South Africa is often called the “Rainbow Nation”, referring to the range of skin tones and colours found here. Whilst skin may come in many hues, these have been classified into 6 main groups depending on their phototype, or the amount of melanin pigment in the skin. This classification method is called the Fitzpatrick scale, and is based on the constitutional colour of your skin (i.e. what you were born with). The colour of your skin also determines the way your skin reacts to ultraviolet radiation exposure. We all know that paler skin burns more easily while darker skins burn less (and tan more easily). Darker skin tones may not burn as quickly or as easily, but ALL skin is at risk from damage from too much sun exposure, including the potential to develop various skin cancers.
Caucasian skin is lighter in colour than ethnic skin due to evolutionary changes that resulted from people migrating towards the poles from equatorial Africa. Anatomically and functionally, the two skin types (and variants) are the same, but people with ethnic skin often have other challenges with their skin due to several factors, including genetics, reaction to the environment, and cultural practices.
The Fitzpatrick skin types
- hair: red or blond
- eyes: blue, grey or green
- skin: pale white, white with freckles
- burn easily in the sun, never tans
- highly susceptible to premature ageing and skin cancers from UV
- hair: blond, red, light brown
- eyes: blue, grey, green, hazel
- skin: pale white
- burn easily in the sun, tan lightly with repeated exposure
- high risk for skin cancer
- hair: chestnut or dark blond
- eyes: brown, blue, grey, green, hazel
- skin: olive, light brown
- sometimes burns, gradually tans
- skin cancer risk high with extreme exposure
- hair: medium to dark brown
- eyes: brown, hazel
- skin: olive-looking, light to medium brown
- seldom burn, tan easily
- avoid extreme sun exposure to reduce skin cancer risk & pigmentation
- hair: dark brown
- eyes: brown
- skin: olive or dark brown
- tan easily & rarely burn.
- watch out for uneven skin tone & pigmentation from UV exposure
- hair: very dark or black
- eyes: brown
- skin: very dark brown or black
- rarely burn
- watch out for uneven skin tone & pigmentation from UV exposure
1. Pigmentation disorders
Ethnic skin offers more protection against UV-radiation due to increased skin pigment, called melanin, but not more protection against chemicals and the ingredients in skin care products. Very few skincare products are more controversial than skin lighteners. Surprisingly, they are still used in most parts of the world, although under prescription only. These "bleaching creams" work by reducing the amount of pigment cells in the skin, called melanocytes. Bleaching creams are mostly aimed at the ethnic skin market.
Why does ethnic skin suffer more from pigmentation disorders than Caucasian skin?
As we age, our skin protects us from a range of potential threats in the environment. These threats could be UV-radiation, chemicals, and products that disturb our microbiome. The microbiome consists of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in harmony on our skin as is regarded to be essential in helping our skin to protect us. More information about the importance of the biome is constantly learned through research, which shows amongst others that antibiotics, preservatives in cosmetics and some cosmetic ingredients disrupt or even kill this biome.
The result is that the skin starts to suffer from inflammation, and inflammation is the reason why the skin, especially ethnic skin, goes darker. The extra pigment can be visible all over the face (we call this general pigmentation), or it can be in selected areas only, e.g., mostly on the cheeks and forehead, or in the spots where there were acne breakouts. Long-standing pigmentation becomes permanent as the pigment cells develop changes in their chromosomes. This means that they become programmed to produce extra pigment.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) occurs much more frequently in ethnic skin and in darker skin types. To treat this condition effectively, we need to look at methods to reprogram the pigment cells so that they produce normal amounts of pigment again.
Thoclor Labs GF1 Aftercare makes this possible. It is an ideal product to use to rapidly control the inflammation in the skin that forms after an injury or burn of the skin. For longer-term reprogramming of the pigment cells, we recommend that GF2 is used regularly. A twice-daily spray-on application on your facial skin will dramatically improve the darkening in the skin, not because it bleaches the skin, but because GF2 teaches the pigment cells to produce normal amounts of pigment, thereby restoring the skin to its natural, undamaged colour.
Acne is an inflammatory disease resulting from inflammageing (years of low-grade inflammation) in the skin and C.acnes bacteria. Acne occurs in 20% of all adolescents, irrespective of ethnicity. Acne is difficult to treat due to the formation of biofilm (a slimy secretion by the bacteria that protects it from skin treatment products and antibiotics). This biofilm is invisible to the eye and increases the inflammation associated with acne.
