Beautiful Skin of Color: A Comprehensive Guide to Asian, Olive, and Dark Skin

Beautiful Skin of Color: A Comprehensive Guide to Asian, Olive, and Dark Skin


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It's a fact of DNA: If you can trace your roots back to Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, India, Latin America, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, the South Pacific, or any group of Native Americans, your genes react similarly to genes in the darkest skin. And chances are, you may have received confusing advice — or no advice at all — about how to care for your skin. Although nearly half the population of the United States shares the hallmarks of skin of color, many dermatologists and beauty consultants routinely prescribe remedies created for Caucasian skin without understanding how sensitive and easily damaged skin of color is. It's no wonder, then, that many women and men of color continually battle skin problems, and it takes a terrible toll on their self-esteem.

Finally, Beautiful Skin of Color unlocks the particular secrets of your skin and provides the answers you've been searching for. Dr. Fran Cook-Bolden and Dr. Jeanine Downie, internationally recognized dermatologists and women of color, and Barbara Nevins Taylor, an award-winning reporter on skin and hair issues, offer clear, specific advice to help you achieve and maintain a healthy, gorgeous complexion.

In a quick-reference, A-to-Z format, using examples drawn from personal and professional experience, Dr. Cook-Bolden and Dr. Downie explain why problems occur, and then prescribe reliable remedies and groundbreaking new procedures specifically created for skin of color.

Throughout this comprehensive guide, the doctors show you how to work with your skin and hair — and your dermatologist — to create your own unique skin-management program. A long-overdue and much-needed resource, Beautiful Skin of Color is certain to help you look and feel your best.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060521554
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/14/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.69(d)

About the Author

Jeanine Downie, M.D., is director of Image Dermatology in Montclair, New Jersey, and is an assistant attending physician at Mountainside and Overlook Hospitals. In addition to traveling across the U.S. and in Europe and Asia as a leading lecturer on skin of color, she has appeared on The View, The Weekend Today Show, and Living It Up with Ali and Jack and in InStyle, Cosmopolitan, O, Essence, and other publications. She lives in West Orange, New Jersey.

Fran Cook-Bolden, M.D., is a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University, director of the Ethnic Skin Specialty Group, and has a private practice in New York City. She is an internationally recognized pioneer on the use of lasers in ethnic skin and provides cutting-edge research advice to the health and beauty industry. Her advice has appeared in Essence, YM, Honey, Lucky, Heart and Soul, and Black Men. She lives in Westchester County.

Barbara Nevins Taylor is a ten-time Emmy Award–winning investigative reporter for UPN 9 WWOR-TV in New York. She has won dozens of journalism awards, including a Laurel from the Columbia Journalism Review. She has written for the New York Times and other publications. She lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Beautiful Skin of Color
A Comprehensive Guide to Asian, Olive, and Dark Skin

We live in a skin-color-sensitive universe. Most of us are keenly aware of variations in our complexions and in the skin of others. How many times have you wondered, "Why is my skin this color?" How many times have you asked silently, "Why is my skin different?" These are really good questions. Too often, the answers are political or filled with some kind of rhetoric that has nothing to do with the basic questions.

The real answers about skin of color are deeply embedded in the very essence of your being. Skin of color has a unique cellular makeup and a special protein structure. The cells and the skin structure create and replenish the beautiful color. They also make the skin particularly susceptible to damage. There's a paradox. Although dark skin is delicate, the darker pigment protects the skin, to some degree, from the damaging ultraviolet rays of the sun.

Your skin reacts the way it does for various reasons. Everything that happens on the surface of the skin reflects something going on inside your body.

One guiding force determines everything. It is the most significant piece of our biological puzzle. It is DNA-the genetic pattern that you inherited from your parents. DNA is embedded in the nucleus of every one of your cells. In each cell, it acts like a set of instructions providing a blueprint for the way you are supposed to look.

When you smile and see your mother's grin, or suddenly notice that your eyes are like your father's, you've spotted the work of DNA. DNA carries the message that makes you who you are.

