Mon | May 29, 2017

Arusha Campbell-Chambers | What makes black skin and hair unique

Published:Wednesday | March 1, 2017 | 3:00 AM
What makes black skin and hair unique
What makes black skin and hair unique
What makes black skin and hair unique
What makes black skin and hair unique
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Today, we look at understanding the factors that make black skin and hair unique, which can then provide guidance regarding how to best care for skin and hair in individuals of African descent.

Here's a list of unique features of black skin and hair:

1 Melanin is the main pigment that gives the skin its colour. Black individuals produce more melanin and therefore have darker skin complexions. Even among black individuals, there are many different skin shades.

2 Melanin protects our skin from the ultraviolet rays in sunlight. The melanin in black individuals is therefore a natural advantage.

Apart from the natural beauty of black skin, there are a number of health benefits as well. These include a lower risk of developing skin cancer, a lower risk of sunburn and fewer signs of premature ageing such as wrinkles, lines and age spots. Even though black individuals have greater natural protection, there is still a chance of getting skin cancer, sunburn and premature ageing, so sun protection is still encouraged for everyone.

3 One disadvantage of producing more melanin is that black skin is more reactive. As a result, a pimple, rash, scratch or burn can result in more melanin being deposited at the affected area, leaving a dark spot behind. This is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Therefore, it is advisable for these individuals to avoid picking, digging or scratching the skin, and to avoid harsh skin products which can irritate the skin and leave dark spots behind. Sometimes, on the other hand, instead of a dark spot being left behind, the area becomes lighter in response to a rash or trauma. This is called post-inflammatory hypopigmentation.

4 Individuals with black skin are at greater risk of developing scars like keloids, which are large scars extending beyond the original site of trauma. Individuals who have a known risk of getting keloids should therefore avoid unnecessary trauma, like body piercings or tattoos.

5 The hair in black individuals is curly and arises from curved hair follicles. African hair is also drier and at greater risk of breakage so should be cared for gently using wide tooth combs and gentle shampooing practices with use of conditioners and moisturizers.

6 Black individuals are also at increased risk of getting razor bumps and bumps occurring in the scalp.

Although it is culturally more acceptable for men to shave their beards, the closer the shave one aims for, the more the risk of bumps in black skin. Laser hair removal is generally the best method of hair removal. Other methods, such as shaving, tweezing, waxing, hair removal creams and electrolysis are alternatives, but have greater risks of bumps and dark spots.

Understanding what makes your skin and hair unique should enable you to better care for them. Skin bleaching should be avoided since it usually results in damaging the skin and removing a natural asset. Indeed, we've all been fearfully and wonderfully made!

- Dr. Arusha Campbell-Chambers is a dermatologist and founder of Dermatology Solutions Skin Clinics & Medi-Spas. Email: yourhealth@gleanerjm.com