The Dermatology of Black People: Our Skin, Our Hair, Our History

Being Black comes with a unique hair and skin routine for each person. To some, the amount of time and money spent on products may seem excessive, but for Black people, it makes them who they are and is a critical part of their identity. Hair and skin should not define people, but many have been treated poorly just for holding their heads high as they proudly wear their hair exactly how it grows from their scalp. 

Black hair is different from the strands of any other race. Each coil comes in varying degrees of curl density ranging in a various number of different classifications. Black hair tends to grow up or out due to most curls instead of straight down like many others. The intricate growth pattern provides several styles—natural, straight, braids, locs, short dos, long dos, weaves, or extensions. The options are limitless. 

Even though Black hair is versatile, it has not always been seen as “professional” or “acceptable” in its natural state in specific settings like the workplace and school. Previous generations, especially women, had to straighten their hair and avoid certain styles to get and keep their jobs. According to Dove, 63% of Black adults have faced hair discrimination, and 25% of Black adults have faced discipline or been sent home from work because of their hairstyle. 

Thankfully, the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act was passed through Congress in 2022. The Act prohibits denying employment and educational opportunities based on hair texture, “including hair that is tightly coiled or tightly curled, afros, and protective styles, including braids, locs, twists, or Bantu knots.” With that language, the CROWN Act serves as a deterrent to racial biases in education and employment opportunities. It allows Black people and other people of color to be themselves. 

Black skin care can be just as particular as haircare and, of course, has also come with many apparent biases and racism. Keeping minority skin moisturized, hydrated, and healthy should be the biggest concern. However, how much or how little melanin (pigmentation) a person has is commonly the focus. Blatant and disguised racism continues to be a problem between races, but there is also the issue of colorism within different cultures. Racism and colorism, the prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, usually within the same ethnic or racial group, has contributed to many darker-hued people using bleach creams and treatments to lighten their complexion. 

Desiring marriage, social standing, or employment when it seems like having darker skin has held you back causes people to take drastic measures. According to an article by CNN World, the global market for skin whitening was estimated at $8 billion in 2020. Women account for almost 80% of sales worldwide. These creams dominate the market and are estimated to reach $6.6 billion by 2027. Skin whitening products can be toxic and cause life-threatening ailments, but how you feel about your skin can contribute to how you care for it. 

In terms of healthy skincare, once you figure out your uniqueness, dry, oily, light, dark, or a combination, you can start a customized regimen. Of course, the top layer of darker skin contains more melanin than other races, which contributes to certain genetic factors that cause specific skin conditions, particularly in Black people. 

Some of the most common are:

Eczema: Black people are more prone to severe cases of eczema. Eczema rashes can appear darker brown, purple, or gray instead of red.

Keloids and Hypertrophic Scars: Black skin may contain gene mutations that increase the expression of fibroblasts in scar tissue used to create collagen. This excess collagen makes skin more vulnerable to scar-like formations.

Melasma: Melasma primarily affects women and causes dark patches, generally on the face. It can be triggered by pregnancy, birth control, hormone therapy, sun exposure, or skin irritation.

Hyperpigmentation: Hyperpigmentation causes darker patches or spots to develop on the skin. It can come from atopic dermatitis, bug bites, inflammation, and psoriasis. 

All races have issues that are more prone to each skin type. When seeking self-care, whether it be your skin or hair, it is essential to do what is best for you. Use products you trust and are tailored to you. Always test a new cream or ointment on a small skin area to monitor reactions. If you need help finding what works for you or notice something wrong with your skin or hair, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor / dermatologist.