Since this is the month where Black History is highlighted, I thought I would take the time to discuss brown skin (I really hate referring to brown people as “black”, I’ve never seen black skin in my life, only BROWN! All shades of brown) 

Anyway, I digress 🙂 

One question I get a lot  “Is brown skin different from lighter complexions?”

The answer is Yes.

The melanin in brown skin is hyper sensitive to any trauma such as burns, acne, cuts or anything that causes it to become inflamed or trigger the healing response. 

What ends up happening is dark spots called Hyperpigmentation or even a reduction in melanin called HYPOpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation can be treated and dark spots will fade with time and committed maintenance. The later, HYPOpigmentation unfortunately can not, especially if the cells have been traumatized beyond repair.  

Aging is an inevitable and complex process that can be described clinically as wrinkles, sunspots, uneven skin color, and sagging skin. These cutaneous effects are influenced by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors and often are varied based on ethnic origin given underlying structural and functional differences. 

Skin of color has many characteristics that make its aging process unique. Those of Asian, Hispanic, and African American descent have distinct facial structures. Differences in the concentration of epidermal melanin makes darkly pigmented persons more vulnerable to dyspigmentation, while a thicker and more compact dermis makes facial lines less noticeable. Ethnic skin comprises a large portion of the world population. Therefore, it is important to understand the unique structural and functional differences among ethnicities to adequately treat the signs of aging.

Popular theories of why our human ancestors gained and then lost dark skin over the course of evolution may be incorrect, according to a new paper by UC San Francisco authors, who suggest that heavily pigmented skin evolved because it forms a stronger barrier against a host of environmental challenges. Because deeply pigmented skin requires more energy to produce, they propose, our ancestors shed some of these pigments through natural selection as they moved north and needed less protection against these threats.

“Work in our lab has shown that darkly pigmented skin has far better function, including a better barrier to water loss, stronger cohesion, and better antimicrobial defense, and we began to ponder the possible evolutionary significance of that,” said Peter Elias, MD, professor of dermatology. Elias co-authored the new paper, published in the June 21, 2016 online issue of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, with his wife and frequent research collaborator Mary L. Williams, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at UCSF.

Many anthropologists hold that heavy pigmentation arose in our ancestors either to protect them from skin cancer or to prevent the breakdown of folic acid, an important nutrient that resides in the skin’s blood vessels. Folic acid deficiencies are associated with congenital anomalies in offspring. Both of these putative protective functions would have arisen in response to heavy doses of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays as our newly hairless ancient ancestors moved out of the jungle and onto the open savannah.

On the other hand, as our human ancestors migrated north from Africa, many theories propose, their skin became lighter to allow more UV light to be absorbed by the skin, because a portion of the UV spectrum of light is necessary for the production of vitamin D in the skin.

Vitamin D is essential to the health of skin as well as the health of our overall immune system. Did you know that Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of Vitamin C? All of these vital minerals work together to keep our bodily system functioning at optimal performance.

I can never stress enough and I know my clients get tired of hearing me tell them to make sure they are wearing their SPF! If we are going to fade dark spots and treat brown skin effectively we must shield them from the sun at all times. I don’t care if we are just going to the store or out to take out the trash, SPF must be a part of the entire regimen and worn every single day. We also incorporate pigment inhibitors to calm the production of new melanin so the pigmentation begins to fade and not get darker. 

If you’re attempting to treat hyperpigmentation without daily sunscreen, your efforts are pointless. If you’re not prepared to be diligent with UV protection, don’t even bother.

Active Ingredients:

Active ingredients to treat hyperpigmentation can be divided into different categories to include tyrosinase inhibitors and exfoliating agents. Tyrosinase Inhibitors work by interrupting the enzyme ‘Tyrosinase’ which assists in oxidising the amino acid ‘Tyrosine’ which is needed to form melanin in the melanosome. 

Many Tyrosinase Inhibitors are also antioxidants but not all antioxidants are Tyrosinase Inhibitors. 

Exfoliating ingredients can also be included to assist in the removal of excess pigment granules. Effectively speeding up the renewal process through gentle but regular exfoliation. This two-pronged approach by regulating pigment production alongside peeling the skin to remove excess pigment is an effective way of treating hyperpigmentation. Simply relying on exfoliation alone will not address the root cause of the problem. It’s like trying to empty the sink while the tap is still running.

Tyrosinase Inhibitors

The following list of ingredients are categorized as Tyrosinase Inhibitors. They work by interrupting or blocking the enzyme ‘Tyrosinase’ which assists in oxidizing the amino acid ‘Tyrosine’ which is needed to form melanin in the melanosome.

This regulation of pigment production is fundamental in the treatment of hyper-pigmentation. Note that a lot of Tyrosinase Inhibitors are also antioxidants, however not all antioxidants are Tyrosinase Inhibitors. 

Hydroquinone – Very powerful Tyrosinase Inhibitors. Skin bleaching effect. Banned in some countries. Potential carcinogenic effect.

  • Kojic Acid – a natural crystal like substance that is used in some skin whitening products. Also Banned in some countries. May cause dermatitis with long-term use.
  • Arbutin – a glycosylated form of Hydroquinone but more gentle, found in Bearberry, Paper Mulberry, Blueberry and Cranberry
  • L-Ascorbic Acid – Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that also exhibits tyrosinase inhibiting properties.
  • Licorice Root – A very popular plant-based Tyrosinase Inhibitor. More effective than Kojic Acid, but also anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
  • Azelaic Acid – A dicarboxylic acid, naturally derived from wheat. Works as an anti-acne and skin bleaching agent.


Peeling Agents – Exfoliating Ingredients

  • Glycolic Acid – AHA derived from sugar cane. Can be sensitizing / irritating for some skins, especially brown skin, I do not recommend for darker complexions.
  • Lactic Acid – AHA derived from milk. Also a tyrosinase inhibitor. Helps to boost ceramide production.
  • Mandelic Acid – AHA derived from Almonds. Lipid soluble. Antibacterial and Anti-Inflammatory. MY FAVORITE FOR TREATING BROWN SKIN AND PIGMENTATION
  • Citric Acid – AHA derived from Citrus Fruit. Helps to brighten areas of pigmentation.
  • Salicylic Acid – BHA derived from Willow Bark. Lipid soluble. Antibacterial and Anti-Inflammatory.
  • Enzymes – Bromelian derived from Pineapple and Papain derived from Papaya. More gentle than acids and target the protein bonds (desmosomes) holding cells together.


Other Pigment Regulating Ingredients

  • Niacinadmide – Works by interrupting the transfer of melanosomes to the keratinocyte skin cells.
  • Vitamin A – Retinol / Retinaldehyde helps to normalise and regulate cell function, including both keratinocyte and melanocyte.
  • Brightening Peptides – such as Nonapeptide-1, Rh-Oligopeptide-1 act like chemical messengers to regulate melanin production. 
  • Green Tea Extract – an antioxidant that also exhibits tyrosinase inhibiting properties.
  • Glucosamine – an antioxidant that also exhibits tyrosinase inhibiting properties.

So as you can see there are many ingredients and modalities we use to create a balanced regimen when targeting hyperpigmentation in brown skin and you want to be sure you are working with a professional who understands what is happening on a cellular level and can treat your skin effectively. 

If you have any questions or need any product recommendations and/or skin treatments, schedule an appointment with me today! 

Talk Soon



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