A Look at Ethnic Skin Care


Article By Dr. Danné Montague-King

As far back as the 1980’s when I was researching Black skin treatments in Chicago, I became aware of many factors that went far beyond mere pigmentation.In fact, pigmentation is the least of the differences between Black and Caucasian skins, Black skin being a superior cell structure and defense mechanism!

It has been my observation over the last 45 years that every human being on this planet is endowed with certain physical characteristics that allow them to survive in the climates that the original humans were placed in.

It is here that scientists differ: some groups maintain that the first people were in small tribes that were indigenous to the many areas on the globe—each tribe arriving close to the same time factor as the other tribes thousands of miles away.

Others follow the Darwinian theory of man developing from lower life forms and, during that development, adapting to whatever climate that they were born in.

Still others claim that man started in Africa and then spread out all over the planet from there. If this theory was true, then the DIFFERENCES in peoples’ appearances and physical endowments would have had to take hundreds of years to take place.

We do change over time. If we were to bring forth a person from the 11th century in a Time Machine to present day, they would expire very quickly from repertory failure. Lungs were much smaller in that time and not adaptable to the poisonous “gas” we call oxygen and can breathe in our generation. Oxygen in the 11th century contained no fluorocarbons and other pollutants.

Whatever the truth is, the original Black Race possessed very strong skin attributes to withstand the radiation of direct solar rays on the equatorial belt over Africa.

The tight curly hair is natural air conditioning that gathers but does not release sudoriferous secretions quickly as in the case of the straighter, thinner hair of the Northern European Caucasian.

This accumulated secretion on the scalp that “cools” in the open air preventing heat exhaustion and possible stroke and brain damage.

In addition, Black skin cells proliferate at a more rapid rate than Caucasian skin cells. This is why when you place a 50 year old White Lady and Black Lady side by side—who looks younger?

Under normal conditions the Black Lady will appear years younger with very few lines and wrinkles as compared to the other woman. In the USA there is an amusing term “Black don’t crack” tossed around by the community as an old saying.

I was quite surprised hearing this same term used in South Africa during a recent visit, and it’s true!

This rapid proliferation of cells, while helping to maintain a younger fresher skin most of the time, has one down side: it also makes skin more susceptible to keloid scars, a disorder very common to Black skin.

The rete pegs, conduits of nutrients to the underlying basal cells, are also stronger and somewhat more numerous than those in Caucasian and other ethnicities. Indian skin, even darker skin from Southern India, for example, is fairly fragile. The myth that deeper toned Indian skin should be treated the same as Black skin has lead to many problems for skin therapists and dermatologists.

Pigmentation of Black Skin has also been surrounded with myths and old wives tales for decades.

It is totally false that Black Skin has more melanocytes than any other skin color.

The number of melanin cells are approximately the same for ALL races but the pigmentation inside the melanin cells is packaged differently.

Imagine melanin cells to look like kidney beans or jelly beans.

Inside the Asian jelly bean the actual pigmentation, manufactured by the golgi apparatus organelle, would be about 3/4 of the bean, with a lot of natural beta carotene in it—which accounts for the “gold” or “yellow” undertone of people from Asia.

Caucasian skin’s jelly beans may contain about 2/3 of the the pigmentation but Black skin’s jelly beans would be full of pigmentation to the boarder of the bean!

Distribution of the melanin cells over the body is also quite different; Caucasian people’s melanin is displayed in the “sub-epidermis” area while Black people’s melanin is distributed copiously on the entire epidermal surface and even down into the pores.

This creates a highly reflective surface that bounces away much of the harmful radiation from constant sun.

One might think that with all of these superior “positives” Black skin could survive anything, including skin care products for general use by all ethnicities.


Most Black clients will know what it means to get “the ashy’s” after using general use products.

This is a redundant group of cells, excess corneum that builds up on the entire body including the face. It leaves the skin dull with a faint grayish over-tone. When the sides of the legs are scratched with fingernails, long white-ish lines appear that do not disappear quickly.

