Skin colour

A life Less Colourful

Skin whitening  is BIG business in the cosmetics industry and so it is no surprise that the research dollars keep pouring in to this market segment. Both ingredient manufacturers and big multinational brand owners are on the hunt for more efficacious ingredients in the bid to find a ‘safe’ and often ‘natural’ alternative to the brutal and potentially disfiguring hydroquinone (which I will talk about briefly later). The reason for the boom in whitening ingredients and formulations is the move towards seeing an even skin tone as a sign of youth. Many of us lust after luminous, bright and light complexions with no age or sun spots and no hyperpigmentation and that is understandable.  A clear and even complexion is a very visible and obvious sign of good health and vitality but it is not all good news.

Read all about it here: Sydney Morning Herald Vaseline ‘lightens up’ faces

The other side of this ‘trend’ is the growing demand for whiter skin in non-white populations and I find this very concerning.  Whitening products have long been popular in Asia and parts of Africa as darker skin has historically been seen as a mark of low social status exaggerated  by hard manual labour and outdoor work.  This prejudice is still alive and well in many communities of colour and is being bolstered by the unrelenting influx of barbie-like western imagery and marketing.  I have felt uncomfortable with this side of skin lightning for a long time and new technical innovations  are making me even more nervous as you will see.

Our skin gets its colour from two places 1) our genes and 2) the environment.   Our genetic colour is an expression of our history, our culture, our identity and is passed on through our genes through […]

Lighter, brighter skin.

Why is  it hat it now seems almost impossible to go to the beauty counter without being offered some white out?

Historically speaking many cultures have seen lighter skin as a sign of wealth due to the relationship between sun exposure and skin pigmentation.  Ladies of English high society would whiten their faces with a lead or mercury based paint using a formulation that was probably made popular in Roman times. In Japan, Geisha were defined as much by their beautiful Kimono as by their powdery white faces and red lips. Again, the white face cream was originally lead based until it was found to be linked with poisoning after which it was based on a rice powder.  Another popular skin whitening trick across Asia was to crush up pearl sea shells and drink them. The Japanese saying “Iro no shiroi no wa shichi nan kakusu” translates to “A white complexion hides many defects”  (Japanese proverbs and sayings, Daniel Buchanan) says it all!

However, for western cultures this rule of thumb was turned on its head in when the jet set started to jet set in the 1920’s.  A glowing tan became a status symbol and a calling card for luxury. However, it seemed like the fun had only just began when the downside of too much sun started to ruin the party. The first sunscreen was probably made by Piz Buin in the 20’s but  it wasn’t until the second world war that sunscreen use became de rigueur, at least withing the combat zone.  Trench foot in WWI was replaced by desert nose in WWII although those not facing combat would have to wait until the 1970’s for their sun tan lotions to grow an […]

Pigmentation – Your Skins Colour Evolution!

The recent and untimely death of Michael Jackson has (among other things) brought skin colour to our attention. The speculation over Michael’s own skin will continue for many years as the media and fans remain locked in discussions, trying to ascertain whether the lightening was self inflicted or naturally caused.  Whatever the outcome in Michael Jackson’s case (and I am NOT going to be the first to know) the fact remains that uneven pigmentation affects many of us non-celebrities over our lifetime.

Our skin is coloured by melanin and genes determine the amount of melanin that your skin can produce.  Melanin is the skin’s protection against sunburn so it is logical that the skin produces more melanin when exposed to the sun, giving you a tan.  It is also logical that the genes for dark skin developed closer to the equator where the sun’s rays are strongest– although there is some discussion over the evolution of skin colour, this is for another day!  So, we get born into a world full of colour and for most of us, that colour is evenly spread out all over our body  – with a few moles (Nevi) ,freckles and a birth mark or two  as the exception.

As we grow, our skin is developing a relationship with the world around us, adapting as far as it can do deal with the conditions that we find ourselves in. However, our natural mechanisms can only take us so far and if that point is crossed, regularly, there can be implications in the form of ill health, skin pigmentation problems and cancerous growths.  You may be thinking that the environment is the number one cause of skin pigmentation issues. That may be […]