All ethnic groups and all genders suffer with acne, up to 80% of females and 90% of males are affected by this condition at some stage of their lives. Acne keloidalis nuchae (acne in the back of the neck area) occurs predominantly in Black males and is due to infection of hair follicles. The incidence is reported to be between 5 and 15% of all Black males between puberty and 55 years of age. This painful condition has historically not had any treatment protocol, but regular use of GF2 has been shown to quickly resolve this.
Acne also leads to scarring – up to 70% of acne cases have light scarring, while 25% have moderate scarring and 5% have severe scarring. Males have a significantly higher risk of presenting with higher grades of acne scarring.
Regular use of our GF2 formulation has been shown to improve both acne and acne keloidalis nuchae. Not only does our GF2 destroy the bacteria causing the acne, but it helps to reduce the inflammation as well, helping the skin to heal with a reduced risk of scarring.
3. Scarring and Keloids
Ethnic skin is also more likely to develop excessive scarring (called keloid), than Caucasian skin. This is highest in Hispanic and Black people and lowest in non-Hispanic White people.
Acne, eczema, and psoriasis can all lead to PIH in darker skins. It is advisable to avoid the sun to minimise the risk of PIH, as sun exposure can prolong healing and aggravate your symptoms.
4. Hair loss
Women of colour are also at risk of hair loss due to central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA) and traction alopecia. CCCA is estimated to affect up to 16% of Black women, resulting in scalp tenderness, itchiness and pain and leading to scarring and permanent hair loss in time. The cause of CCCA is not clear, however a twice daily application of GF2 will assist with this condition due to its anti-fungal effect (fungal infections are widely implicated as a cause of hair loss on the scalp), and anti-inflammatory effect, which is often part of the disease process of losing hair.
Traction alopecia is caused by repeated trauma along the frontal hairline – usually due to hair care practices that can be very rough on the hair (braiding and weaves for example). This can also result in permanent hair loss, so it is advisable to stop the actions that lead to this condition in the first place and replace them with gentler options.
5. Ageing & environmental impact
The main signs of ageing can be classified into four categories of wrinkles/texture, lack of firmness, vascular disorders, and pigmentation changes.
Intrinsic ageing refers to the changes that time has on the skin and body. The manifestation of this ageing is generally driven by genetics. Chronological ageing leads to fine wrinkles, a loss of fatty tissue (leading to a sunken appearance) and a loss of bone density. Ethnic skin tends to show these changes later and they are less severe.
Extrinsic ageing is driven by exposure to environmental factors, through diet, health & lifestyle, chemical products used on the skin and sun exposure. The best-known factor for ageing here is sun exposure, or photo-ageing. In darker skin tones (types III to VI Fitzpatrick) this shows up as changes in pigment, either darker or lighter patches.
Skin of colour is less susceptible to sun damage and photoageing. In the case of ethnic skin, chemical assault from products used on the skin is more likely to predominate the cause of damage, and UV-radiation is more likely to be the causative agent of ageing in Caucasian skin. Ethnic skin reacts to environmental damage by going darker. Caucasian skin in turn becomes wrinkly, saggy, drier and less elastic.
GF2 and ethnic skin
Our GF2 Skin Series products specifically target extrinsic ageing and inflammageing (ageing due to underlying low-grade inflammation) when used daily, as part of your skincare routine. Safe for all skin types and tones our active ingredient, our miracle molecule, has the following benefits:
- The genes associated with inflammation, ageing and disease are switched off.
- Skin cells begin to function normally - collagen, elastin & melanin formation is normalised.
- Leads to a smoother, more tolerant skin with fewer wrinkles, better hydration & a more even skin tone.
- Correction of any chromosomal defects, the reason why cells are reprogrammed to function normally again.
- Inflammation & redness on the skin are greatly reduced (perfect for sensitive skin or those with eczema or allergies).
- Helps to destroy C. acnes and other undesirable bacteria on the skin in a gentle way - soothing breakouts and minimising scarring. GF2 is also discretionary, meaning it leaves the desirable micro-biome unharmed.
For people with ethnic skin it is particularly important to stay educated about the ingredients used in skin care products, and how these might detrimentally impact your skin.