of melanocytes as Caucasians; the difference stems from the size of those cells, not the amount of them. In individuals of color, the melanocytes are significantly larger, thus covering a larger amount of area and producing more overall pigmentation.
That explains the difference at the biological level, but there are other differences as well that can also affect how the skin grows, how it responds to outside irritants and its general appearance. The different skin types also contain different levels of ceramides, which in turn determine the hydration level of the skin. In general, Africans and Caucasians have the lowest amount of ceramides and thus tend to have much drier skin than Hispanics and Asians.
Another distinct difference is the response to outside irritants and skin treatment. Darker skin tends to show scarring more easily and is also more prone to fluctuations in pigmentation such as hyper and hypo-pigmentation. Skin treatment products that clog the pores can have a much more serious effect on darker skin than Caucasian skin. Where such products may cause mild irritation to Caucasians, the reaction in darker skinned individuals is likely to be more severe, including the appearance of open sores.
Choose from the list below or continue reading for more information about African American, Asian and Hispanic skin conditions and treatments.
If you don’t see the skin condition you are looking for above, you might be able to find it in our General Skin Disease Information page which lists over 150 common and not so common disorders of the skin. Chances are you will find what you need there.
African American Skin Issues
African Americans actually face the same kinds of skin problems as people of any other race; the problem for these individuals stems from the fact that their dark skin makes any kind of skin abnormality stand out even more. Also, the use of various oil based products such as hair relaxers and the genetic properties of African American hair can leave these individuals susceptible to certain particular skin disorders.
The most common skin disorder among African Americans is acne. Just as with any skin type, a build-up of oil, dead skin and bacteria can lead to acne outbreaks. Because African American skin tends to be more sensitive, the appearance of these outbreaks can be more severe, resulting in heavy scarring, raised nodules and inflammation. Acne in African Americans may also require more serious treatment options than it would in lighter skinned individuals.
This same sensitivity to any kind of injury or irritation can also lead to various forms of skin growths, including dermatosis papulosa nigra, keloids and lichenification. These are all hard, scaly or bumpy growths that occur on various parts of the body and can be the result of anything from an acne outbreak to excessive scratching of irritated skin. The more irritated the skin becomes, the more likely it is for one of these growths to form.
A particular issue for African Americans is pseudofolliculitis barbae, or razor bumps. These are hard bumps that occur when individual hairs that are cut with a razor grow back into the skin. The condition is more common among men but can also occur among women. It is more common in African Americans than any other race because their hair tends to grow in short, curly strands that are more prone to turn back in on themselves when cut.
Finally, the other major area of skin disorders among African Americans is pigmentation disorders. Hyper-pigmentation, or an increase in color, and hypo-pigmentation, or decrease in color can happen to any skin type but they are more noticeable among individuals with darker skin. The most common form of hypo-pigmentation, vitiligo, can be embarrassing and debilitating for patients. Various treatments can be used to even out the skin tone and make the lighter patches less noticeable.
Asian Skin Care
Individuals of Asian descent can have genetic influences from a range of countries including China, Japan and the Far East as well as India, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. While the different countries’ climate and characteristics may affect skin health, there are some skin conditions that are common to all men and women of Asian descent.
Because Asian countries are generally warm in climate, Asian skin naturally produces more oil. This, in turn, leaves individuals of Asian descent more vulnerable to acne outbreaks than Caucasians. In most cases, Asian acne outbreaks will be in the form of keloids, or hardened bumps and reddening. Unfortunately, these types of acne growths are more likely to lead to permanent scarring if they aren’t treated quickly and thoroughly.
As most men and women age, wrinkling is the primary visual side effect that presents on the skin. Because Asians have much higher natural hydration levels than Caucasians or Africans, rather than wrinkling, the primary age-related skin condition they face is dark spots. Spots of hyper-pigmentations, freckles and general unevenness of skin tone can be quite prominent against the usually warm, smooth Asian skin, making these skin abnormalities stand out more than they would in individuals of other racial backgrounds.
Protecting Hispanic Skin
Hispanics face many of the same skin related issues as other ethnicities; the difference in their case is how their skin reacts. And like Asians, Hispanics can have different reactions depending on their particular country of origin. Mexicans and Puerto Ricans can have an entirely different type of skin than Hispanics whose ancestry traces to Central America or Spain. It is difficult to gather all Hispanics under one umbrella in many facets of their lives, and skin care is one of these.
While Hispanics are no more predisposed to acne than any other ethnicity, they can still suffer outbreaks and those outbreaks can be much more difficult to treat because Hispanic skin tends to be extremely sensitive to benzoyl peroxide, the primary ingredient in most common acne treatments. This means that Hispanic individuals will require more specialized types of treatment and should be encouraged to see the dermatologist at the earliest sign of outbreak.
The other common skin related issue among Hispanics is hyper-pigmentation, or dark patches of skin. Hyper-pigmentation, or melasma, can be caused in Hispanics by exposure to sunlight as well as irritation associated with acne, insect bites, psoriasis, eczema and burns. The resulting patches can be unsightly and embarrassing and may require extensive treatment depending on their size and severity.
The Skin Cancer Factor
One common issue that African Americans, Asians and Hispanics share is a tendency to develop skin cancer. Often, people of color assume that they do not have to worry about skin cancer as much as Caucasians do, but this is not true. While the risk of developing skin cancer is greater among Caucasians, this doesn’t mean that individuals of color can’t develop it too. In fact, it is this false sense of security that makes skin cancer that much more dangerous for people of color. Because they don’t pay attention to abnormalities that could potentially be malignant, African Americans, Asians and Hispanics are likely to wait longer to seek treatment and are more likely to be diagnosed with late stage skin cancer, and subsequently more likely to die from it.
Skin disorders affect every individual, no matter what their ethnic background, and it is equally important for African Americans, Asians and Hispanics to care for their skin throughout their lives as it is for Caucasians. You only get one skin so you need to take good care of it. Your health depends on it and that is one fact that transcends all color.