The human world comprises people of many ethnic groups and cultures with each ethnic group having certain general characteristics with respect to eye, hair and skin color.

For example, central and northern Europeans tend more towards fair skin, hair and eye color, while southern Europeans tend to have dark hair, brown eyes and darker, olive skin tones. People of African and Australian aboriginal decent have very dark or almost black skin, usually dark or black hair and brown eyes, whilst people of Asian decent have a yellowish skin tone and can have brown or blue eyes but have mostly dark or black hair. Those of American-Indian decent have more reddish tones to skin and hair with brown eyes. Why do people have different skin colors?

The reason people have different skin colors is because there are three main pigments that give human skin a wide variety of colors: melanin, carotene and hemoglobin. Melanin is mostly located in the epidermis of the skin, carotene is mostly in the dermis and hemoglobin is in red blood cells within the capillaries in the dermis.

Melanin, a naturally occurring sun-block that protects our skin cells from the harmful effects of ultra-violet radiation from the sun, is produced from the amino acid tyrosine by special cells called melanocytes. The production of melanin is controlled by an enzyme called tyrosinase and is stimulated by exposure to sunlight. People whose melanocytes do not produce very much tyrosinase will most likely have fair skin and will not tan easily. Some people inherit an inability to produce melanin because their melanocytes cannot make the enzyme tyrosinase and these people have a condition known as albinism.

How Do Skin Pigments Work?

Carotene, the same pigment that is found in egg yolks and yellow, orange and red vegetables and fruits, is a precursor of Vitamin A synthesis. People of Asian and American-Indian ancestry have more carotene in the stratum corneum and fatty areas of the dermis and subcutaneous tissue.

The epidermis of fair skinned people is translucent, thus the pinkish tones seen in Caucasians is due to the presence of the pigment hemoglobin, an iron-based oxygen-carrying molecule in red blood cells.

The relative proportions of these pigments give us the variations we see in skin colour: more melanin will give darker brown to black skin tones, more carotene is responsible for the yellow to reddish tones and the hemoglobin gives red to pinkish tones.

We know that genetics have a major influence on our skin colour, skin resilience and vulnerability to certain skin problems. In addition, people with a lot of body hair, often have a greater tendency to oily skin and blocked secretory glands resulting in pimples and other similar skin conditions. On the other hand, people with red hair and very fair skin, have less of a problem with oily skin, but tend to burn easily in the sun and thus stand a greater risk of developing skin cancer.

Below are some generalized characteristics of various skin types from different genetic backgrounds:

Skin Characteristics of people with Anglo-Saxon origins

Fair, dry thin-skinned
Scars heal well
Signs of aging appear earlier
Burn easily in the sun
Bruising more obvious
Greater chance of skin cancer

Skin Characteristics of people with Southern Mediterranean origins

Oily, olive dark complexion
Signs of aging appear later
Cartilage tends to droop
Darker, thicker scars more common
Wrinkles appear later and in more localized areas
Skin cancer rare

Skin Characteristics of people with Northern European origins / German and Scandinavian

Fair, blue-eyed, blonde
Thin skin
Scars heal well
Signs of aging appear early
Bruising more obvious
Greater chance of skin cancer

Skin Characteristics of people with Southern European origins

Dark, oily brunette complexion
Signs of aging appear later
Fine wrinkling less common
Bruising lasts longer
Scars may be thicker and darker
Skin cancers less common

Skin Characteristics of people with Northern European/Irish and northern England

Ruddy freckled complexion
Red hair
Scars usually thin
Signs of aging appear later
Bruises easily
Pigmentation problems
Skin cancers most common in this type

Skin Characteristics of people with African origins

Signs of aging appear very late
Very little fine wrinkling
Formation of keloids is possible
Pigmentation changes may occur
Thicker cartilage hard to change
Skin cancers very rare

Genetically, this skin type is less susceptible to damage from UV radiation, although the skin can still get burned.

Skin Characteristics of people with Asian origins

Signs of aging appear late
Fine wrinkling does not usually occur
Pigmentation changes may occur
Eyelid surgery more difficult
Skin cancers very rare

Do these ethnically different skin types require a different approach to skin care?

