Brown Skin Biology 101

Brown Skin Biology 101

There are certain skin issues that seem to affect dark skin more often and with more severity than lighter skin. And many treatments used for common skin conditions can sometimes lead to even more problems when used on people of color. To understand this better, let's take a closer look at biology for skin of color.


The color of skin comes from cells called melanocytes. They produce melanosomes, compartments containing the naturally-occurring chemical, melanin. Studies show that all people have roughly the same number of melanocytes in their skin tissue. However, people of color tend to have larger melanosomes, causing darker skin.

Since the larger melanosomes are already producing more melanin, dark skin is actually more likely to develop pigmentation issues, especially when subjected to harsh treatments, chemicals, or UV rays. 

In hyperpigmentation, the skin either produces too much pigment or the pigment is deposited deep within the skin, resulting in dark spots. All people of color are at risk for hyperpigmentation.

How to avoid hyperpigmentation?

Pay close attention to the treatments you are currently using and how they affect your skin. Take note when your dark spot flare-ups occur.  Those with sensitive skin are at greatest risk for pigmentation problems. In fact, any skin care product ingredient that irritates or dries skin increases the risk.

Some of the most common (yet drying) products include benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, retinol, and hydroquinone, which can irritate darker, sensitive skin types when used in excess. In addition, many cosmetic treatments (especially when administered improperly) - such as laser surgery, microdermabrasion, fillers, or Botox - have the potential to cause pigmentation problems.

If you are unsure whether these treatments are helping or hurting, ask your dermatologist, or talk with your primary care physician who can refer you additional specialists or resources.

Daily sunscreen use will also help keep a pigmented area from becoming darker.