The message is transmitted at the moment of conception. When a sperm fertilizes an egg, cells divide and chromosomes are created. These chromosomes containing your parents' DNA develop in the nucleus of your cells. The instructions, of course, aren't all the same. There are separate sets of instructions, transmitted through about two hundred different types of cells to all parts of your body.

The skin is the largest organ of the body, with its own special cells. There are 30 million cells in one square inch of your cheek; each cell contains the plan for the way your skin will look. The instructions come to you from your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and an ancient family tree linking you to men and women who lived thousands of years ago.

The work of researchers in a number of fields is helping us learn more about our genetic lineage. An important discovery came after anthropologists found the remains of a man buried in the ice of the Italian Alps. They nicknamed him Siberian Man and established that he had been buried for five thousand years. In 1994, Oxford University professor Bryan Sykes traced Siberian Man's DNA. Professor Sykes determined that Siberian Man's DNA matched the DNA of Europeans who are alive today. This significant piece of scientific detective work has enormous relevance for us as we try to understand ourselves and the difference in skin of color.

Certainly, the physical appearances of men and women have changed over the centuries as we adapted and shape-shifted to meet the demands of nature and our cultures. It's unlikely that you'll find a look-alike for Siberian Man in Europe today. But there are people who share his DNA, and somewhere in their body chemistry or physical makeup, something of the five-thousand-year-old man lingers. There's plenty of research, and a great deal of speculation, about how different cultures evolved. We're not going to jump into that. But if your family history includes people from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, the Indian subcontinent, Latin America, the Mediterranean including Greece and Italy, and anywhere in the Middle East, Turkey, or the South Pacific, or if you are Native American, you have genes and cells that react similarly to genes in the darkest skin of color. You are in a world of company. Imagine creating a world map and identifying all the countries where people with skin of color live. White patches would include only European countries, Russia, Australia, Canada, and the United States. Even that is changing. The 2000 United States Census revealed a significant increase in the number of people with skin of color in the United States, and the report predicted that number will grow. People with skin of color-African-Americans, Asians, and Latinos-may account for half of the population in the United States as we move into the twenty-first century.

The statistics support trends we see in our daily lives. Skin color differences in the United States and elsewhere are blurring because of immigration and the marriage of cultures. Similarly, immigration is changing Europe's population. Cultures are blending, and faces are changing there, too.

The slow melding of cultures has occurred over the centuries. African-Americans and Caribbean-Americans dragged from their homelands as slaves often had little choice as to who would father their children. Native Americans and Latin Americans were frequently subsumed by rulers who changed the genetic patterns of their offspring. Of course, people also happily and willingly intermarried, creating new patterns of DNA.

There are very public examples. Academy Award-winning actress Halle Berry's mother is white, and her father is African-American. Tiger Woods's mother is from Thailand, and his father is African-American. The Rock, the popular wrestler and actor, has a family history blending the DNA of his mom from Samoa, in the South Pacific, with his dad's African-American heritage.

In Thailand, Cindy Burbidge is a beautiful television host and model, and a former Miss Thailand. Her father is American, and her mother is Thai. With her blue eyes and fair skin, people question whether or not she's actually got any Thai blood. Cindy asked the rhetorical question of a New York Times reporter, "How can you prove that you're Thai? How can you prove that you're anything?" Cindy's mom, her dad, and her DNA provide the answer.

Many, without hard facts and information, can't trace their family history. Yet people you've never known, and never imagined, have had something to do with the way you look. Mixed ancestry may explain why people in the same family often have different shades of skin color. Yet the person in the family with the lightest skin is likely to share the skin sensitivities of the relative with the darkest complexion. The DNA in cells contains the historical tale and a distinct plan. It makes skin of color, regardless of the shade, much more sensitive and reactive than white skin.

Our Dominican-American friend Carlos appears to have milky- white skin. His dad and mom have olive skin. "Although I'm really light-skinned," he says, "I still get dark marks on my face after I get a pimple." Carlos develops dark marks because his DNA says he has skin of color. When his skin is traumatized by acne, his fair skin reacts like skin of color and produces dark marks.