The answer is ‘to some extent, yes’ but on closer analysis we will see that there is very little difference between black, brown, yellow, red and white skin types!

Within each of these groups, there is a wide range in skin tones and overlap from group to group. For example, white skin may range from alabaster white to deep olive tones; black skin may range from light tan to almost ebony black; Asian skin from light yellow to deep tan; and in American-Indian and Inuit skin, various tones of reddish brown. These differences are caused by the concentration of melanin and proportional contribution of the other pigments in the skin.

People of different races have the same number of melanocytes but they are more active in dark-skinned people. Oil glands tend to be more numerous and large in black skin, and follicles tend to be larger, so black skin tends toward oiliness, although it is less acne-prone. The darker the skin the more protection melanin provides from ultra-violet rays of the sun and from premature aging and stays younger-looking longer.

It becomes obvious very quickly that we are all very different and have various advantages and disadvantages specific to our skin type, depending on our genetic predisposition. However, the overall structures and functions of skin are very similar irrespective of color and are therefore cared for in very similar ways. Knowing your skin’s particular strengths and weaknesses, you can tailor your skin care approach to your particular skin-characteristics.

Classic Skin Type Categories

For the purpose of better understanding the care your skin requires, a ‘Skin Type Classification System’ has been devised and developed over the years. The basic skin types are generally described as oily, dry, normal, sensitive, mature or a combination of these. A brief description of each of the skin types and what you need to be aware of in order to balance your skin is given below to provide you with approaches to natural skin care which help you make the correct choices for your particular skin.

Skin Types: Normal, Dry, Oily, Combination, Dull or Mature

Normal skin type

Normal skin is smooth, finely-textured, soft and supple. If you are lucky enough to possess this skin type, treasure it by using light cleansers and lotions and mild toners and fresheners.

Dry skin type

Dry skin is usually thin and delicate and often flaky and prone to fine lines. It sometimes feels tighter than it should. Extremely rich and greasy creams are not good for it because they block the pores, often enlarging them and so creating an extra problem. Use light oils and lotions when moisturizing and choose herbal toners, which are mild and not too astringent. Try to restore the pH or acid-alkali balance with the application of such things as cucumber juice or diluted vinegar so that the sebaceous glands are encouraged to function.

Generally speaking, the emollient and hydrating herbs (chamomile, comfrey, cowslip, elderflower, fennel, marshmallow, orange blossom, rose, violet) are the best to use in lotions and toners for dry skin. But there is no hard and fast rule. Astringent herbs can be good for dry skins, for example, if blended with emollient herbs or oils and gels, and many herbs are suitable for all skin types. If the skin is sensitive as well as dry, see the section on sensitive skin below.

Oily skin type

Oily skin is shiny and coarser-textured, often with enlarged pores. It is prone to blackheads and spots. Don’t use alcohol to reduce the oiliness of the skin, as it will only worsen the problem. Many herbal toners are suitable for reducing oiliness and tightening the pores (see list of suitable herbs below). Egg-white makes a nice mild face-mask. Don’t over-dry the skin; moisturize with a light lotion. Aim to restore your skin’s acid-alkali balance so that the sebaceous glands cease to produce such large amounts of oil.

Astringent and cleansing herbs are generally the best to choose when treating an oily skin. These are: cinquefoil, clary sage, comfrey, cucumber, dandelion, horsetail, houseleek, hyssop, lavender, lemon balm, lemongrass, lemon verbena, marigold, mint, parsley, sage, witch hazel and yarrow. But don’t forget that many herbs are suited to all skin types and that many of the strengthening and anti-inflammatory herbs (chamomile, cowslip, fennel, lettuce, elderflower, orange blossom, rose, violet) are suitable for oily skins.

Combination skin types

The person with this skin type will have to follow two skin-care routines, one for the dry areas, and another for the oily. I think the oily areas balance up more easily in this type of skin than when the whole face is oily, so don’t despair.

