Why Skin of Color Ages Slower than White

Why Skin of Color Ages Slower than White

It is true, Caucasians age much faster than other ethnic groups such as Blacks, Latinas, Middle Easterners, and Asians. But aren’t all skin alike? In fact, there is Science Behind Why Some People Age Slower. Recent research discovered differences in the skin biochemistry among ethnic groups which manifest varying rates of developing wrinkles, spots, and loss of elasticity. It is clear that different ethnic groups have different phenotypes of aging. Caucasians develop wrinkling earlier and more extensively. Asians, Latinas, Middle Easterners and Blacks are more prone to changes in pigment with age while wrinkles and skin elasticity developing much later in life. Genetics as well as external factors such as differences in diet, exposure to sunlight, and culture undoubtedly play a role in how quickly skin ages.

Skin Type Classification

In 1975, Dr. Thomas B. Fitzpatrick developed a way to estimate the response of different types of skin to ultraviolet (UV) light. It was initially developed on the basis of skin color to measure the correct dose of UVA for PUVA therapy, and eventually extended to a wider range of skin types. Skin phenotypes according to the Fitzpatrick Scale includes:

  • Type I (scores 0–6) always burns, never tans (palest; freckles).
  • Type II (scores 7–13) usually burns, tans minimally
  • Type III (scores 14–20) sometimes mild burn, tans uniformly
  • Type IV (scores 21–27) burns minimally, always tans well (moderate brown)
  • Type V (scores 28–34) very rarely burns, tans very easily (dark brown)
  • Type VI (scores 35–36) never burns (deeply pigmented dark brown to darkest brown)

Darker skin with Fitzpatrick Scale III or above show age more slowly because it has more melanin (dark pigment that determines sun sensitivity). The more melanin you have, the more protection you have against photoaging or skin damage from too much exposure to the sun’s rays.

Biological Differences

The biological skin differences among different ethnic groups are due to the melanocytic pathways with melanosomes distribution and size. Melanosomes in ethnic groups are typically larger than those in Caucasian skin. For example, ethnic groups like Asians, Indians, Latinas, Spanish, Middle Eastern, and Blacks with increased melanin levels and larger melanosomes offer greater protection from the sun compared to Caucasian skin. Notably, Fitzpatrick Skin Type III and above have better and more efficient mechanisms for coping with damage caused by UV-exposure.

Another key biological skin difference was discovered in a recent study led by Dr. Alexa Kimball, professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. The Methuselah gene, known as the long-life gene, is linked to long-lived humans due to making cells less responsive to insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF1), a key growth hormone secreted by the liver. Dr. Kimball’s study which started in 2012 and published in 2015, looked at 231 women from their 20s to 70s across numerous ethnicities including Caucasian, African, Hispanic, and Asian. Using 3D imaging, hormone mapping, and genetics information from 23andMe, the study found that the Methuselah genes were more often in Black Americans at 20% versus 10% in White Americans. It is believed that the Methuselah gene is responsible for skin repair from free radicals, sunlight, and other environmental factors.

Lastly, ethnic groups have thicker skin and higher fat content in their skin, especially on the face. According to Dr. Liotta, “When the dermis is thicker, cells are more densely packed together and more compact. You don’t see fine lines and wrinkles as much.” DNA determines whether you were born with thick skin. Genetically, those with more melanin-rich skin with Fitzpatrick Skin Type III and above are pre-disposed to have thicker skin, resulting in wrinkles that look less prominent. Additionally, higher fat content in the skin gives a plump look and also results in minimizing the appearance of wrinkles.

The Downside to More Melanin

Those with dark skin tones most commonly suffer from hyperpigmentation, especially melasma—brown patches of discoloration that appear most often on the cheeks, chin, upper lip, and forehead. For example, approximately 66 percent of women of Mexican descent will develop melasma during pregnancy, according to one survey. Other forms of hyperpigmentation such as sun spots and acne spots appear with greater frequency and intensity. These hyperpigmentation on Fitzpatrick Skin Type III or above, lasts longer and is often difficult to treat due to a higher risk of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH).

Treatment options for hyperpigmentation are lasers, chemical peels, and topical use of hydroquinone. Although some with Fitzpatrick skin type III or above have seen some results to reduce the dark marks, many research that track results long-term post treatment show that the hyperpigmentation returns within 3 months. Lasers and chemical peels are often expensive and requires multiple treatments spaced out monthly. Topical hydroquinone is considered the “gold” standard by dermatologists; however, it is quite controversial due to studies linking it to cancer. Hydroquinone is not recommended for use while pregnant or during nursing. Hydroquinone causes irritation and increases sensitivity to the sun. It should only be used in intervals of 3-4 months at a time with a rest period of 3-4 months. However, hydroquinone requires at least 3 months to start showing results so those with dark skin tones may see their dark marks return during the rest period. Overall, none of these treatments are satisfactory for ethnic skin.

A New Option of Hyperpigmentation for Skin of Color

Hyperpigmentation such as sun damage and melasma is chronic. There is no permanent cure for them so the best method to manage hyperpigmentation is a gentle topical solution. A new alternative is LeCerre’s Rapid Brightening Serum which contains five different naturally derived active ingredients that are clinically proven to reduce the appearance of dark marks. These natural ingredients include Azelaic Acid, acetyl glucosamine, niacinamide (Vitamin B3), dong quai, and turmeric (tetrahydrodiferuloylmethane). Tetrahydrodiferuloylmethane itself has been clinical shown to be 10 times more effective than hydroquinone. With these natural ingredients, the Rapid Brightening Serum has no negative side effects and can be used by those pregnant and nursing. According to the spokesperson for LeCerre, “LeCerre’s products were formulated with the specific intent to meet the needs of skin of color due to the subtle differences in its skin biochemistry. We leverage new findings to inform our approach to selecting ingredients and prioritizing skin concerns that matter most.”