Light Skinned Guys – Beware the Sun!
In this article you'll learn:
1. Why lighter skin guys have light skin.
2. Why lighter skin guys age faster than everybody else.
3. What triggers rosacea
4. Why light skin guys have freckles.
People with lighter skin can generate vitamin D more quickly, so they require less sun exposure. But that also means that if they get too much sun exposure, they are at higher risk for skin cancer. We asked Dr. Steve about the good and bad of light skin.
What's the deal with lighter skinned guys? Why is their skin like that?
Dr. Steve: What gives you skin pigmentation is something called melanocytes — it’s a cell in the neural crest that migrates at the very beginning of your brainstem formation to all parts of your body, mostly the skin. Melanocytes express a molecule called melanin, which ultimately determines your skin tone and skin color.
Melanin is the same chemically, whether you're black, white, whatever. But there are different types of melanin. Certain darker skin individuals have melanin that clump together better, that form a darker pigment within each melanin molecule. Ultimately how we express that melanin is what determines skin type and the driver of that expression is related to where your ancestors lived.
So, if you're born in South Sudan, the kind of melanin you have is one that's highly favored towards protecting you from ultraviolet radiation. And if you were born in Northern Ireland or Scandinavia, you have a different type of melanin that's more designed towards helping you convert vitamin D more efficiently, because there's less UV overall.
Light skin needs only one-sixth as much sun as dark skin to make the same amount of Vitamin D.
Do you have any idea what that mechanism is behind the conversion of sunlight to Vitamin D?
Dr. Steve: It really comes down to melanocytes — fair skinned guys have different types of melanocytes than dark-skinned guys. So if you lived in a place that didn't get that much UV you want to be very efficient at making vitamin D through sunlight because you don't get that much UV. But if you live in South Sudan, UV is a big problem for a light skinned person. There's so much UV out there that you're going to be just fine at converting the Vitamin D that you need, because there's so much UV, but then you’re at greater risk of skin damage and skin cancer.
Do fair skinned people have less effective melanosomes?
Dr. Steve: They have melanosomes that absorb UV radiation less efficiently than darker skin types.
Are fair skinned people usually the first to show signs of aging?
Dr. Steve: Yes. So if you took a caucasian person type-one skin and you took a darker person, a type-six skin, and you put them in the same exact environment, the same exact behaviors, and the same amount of sun, the lighter skinned person will look older as they age.
That's why the anti-aging mechanism in moisturizer (hyaluronic acid) and night cream (retinol) as well as eye cream (kojic acid) can really make a difference.
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Do light skinned guys age faster because their skin is thinner, or is it because of less melanin?
Dr. Steve: It's neither. Both skin types have the same amount of melanin, but the person with darker skin has melanocytes that are more effective at absorbing UV radiation before it gets absorbed by your skin cells, which means the UV rays don’t reach in the upper layers of the skin where you get something called solar elastosis. In darker skinned guys, the UV has less of a chance to break down the collagen and create wrinkles and aging sunspots. That’s not the case for guys with lighter skin. For them, UV can run wild if they don't apply SPF.
Fair skinned people are more prone to rosacea. Why?
Dr. Steve: Rosacea is a hyper reactivity of the blood vessels of the face. And one of the biggest triggers is sunlight. So basically, if you have less efficient melanosomes, you’re absorbing more UV radiation and that's more likely to trigger hyper reactivity in the blood vessels of the face. That’s how you get the formation and appearance of rosacea.
One way to decrease UV exposure is to use SPF.
Do fair skin guys have more acne?
Dr. Steve: When it comes to acne, the biggest difference between light skin and dark skin is post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). With darker skin, the skin color can continue to change much more dramatically after the insult, the blemish or zit or whatever you want to call it. It’s a really annoying issue for darker skinned individuals because the acne might be gone, there may not even be a scar, but there's a dark spot. Lighter skinned guys get plenty of acne, so retinol in the night cream is something that can tackle that, but they don’t experience PIH.
Fair skinned guys need to lather on the SPF. Does that impact how much sun is being absorbed for conversion to vitamin D?
Dr. Steve: Yes. Sunscreen blocks UV, so therefore you get less of it onto the skin and less converts to vitamin D3. But my answer is to take oral vitamin D that's active.
Why do light skinned guys have freckles?
Freckles are concentrated flecks of melanin. When UV hits the skin, melanin protects the skin from that damage by darkening it. In some people, melanocytes are spread out evenly, as dictated by a gene, MC1R, and sun exposure produces a smooth wash of melanin (a tan.)
In light skinned guys, particularly guys with red hair, the MC1R gene is "broken," and the melanocytes are bunched up, leading to constellations of melanin, a.k.a. freckles.