So we’ve probably heard the phrase ‘black don’t crack’ and there is some truth to that, especially when we look at the likes of Gabrielle Union and Pharrell Williams, who pretty much look the same as they did twenty years ago. Although our genes do have a lot to do with it, how well we take care of our skin, matters.
Here I’ll share some of the science behind that slogan and some anti-aging tips to keep your black beautiful.
Interestingly, skin of all races have the same number of ‘melanocytes’ (i.e the cells that produce melanin, which gives us our colour). So why don’t we all look the same?
The difference is that black people produce double the melanin from our ‘melanocytes’. This is a great because melanin helps us absorb some of the harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that come from the sun, which is known to cause skin cancer and premature aging*1. Thus, the darker you are the less likely you are to age.
Another reason is that the deeper layer of the skin, the ‘dermis’, which is made up of the scaffolding that keeps our skin taut is thicker and more compact in black skin. Aging skin, however, tends to have a much thinner dermis, which causes it to lose its scaffolding, resulting in skin folds and wrinkles.
So what signs of ‘cracking’ may be less obvious in darker skin?
One frequently overlooked sign is an uneven or mottled pigmentation of the skin, which happens as a result of unrestricted sun exposure.
Unfortunately some people turn to bleaching, which compounds the problem further as many of the bleaching agents destroy the melanocytes that are there to protect you. Furthermore, many bleaching agents thin out the skin, which makes it all the more easier for the harmful UV rays to penetrate the skin and cause more damage such as skin cancers and infections.
Similarly, those a bit fairer-skinned may notice small well-defined circular patches of dark brown skin called ‘solar lentigines’, which are again a result of sun damage.
As our skin is our presentation to the world and one of the reflections of our lifestyles, here are 7 ways to keep your black beautiful.
Wear sunscreen! Wear sunscreen! I cannot harp on this enough.
There is a common misconception amongst black people that we do not need to protect ourselves from the sun since our melanin already does it. Yes our skin does have an inbuilt Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 13.4; however, it is not sufficient to offset all the possible damage caused by UV rays. Once they get through they activate ‘free radicals’ which are like ‘pac-man’ damaging things in its way.
‘Free radicals’ activate aging signals and can damage DNA causing skin cancer, which although rare in black people tends to be more lethal as we do not expect it and so seek medical attention later.
The unfortunate truth is that some UV rays still get through because many of us aren’t diligent enough to reapply our sunscreen every 2 hours.
Luckily, our body naturally produces ‘anti-oxidants’, which are like the police that fight and bind up the free radicals. As we get older unfortunately, we start to lose our natural supply; hence why it is important to use an antioxidant cream or serum before applying sunscreen for double protection. Some examples of antioxidants include vitamins B3, C and E, coenzyme Q10, green tea, rosemary and pomegranate.
These babies have been scientifically proven time and time again to reduce signs of aging by preventing or reducing wrinkles and by thickening the collagen (scaffolding) in the dermis of the skin. They are often found in weaker concentrations as ‘retinol’ in many cosmetics and in stronger concentrations as prescription ‘retinoic acid or retinoids’.
Side effects to be aware of are: severe dryness and even peeling of the skin. So, one should start with a low dose and keep the skin moisturised. Furthermore, there has been speculation about potential risk to the baby when pregnant, so women of childbearing age are advised to be on effective contraception.
Have a healthy diet
Although the jury is still out with regards to the link between nutrition and skin aging, a diet rich in antioxidants (e.g superfoods, carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, sweet red peppers, chilli peppers, yam, cooked peas, ,melon, mango, guava, watermelon, turmeric) and fish oils is thought to protect the body from the damage caused by ‘free radicals’*2. Furthermore, a study by the American Society of Clinical nutrition showed that a diet high in vitamin C and linoleum acid and low in fats and carbohydrates were associated with a better skin aging appearance*3.
Get Your Beauty Sleep
It’s not called beauty sleep for no reason. Studies have shown that people with poor sleep quality (5 hours) are more likely to age quicker than those who sleep well (7-9 hours) as poor sleep reduces the skin’s ability to recover after sun exposure*4. I know this can be especially hard when we have kids, so rotating night duties between yourself and your partner can go a long way.
An interesting fact is that when we were in our mothers’ wombs, our skin and brain/nervous system were one and the same before we evolved and they separated to give us two different systems. As a result of this common ‘history’ our skin cells have proteins that are similar to those produced by our nervous system5. So you can imagine how psychological stress, which affects our nervous system causing anxiety, depression and the like, can have an effect on our skin. Furthermore, chronic stress increases the levels of the ‘free radicals’ we talked about earlier… which is well known to cause skin ageing.
On the whole though chronic stress affects more than just the skin and can reduce the body’s ability to respond to damage and can cause cancer and other diseases*5. So please, look after your bodies and your minds because you are too blessed to be stressed.
Smoking may look cool and may help reduce stress in some people, but your skin will suffer in the process. Numerous studies have shown that those who smoke age much faster in comparison to non-smokers*6. For starters, smoking activates some enzymes in the skin, which are responsible for breaking down the skin’s scaffolding or collagen which leads to wrinkle formation. It also reduces the thickness of the top part of the skin and some of the antioxidants that live in the skin, which makes us more prone to the harmful effects of UV rays from the sun.
So there we have it. Stay blessed and stay beautiful.
- Vashi NA, de Castro Maymone MB, Kundu RV. Aging differences in ethnic skin. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. 2016;9(1):31-38. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26962390
- Schagen SK, Zampeli VA, Makrantonaki E, Zouboulis CC. Discovering the link between nutrition and skin aging. Dermato-Endocrinology. 2012;4(3):298-307.
- Cosgrove M, Franco O, Granger S, Murray P, Mayes A. Dietary nutrient intakes and skin-aging appearance among middle-aged american women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;86(4):1225-1231.
- Oyetakin-White P, Koo B, Matsui M, Yarosh D, Cooper K, Baron E. Effects of sleep quality on skin aging and function. J Invest Dermatol. 2013;133:S126-S126.http://media.cleveland.com/health_impact/other/Lauder%20Sleep%20Skin%20Study%202013%20IID%20Poster%20%202013%20final.pdf
- Dunn JH, Koo J. Psychological stress and skin aging: A review of possible mechanisms and potential therapies. Dermatology Online Journal. 2013;19(6):18561.
- Seitz CM, Strack RW, Wyrick DL. Cigarette smoking and facial wrinkles: A review of the literature. Journal of Smoking Cessation. 2012;7(1):18-24.
Photo Credit: Svetlana Mandrikova | Dreamstime.com