If you are curious about skincare and beauty, you’ve probably heard the word melanin before. You might know that people with deeper skin tones have more melanin in their skin — you might have even heard your friends with darker skin refer to themselves as melanin goddesses. But what exactly is melanin? Does it impact how much time you should spend in the sun?
The name “MELANIN” comes from the ancient Greek melanos, meaning “dark,” and according to Borovansky, the term was probably first applied by the Swedish chemist Berzelius in 1840 to call a dark pigment extracted from eye membranes. However, first references of human skin pigmentation and somehow to the existence of melanin without using the current name are very old. Pharaonic medicine in the Ebers Papyrus (1550 BC) described some diseases affecting skin color, and one of them was probably vitiligo, although that term appeared much later, derived from the Latin word “vitellus” meaning “veal” or pale pink skin. The first relatively detailed written description on skin pigmentation in mankind came from Herodotus in Greece, who described the darker skin of Persians, Ethiopians, and Indians in relation with Greeks.
Our skin color is determined by a pigment called melanin, and while everyone has melanin (both fair and dark-skinned people), it comes in different forms and ratios. Dark-skinned people have more melanin in their skin than light-skinned people have. Melanin is produced by cells called melanocytes. It provides some protection against skin damage from the sun, and the melanocytes increase their production of melanin in response to sun exposure. Freckles, which occur in people of all races, are small, concentrated areas of increased melanin production.
However, if we all belong to the same species, shouldn’t our basic skin color be the same? Why are some people fair and others dark?
The two forms of melanin are called eumelanin and pheomelanin. Eumelanin comes in primarily brown and black hues, while pheomelanin appears as red and yellow hues. It is produced by a specialized group of cells called melanocytes.
Biologically, our bodies evolved to produce more melanin when people were living in climates where they were getting a lot of sun exposure (like Africa) to protect our skin from the sun.
On the other end of the spectrum, skin conditions like albinism and vitiligo occur when melanin is entirely, or almost entirely, missing from the skin.
How does my body know to produce melanin?
Melanin is thought to be a UV ray blocker. If you go into the sun to soak up some rays, The UVA and UVB rays are damaging to your skin’s natural barrier. So when UV rays from the sun hit your skin and attempt to cause damage, it stimulates melanin production within your body. Basically, it’s your body’s natural way of warding off some of the more adverse effects of those UV rays. And this melanin production is what changes your skin color — your skin will tan, or it will burn.
So if I have more melanin, do I need to wear sunscreen?
It’s correct to say that people with darker skin tones have more melanin. If melanin helps us not get a sunburn by protecting us from UV rays, then people of color shouldn’t need sunscreen, right? Wrong, wrong, wrong.
That natural protection from melanin can only go so far. UV rays also can cause your skin cells to mutate, and that mutation is what causes skin cancer. So even if you’re not seeing a burn, those harmful UV rays are permeating the deeper layers of your skin, causing cell mutation, and possibly skin cancer.
Sun exposure can also intensify the color of any dark marks you already have on your skin. In other words, those dark marks from your old breakouts that you’ve been dying to get rid of (what dermatologists refer to as hyperpigmentation) will just get darker when you go out and sunbathe.
Makeup on dark skin can be appealing but a lot of things can go wrong. Here are some quick facts to note about melanin makeup for dark skin;
• Applying the right product to suit the skin tone is always paramount.
• Moisturize: Those with dark skin, especially with dryness problems, tend to look ashy if skin is not moisturized properly.
• Sunscreen: Just because you have a darker complexion doesn’t mean your skin won’t get affected by the harmful UV rays. This is a common mistake that many dark-skinned beauties tend to make. Choose your sunscreen depending on your skin type.
• The right foundation: Foundation acts as a base for your makeup. Always make sure that the foundation matches your natural skin tone. Look for a shade that is just right for you and evens out the discolorations. Avoid using transparent powder – it can give your skin a grayish tinge.
• Concealer: To counteract the stubborn blemishes under the eyes, apply a concealer along the tops of your cheekbones towards the tip of your eyebrows. It’s more or less like drawing a triangle. This shape not only conceals dark circles, but it also instantly helps attract the light by bringing warmth to that area
• Blending should also be done properly without leaving any harsh lines.
• Accentuate facial features without applying too much makeup or giving the cakey look, the skin has to feel almost like skin.
• Eye makeup: Eye makeup is something that highlights your eyes and enhances your looks. For a casual daytime event, it’s best to avoid vibrant or bright colors and opt for subtle shades like browns, pinks, and gray eyeshadows, complemented with loads of mascara. For an evening event or a formal occasion, try shades like blue, purple, and greens and also shades like burgundy, copper, and browns. These colors look amazing on dark skin and are sure to make you look like a diva! Be experimental and play with colors.
• Lipsticks: Selecting colors for dark skin tones is a big task. Use lip colors like beige, coffee, chocolate, soft pink, plums, berry, burgundy, and gold. Stay away from lipsticks with a frosty finish or ones that are too glossy.
• Blush: Shades like dark peach, bronze, deep orange, coral, wine, rose, and gold, and any darker shades of blush will complement your skin best.
• Bronzer: Literally a staple diet for all beauty lovers, a bronzer can make your skin look fresh, glowy and sun-kissed even when the temperature is soaring high for that perfect bronze look. I suggest go about two shades deeper than your color, and make sure you don’t dust bronzer all over the face. To create a neat look, apply the bronzer with a sculpting brush on in a C formation. That means, start it at the temples and flick lightly along the sides of the face, forehead, nose, and chin for a more refined look.
• Experiment: Don’t be afraid to wear bold colors! Just because you have dark skin, doesn’t mean you can’t rock a red lip or blue eyeshadow – just not at the same time!
• Wear a blush to add a flush of color on the face. Use warm colors like bronze or deep pinks.
• Darker skin tends to be oily, so opt for powder-based products.
• Try to keep your makeup minimal; simply enhance your natural tone so that the skin looks more healthy and glows.
• Try colored eyeliners in the shades of blue, green, purple, and deep browns for night-outs. This will accentuate and enhance your eyes dramatically.
• Highlight should reflect when light hits the highlighted areas ( forehead, cheekbones, brow bone, bridge of the nose) .
• Less is more when applying makeup on a very dark skinned person
Dark skin is absolutely gorgeous. Just keep these tips in mind the next time you are getting ready.