Skin of color is particularly reactive because of its cell formation and the way its protein works.

How the Skin Works

Your skin is like a rich layer cake with amazing things filling every layer. The surface is a remarkable outer garment that serves as a protective barrier, warding off bacteria, the environment, chemicals, poisons, and the pushes and pulls of everyday life. The skin filters water and prevents you from getting waterlogged. It also helps to keep the water you need inside your body. Sweat glands in the skin regulate temperature. You sweat to cool off when you're too hot, and you get chills, or goose bumps, when you're too cold. Nerve receptors in your skin talk to you all of the time. They signal the tingling feeling at the moment of a sensual caress and make you flinch or groan when you're pinched or hit. Muscles deep in your skin cause tiny hairs to stand on end when you're frightened or aroused. What goes on below the surface determines the reaction on the surface, including the color.


The top layer of skin, called the epidermis, is actually made up of fifteen to forty layers. The number of layers of the epidermis depends on the area of the body. The skin is thinnest under the eye and on the eyelid. It's much thicker on the sole of your foot. The overall thickness depends on your sex and your age. In most places, the skin thins as you get older.

You may be surprised to know that most of your surface skin is made up of dead cells. Most of the epidermis is a collection of flattened, protein-filled cells stacked on top of each other. As the cells move from one layer to the next, they produce filaments of a protein called keratin as well as a granular substance called keratohyaline. The grains and the filaments clump together and gradually kill the cells during a process called keratinization. These are the same type of cells that make up your hair and nails, although the skin on your body is much softer and more flexible.

By the time they get to the surface, these keratinocyte cells are tough guys. They've produced proteins that bind them together. And they've created their own lamination to waterproof the skin and protect it against bacteria, chemicals, light, and heat waves. If you look under a microscope, or if your skin gets very dry, you can see the way the hexagonal cells connect to one another. But the cellular connection is usually so smooth that you rarely notice.

You also rarely see the skin shedding. But every four to five weeks your skin renews itself and the old cells become dust. You may shed as many as two pounds of dead skin cells every year. The process is seamless because new cells replace the old immediately. These new cells appear fresh as they reach the surface; they haven't been battered by the environment or the wear and tear of rubbing and pulling.

This constant renewal is healthy and actually can improve your appearance. In the chapters that follow we explain how you can speed up the natural process to stimulate new surface cells. The epidermis also contains Merkel or nerve cells that send sensory messages through receptors to the brain, Langherans cells that help to fight disease, and melanocyte cells that are at the core of the color issue.

The Cellular Difference

Melanocyte cells produce the pigment, or melanin, in your skin. Everyone, regardless of his or her color, has the same number of melanocytes.

Melanocyte cells produce tiny packages of granules called melanosomes. The melanosomes are a superexpress color delivery system working twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Each melanocyte cell is clear with a dark spot in the center and has a network of arms extending outward. These arms deliver the melanosomes, or packages of color, to the surrounding keratinocyte cells. And the keratinocyte cells carry the pigment to the surface to give your skin and your hair color.

The actual color is determined by a few factors. There are two primary types of melanin produced by the melanocytes: eumelanin and pheomelanin. People who have Asian, olive, and dark skin produce more eumelanin than people with fair skin. And people with fair skin produce more pheomelanin than people who are darker. Your DNA determines the type of melanin your cells produce.

There are other significant differences. The size and placement of the melanosomes, those packages of color created by the melanocytes, are a crucial part of the reason your skin looks the way it does. The pattern of melanosomes is different in people of color. Melanosomes are large and spread out in dark skin. In white skin, they are smaller and more densely packed.

Different ethnic groups appear to have different-sized melanosomes. A recent study that compared the melanosomes of African-Americans, Mexicans, Indians, and Chinese found that African-Americans had the largest melanosomes. Indians had the second largest. Mexicans had the third largest, and the Chinese study participants had the fourth largest melanosomes. All of these ethnic groups had larger melanosomes than Europeans.