Sensitive skin type

This skin is usually fine-textured and often prone to reddish veins and patches. Keep to light oils and lotions for cleansing and moisturizing, and mild herbal toners and compresses to soothe the skin and reduce redness and veins. It is usually wise for people with sensitive skins to stay away from the stimulating herbs (lavender, lime-flower, mint, nettle, sage, southernwood, summer savory, thyme).

Dull skin

Dull skin has lost the bloom of vitality and the soft glow of renewal, the acid balance has been lost and it looks matt and lifeless. This condition of the skin often occurs during or following severe illness. If it is oily or large-pored skin use diluted cider vinegar or lemon juice, or cucumber juice to balance it or if dry skin, use buttermilk or cucumber juice, together with a highly nutritious diet.

Mature skin type

It is possible to tone, soften and restore older skin to much of its former freshness. The skin has wonderful regeneration abilities, given the right support. Use a light hand with makeup if you must use it, as this tends to further dry and age mature skin. Of course, exercise, good nutrition, adequate rest/relaxation and a positive outlook on life all help the restoration process.

Other Factors that can influence you skin

The foundation of healthy, beautiful skin is diet. Are you getting sufficient polyunsaturated fats? These are essential to a healthy skin and do not cause facial oiliness. They are found in cereal grains, nuts and cold pressed nut and vegetable oils.

Plenty of vitamin C is fundamental to a beautiful skin, because this vitamin helps to build collagen and elastin, the bonding and structural substances which give tone and resilience. Eat bean sprouts, green and red peppers, black currants, oranges and lemons. Then there are guavas and rosehips, so your diet need not be restricted or dull. There is infinite variety to suit every palate.

Lack of vitamin A can cause dryness of the skin. Eat dandelion, parsley, watercress, carrots, pumpkins, celeriac.

If your skin is unbalanced, either flaky or too oily, or if your lips peel, then check your intake of vitamin B foods. Oats, years, bran, goat’s milk, whole rice, sunflower seeds, sprouted seeds and grains are some of the sources.

Caring For Your Skin on a Daily Basis

Looking after the body’s largest and arguably one of the body’s most complex organs needs to become one of your daily routines.

Firstly, you need to adopt a regular, structured skin care regime of exfoliating, cleansing, toning and moisturizing. There is no way around it.

Secondly, if you have combination skin, you may need to look at two different types of products to treat your different skin types. For example you may have both dry, sensitive skin and oily skin. That simply means you need to treat the sensitive skin with one set of products and the oily skin with a second set of products.

The next thing you need to consider is what you put into your body. Yes, here it comes – diet. Rather than promote any particular diet or tell you whether to eat high protein or low carb or what ever-diet, suffice it to say that if you keep your food as unprocessed as possible, as fresh as possible and as varied as possible – you will have a good diet and the foods you’re eating are helping you to correct the imbalance of your skin type.

The nutrients in your food will be reflected in your skin – eat processed, high fat foods and you guessed it – your skin will reflect ‘what you eat’. This also includes adequate hydration: water is the basic ingredient required for all the chemical reactions that occur in body cells and for effective removal of waste products.

Don’t forget about exercise: swimming, walking, using the stairs instead of the lift at the office and using your feet when using the car is not absolutely necessary. It’s not that hard, it just takes a bit of will power and knowing that increasing your blood circulation by doing those little things regularly will keep you healthier for longer. Even mild exercise, has a beneficial effect on not only blood circulation around the body but also on the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system assists the removal of waste products and excess fluids from the tissues and prevents the condition commonly known as cellulite or ‘orange-peel’ skin.

So there it is…no matter who you are, what skin color or skin type you possess…look after your skin using natural skin care products and it will look after you!

The Author:

Danny Siegenthaler is a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine and together with his wife Susan, a medical herbalist and Aromatherapist, they have created Natural Skin Care Products by Wildcrafted Herbal Products to share their 40 years of combined expertise with you. They practice Herbal and Chinese medicine at their Wildcrafted Cottage Clinic.
© Wildcrafted Herbal Products 2009

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