THE saying, “black doesn’t crack” has been part of our knowledge base for decades. What this is really saying is that people of colour do not show their age as easily as Caucasians.

But is there any medical reason for this, besides our own eyes and what we see in the mirror?

Melanin

Melanin is the pigment that gives skin its colour, and in black skin the melanin is increased. The melanin acts as a natural sunblock, limiting the amount of damage that the sun does to your skin and inhibiting the formation of wrinkles in black skin.

All of us have the same number of pigment cells — these are melanin-producing cells — per square inch of our bodies. What this means is that if we compared a square inch of skin in a Caucasian person with a square inch of skin in a coloured person, we would find the same number of pigment-producing cells in both.

But in black skin there is more melanin produced and the melanin is more densely packed. In addition, the melanin is formed into large bundles whereas with a light-skinned person, the melanin is less dense and the bundles of melanin are smaller.

The oil glands

The oil-producing glands, also known as the sebaceous glands, are more numerous in black skin than in white skin. Sebum is the name of the oil produced by the skin, and it keeps the skin soft and supple. But while it helps to retard the signs of age, it may also contribute to an increase in acne.

The dermis

The skin consists of two layers, an upper layer which is the epidermis, and a lower layer, the dermis. In the dermis of black skin there are more elastic fibres and this contributes to the relative lack of wrinkles and the ability to recover quickly from medical procedures such as micro dermabrasion or micro needling.

The reaction pattern

The reaction pattern between black skin and white skin is also different. When white skin is damaged it turns red but when black skin is damaged it turns black. It is far easier to remove black spots out of black skin than it is to take out the red spots out of white skin.

Geography

We must face the fact that black people come from countries which are close to the equator and so our black skin is adapted to living in these regions. When we go to the temperate regions our skin may suffer from eczema and scaling. However, this may be seen as better than the Caucasians, who live in harmony with the weather up north, but who may be at risk of getting skin cancer from the sun in tropical countries.

Vitamin D

Since black skin has more melanin and more layers, it filters sunlight better, and so the sun, while still dangerous, does not cause as much damage to the skin as in Caucasians.

Published by Dr Neil Persadsingh

Dr. Neil Persadsingh M.B.B.S. (UWI) holds a Diploma in Dermatology from the University of London, St John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin. A Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, he is a foundation member of the Dermatological Association of Jamaica and the Caribbean Dermatological Association Dr. Persadsingh is a former member of the Cosmetic Committee of the Jamaica Bureau of Standards

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