X

Does Darker Skin Wrinkle Less* Than Lighter Skin?

Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.
Q: It just comes from my observations as a white person; it seems like black people get fewer fine lines and wrinkles. Is this true and because they have more melanin? Or why?
Expert Answer

The answer is yes, darker skinned people typically have less* wrinkles than lighter skinned people. People who have darker skin have more pigment in their skin. This doesn’t mean that they won’t age. Eventually, we all age. It just may take them a little longer to do so. Of course poor lifestyle choices, such as smoking, drugs, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and too much sun exposure can change things for anyone’s skin.

As you get older, you either photoage or you chronologically age. Photoaging is when you age prematurely. Chronological age refers to the natural aging process. Photoaging is dependent on the choices you make, how well you take care of your body and genetics. Your skin color is dependent on the amount of pigment your body produces*.

When our skin becomes damaged from UV ray exposure, our body kicks in its natural defense, which is to produce* more melanin. Melanin is what actually makes your skin darken. This is a protective mechanism to try to prevent further damage. And yes, every time you’re in the sun and you get a “sun tan”, this is actually a sign that your skin has become damaged and your body is trying to fight it. The darker the skin you have, the larger the pockets of melanosomes in your skin cells. These contain a sticky pigment melanin.

People with very pale skin (fair skinned) produce* very little to no melanin. Asian skins produce* a yellowish type of melanin (phaeomelanin) and African American skins produce* a dark, thick melanin called eumelanin.

Not only do the size of the pockets in the skin cells differ, but so does the density of melanin within them. The melanin is packed very tightly in black skin; so much so that it absorbs and scatters more light, providing more protection from the ultraviolet rays of the sun.

You may find this hard to believe, but there has not been a great deal of research done on this subject recently, however, Kays Kaidbey and colleagues did a study in the United States in 1979 that found 55 percent of ultraviolet A rays penetrate Caucasian skin on average, whereas fewer than 18 percent of African-American skin was penetrated. This is a good reason why darker skinned people do not photoage or age prematurely.

In 1975, the Fitzpatrick Scale was created. It classifies different skin types and their responses to ultraviolet light. There are six skin tones listed. Type I skin type is for people who have very fair skin and red hair. Type VI is for people with black or very dark skin. Type I skin types burn very easily and type VI skin types rarely burn and when they do, it is not very serious.

It is important to understand that Type VI skin types are still susceptible to developing skin cancer. Photoaging is delayed in people with skin types IV (Asian) through VI. These people may not notice facial wrinkles until they are in their 50s or 60s. The aging process is faster in African Americans compared to African or Afro-Caribbean decent. People with very dark skin are more prone to age spots and dark spot on the skin, as well as seborrheic keratosis.

We are all prone to aging and the choices we make in our day-to-day life contribute to how our skin ages. Remember, it is never too late to prevent wrinkles and fine lines from forming. Although it is true that you can’t escape them forever, you may be able to ward them off longer than you think.