Everything from sunburns to acne scars manifests differently.
The increasingly popular term ‘melanin-rich skin’ is an umbrella term that includes South Asian women who have Desi skin.
In dermatology, the Fitzpatrick scale is a tool that classifies skin into 6 types (the scale ranges from I-VI) depending on melanin.
This scale ranges from type IV and V in Indian and Pakistani people, according to PubMed.
Since there’s a wide variation in the colour spectrum of Desi skin, it’s safe to say that it falls predominantly under Type III-VI.
But, what does it mean for Desi skin to be melanin-rich? Does having melanin-rich skin mean we need to use products not only based on our skin type but our skin tone as well?
There are some common skin characteristics and concerns of Desi skin. Therefore, we may require different skincare products.
Desi skin deserves special attention since certain skin issues affect Desi skin more frequently such as hyperpigmentation.
The answers to why we face challenges, such as stubborn hyperpigmentation and vulnerability to laser treatments lie behind the science of melanin.
Before we delve into the challenges and benefits, it’s important to understand the basics of melanin.
What does Melanin do in the Body?
Melanin is the pigment that is responsible for the variety of skin tones and shades.
Melanin does not limit itself to only being a pigment that gives us our colour, it also provides antioxidant, skin-protecting properties.
Its production increases when the skin is exposed to the sun, which is what produces a tan.
As brown skin hoards melanin, it not only has a defence mechanism against serious sunburns but is also less susceptible to premature ageing and skin cancer.
Based on our genetics and heritage, we all have different levels of melanin in our skin.
Differences between Desi & Caucasian Skin
Everything from sunburn to acne scars can manifest differently in Desi skin when compared to fair skin of Caucasian descent.
While we have melanin to thank for making us less susceptible to skin worries that primarily concern Caucasian skin, such as premature fine lines and wrinkles, we can also blame it for our primary concerns such as uneven skin tone and hyperpigmentation.
Compared to Caucasian skin, Desi skin has a propensity to tan rather than burn in the sun.
Furthermore, Desi skin tends to have more sebum content which means that it tends to be more on the oilier side.
Those with a high sebum content generally experience more breakouts and have more prominent pores.
Another difference between Desi and Caucasian skin is that the former has fewer ceramides. Ceramides are a component of our skin barrier and are a key to a healthy skin barrier.
When the skin lacks ceramides, the barrier becomes compromised.
Desi skin also experiences an increased TEWL (trans-epidermal water loss) and is more prone to inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema.
TEWL is a natural process through which water escapes our skin, and although it’s a natural process, it can have some negative impacts, like dehydration.
Due to increased trans-epidermal water loss, Desi skin has a predisposition to dehydrated skin.
Common Conditions that affect Desi Skin
The most common troublesome condition Desi skin faces is probably uneven skin tone with pigmentation.
There is a propensity for dark circles in Desi skin due to high melanin content around the eyes. This is described as pre-orbital hyperpigmentation.
While certain factors such as very thin under-eye skin, puffiness or dehydration can contribute to the look of dark circles under the sensitive eye area, the dark circles may result from ‘true pigmentation’ around the eyes.
Those of us with melanin-rich skin are prone to hyperpigmentation around the eyes as well as around the mouth.
Perioral melanosis is the darkening of the skin around the mouth and is something commonly seen in Desi women.
Melasma is yet another common condition in Desi skin.
It is a type of hyperpigmentation in which dark, freckle-like spots develop typically in the cheekbone area.
These spots can coalesce into bigger patches and spread to other areas of the face, such as the forehead and upper lip.
Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH) is temporary pigmentation that follows injury or inflammation to the skin such as acne.
Skin that is rich in melanin pigment is more likely to scar or darken after being inflamed by acne.
How to Care for Desi Skin
Many of us learn through trial and error using skincare hacks to combat and prevent uneven skin tone.
While some skincare hacks may work, more often than not, they are not worth the risk. Alongside that, they are unlikely to permanently prevent skin issues.
When it comes to caring for Desi skin, being gentle and patient is key.
There is a huge misconception that being melanin-rich is sufficient to protect against UV rays.
This misconception might be because the properties of melanin make it more likely for melanin-rich skin to tan rather than burn in the sun.
Since, it’s less likely for Desi skin to get sunburnt, wearing sunscreen is often not deemed necessary.
The fact is, that every skin, regardless of skin tone, needs sun protection. Therefore, it is important to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30.
On very sunny days, sunscreen alone might not be able to protect you from the harmful UV rays, so use oversized sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, or an umbrella for extra protection.
Whether you apply them topically or include them in your diet, antioxidants like Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Resveratrol, Green tea, and Vitamin A can benefit your skin in several ways.
So, do your skin a favour and pack your plate with colourful fruits and vegetables, especially those with purple, blue, red, orange, and yellow hues.
Some antioxidants to look out for in skincare products include Vitamin C, Vitamin A, niacinamide, also known as Vitamin B, and Ferulic acid.
Desi skin often struggles with dryness, flakiness and dehydration.
As mentioned earlier, Desi skin has fewer ceramides and is prone to trans-epidermal water loss.
For this reason, use ingredients, which include ceramides and humectants, to increase the skin’s hydration and strengthen the skin’s barrier function.
Humectants are like water magnets. They attract water molecules from the surrounding air or deeper layers of your skin.
Some humectants to look out for in products include glycerin, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, and beta-glucan from colloidal oatmeal.
Moisturiser is a must, whether you have dry or oily skin. Unless you have dry skin, it’s a good idea to stay away from pore-clogging occlusive moisturisers and divert to hydrating lightweight moisturisers.
Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta-Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) are forms of exfoliating acids that slough off dead skin cells much more gently than the harsh, gritty scrubs.
AHAs are amazing multitaskers, treating everything from clogged pores, acne, hyperpigmentation as well as signs of ageing.
These include sugarcane-derived Glycolic acid, milk-derived Lactic acid, and bitter-almond-derived Mandelic acid.
BHAs are oil-soluble, unlike AHAs which are water-soluble. Salicylic acid is the only BHA. Being an oil-soluble chemical exfoliant, it goes deep into the pores unclogging them.
When used correctly, chemical exfoliators can help prevent acne, fade dark spots, even out your complexion and increase cell turnover among other things.
One thing to keep in mind is that both AHAs and BHAs can make your skin more vulnerable to sun damage so remember to be extra diligent with sunscreen when using either of them.
To conclude, skincare for Desi skin isn’t quite different.
Protecting your skin from the sun, hydrating, and nourishing your skin barrier are some things that everyone should do since prevention is better than treatment.
The focus of your skincare routine should be to prevent any kind of irritation or inflammation to the skin that might lead to stubborn hyperpigmentation.
For existing hyperpigmentation, products that brighten without lightening your overall skin tone should be used keeping your individual skin needs in mind.