This is an important cellular distinction. But there is more. The melanocytes in dark skin are very active. They are busy all of the time. Your melanocytes produce more pigment than melanocytes in white skin. The precise amount of color depends on your DNA, the genetic instructions in your cells. In all skin, melanin helps to protect against the sun's ultraviolet rays. And that's one of the functions of pigment.

Another important factor makes your skin special. People with skin of color also have a unique protein structure. That structure is at work below the epidermis in the dermis.


The dermis also has layers, and it varies in thickness throughout your body. The dermis is filled with a network of blood vessels, hair follicles, nerve fibers, muscle cells, sweat glands, oil glands called sebaceous glands, bundles of protein fibers called collagen that give the skin strength, and elastic fibers that allow the skin to stretch. Collagen bundles together and with the elastic fibers creates a latticelike framework for your skin cells. The collagen-elastin support system is the source of firmness, fullness, and elasticity. Wrinkles begin in this layer of skin when the collagen and elastin wear out. In Asian, olive, and dark skin the structure of collagen explains why your skin reacts differently to stresses than white skin does.

The Protein Difference

Collagen protein is made up of amino acids. The amino acids are arranged in a specific sequence predetermined by your DNA. In skin of color, the collagen is bundled together more thickly than it is in white skin. If you are African-American or Asian, or have olive skin, you may have heard that your skin is thicker than white skin. That's not quite right. The thick bundles of collagen simply give dark skin a different physical tone.

There is a great deal about skin of color that we don't know. And many questions can't yet be answered. But scientists are continuing to investigate issues involving skin of color, including the cellular and structural differences. It is important to find answers because they will help us treat medical conditions like keloids-thick scars that grow larger than the original wound. Keloids are particular to skin of color. For now, though, it's useful to take a look at the rest of the skin, which functions the same way, for the most part, in everyone.

The hair follicles in the dermis are made of keratin. These tiny hairs are invisible in many places. They are everywhere on your body, except on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet, and a few other areas.

If you have bouts of acne or oily skin, these hair follicles play a big role. The hair follicles are connected to the sebaceous glands, which produce the oil that pops up on the surface of your skin. When there's oil on the skin, acne isn't far behind. We explain how acne develops in chapter 2.

The dermis also helps to regulate your body temperature. It is the home of the sweat glands. These are called the eccrine glands. You have millions of these sweat glands all over your body. They're trying to maintain a steady temperature inside. When your body is too hot, or when you're stressed or eat spicy food, these glands produce a salty solution that evaporates on the surface to cool you off.

Blood vessels in the dermis are part of the heat regulatory system. When the outside temperature is hot, or when you're nervous and the heat builds up inside of you, your skin gets a little red. Those tiny blood vessels are helping out. They're dilating to get rid of the heat. In the cold, the blood vessels constrict to hold in the heat.

And last, and we wish they were least, we have another set of sweat glands in the dermis. The apocrine glands produce body odor and ear wax. These are holdovers from the days when we needed to use our natural scent to attract the opposite sex.

Subcutaneous Tissue

The bottom layer of skin is called the subcutaneous tissue. There's a thick collection of collagen and elastin in the subcutaneous tissue. This gives the skin a strong and stable base. Again, the collagen protein has a different structure in skin of color. The collagen in this layer of skin of color is also denser and collected in thicker bundles than it is in white skin.

You may not like it, but everybody needs some fat. We come prepackaged with it. Your fat layer is in the subcutaneous tissue. You need the padding for your bones and other organs. The fat layer also provides insulation. When you're hungry, and don't have time to eat, it provides a little energy to keep you going. The subcutaneous tissue also produces the vitamin D required to keep our bones healthy.

The Bottom Line

Your skin is a special and complete system. It is easily damaged and requires special care. Read on!

Beautiful Skin of Color
A Comprehensive Guide to Asian, Olive, and Dark Skin
. Copyright © by Barbara Taylor. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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