This is often misconstrued as ‘dry skin.’ It is actually only very fast cell proliferation that is still attached to the underlying corneum barrier.

Treating Black Skin

The first step is the proper cleanser. It should soften the excess cuticle barrier but not strip the skin of natural sebaceous oils that represent one half of Nature’s natural “moisturizer” the acid mantle.

Contrary to popular belief, most Black skin is not excessively oily or lipid rich. While it is true the adipose fat pads in the face are more turgid and bouncy than Caucasian skins (another anti-ageing attribute), this does not change the configuration of the sebaceous oil glands which are no more numerous than other races. The “shine” seen on persons with deeper tones all the way to blue-black pigment is merely a reflection on light, not excess oils.

I have discovered that herbal based liquid cleansers are best. There are many “soap” plants such as white oak bark which are deep cleansing without being sebum-stripping. These types of herbs (Burdock is another) help soften up the dead cells with a natural, astringent surfactant action.

Enzyme based masques professionally applied totally remove the excess cuticle, especially in the case of pseudofollicultis (razor bumps)suffered by many Black males.

Due to Black hair being oval in configuration, the ends of the hair are flat and sharp. Think of the excess cuticle as being rather like shingles on a roof as viewed under a microscope. The sharp hair catches under these “shingles” and is re-directed back down into the living tissue, causing it to become irritated and inflamed.

The new baby cells in that area perceive this as an “unnatural “situation and try to encapsulate the problem by forming new cells around it—forming a type of “granuloma” that result in a visible and uncomfortable bump on the surface of the epidermis.

Men with kinky textured hair are afraid to shave this area with a normal razor, which cuts through the bump resulting in bleeding, scabbing and hyperpigmentation.

Regular enzyme treatments totally alleviate this problem and the gentlemen can shave as normal without resorting to irritating depilatory powders or painful tweezing.

On female clients this type of treatment not only removes all the “ashy’s” but brightens the skin totally, bringing out its even tone while lifting away unsightly dark areas around the mouth, across the forehead and under the eyes.

Follow up and daily products should include natural moisturizing with an herbal spray, a highly fractionated oil blend that resembles sebum as close as possible (including a blend of tocopherols and other anti-oxidants) and cremes that have an acidic base as opposed to alkaline.

Alkaline cremes and soaps above pH 5.3 dull the skin and compound the ashy appearance.

I have found that fermented orange peel oil in a transepidermal crème base to be excellent at brightening up deeper skin tones.

Mental Attitude

During my early years of research in South Africa on black skins, dealing with problems of acne - teen and adult onset varieties, hyperpigmentation and the hydroquinone poisoning disease ochronosis, I discovered that the mind set of “whiter skin is better skin” to be rampant in the Black community.

This gave an “open door” to all kinds of quacks, unscrupulous pharmacists and “beauty experts” to sell people hideous concoctions with very high percent’s of hydroquinone and even bird guano with household bleach! I have seen skin so suppurated with infection that cancer was one stop away!

This mind set was also predominant in the USA back in the 1950’s but when the racial, social and economic revolutions took place, all of this changed.

Nowadays African Americans are proud of the tones they were born with—whether it be the lightest café au lait or the deepest ebony! People glory in a rainbow of rich browns in all the undertones, be they red, yellow, gold or even olive.

What they DO want is these wonderful tones to be even and smooth! And bright - Not white!

South Africa has undergone enormous changes in the last 15-20 years.

People are educated, economically viable and seeking real results. They want answers to their skin problems.

A Caucasian Beauty Therapist untrained in the science and unique qualities of Black skin will not be trusted at first.

This will change as time goes by and more training is made available.

For now I appeal to all Black therapists, Dermatologists and even General practitioners and nurses to seek out specialized training in this field—and realize that it IS a specialized field.

I have been a voice crying in the wilderness for far too many years.

I have been gratified to see the recent interest in this much needed area of the aesthetic arts.

I hope you all will take up the charge to continue this great work.

Articles By Dr. Danné Montague-King

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Danné Montague-King South Africa

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