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Skin Conditions in Dark Skin

Skin comes in all colors, from the palest ivory to the darkest brown and nearly every shade in between.

Skin problems, however, are generally color-blind, meaning that most skin conditions can occur in every race and in all skin types.

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That said, there are certain skin conditions that seem to affect dark skin more frequently or with more severity. Further, many treatments used for common skin conditions can sometimes lead to even more problems when used on people of color. 

But before you can learn how to protect your face and body, it's important to know a little something about the biology of dark skin.

Understanding Dark Skin

The color of all skin stems from cells called melanocytes. They produce melanosomes, packets containing the natural chemical melanin. 

Studies show that all people have roughly the same number of melanocytes in skin tissue, regardless of color. What differs is both the size and distribution of the melanosomes. The more and larger they are, the darker skin will be.

Since the role of melanin in the skin is to absorb and scatter energy from ultraviolet (UV) light, having a dark complexion reduces the risk of sun damage, particularly as it pertains to skin aging and skin cancer formation. 

At the same time, dark skin is more likely to develop pigmentation problems. Even minor skin injuries, such as bug bites, can cause an change in skin pigment, allowing dark spots called hyperpigmentation to occur.

When not properly administered, any cosmetic treatment that injures the skin -- such as laser surgery, dermabrasion (removal of dead skin cells), wrinkle-filling injections like Restylane, or Botox injections -- has the potential to cause pigmentation problems.

Pigmentation Changes in Dark Skin

In hyperpigmentation, the skin either produces too much pigment or the pigment is deposited deep within the skin, resulting in dark spots. When color is lost, it's called hypopigmentation, which results in light-colored patches. All people with dark skin are at risk for both skin conditions.

Among the most common types of pigment problems in dark skin is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This occurs as a result of skin injury, such as a cut, scrape, or burn. It can also occur in conjunction with eczema or acne.

The darkened area of skin can take from months to years to fade, though medical treatments can help to a small degree. Treatments include removing layers of skin via a chemical peel and prescription bleaching treatments. These treatments won't work on pigment deeper in the skin.  

Daily use of sunscreen will also help keep a pigmented area from becoming darker.

Those with sensitive skin are at greatest risk for pigmentation problems. In fact, any skin care product ingredient that irritates or dries skin increases the risk. 

The most common products include benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid (used to treat acne) and anti-aging compounds such as retinoids and glycolic acid. In some patients, the skin-bleaching compound hydroquinone can also irritate skin.

In those with lighter skin, product-related irritation normally subsides once use is discontinued. But in people of color, the irritations often give way to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This can develop within one to two weeks after stopping the product and can linger for several months or longer.

It's important to note that all these ingredients can be successfully used on dark complexions as long as they are used correctly.

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