Evolution of skin colour

The issue of skin colour is one that has been of great importance since  the advent of  man.  Skin colour has played a very important part in determining the emotional and psychological wellness and positioning of man throughout history and even played a major role in ensuring the sustainability  and adaptability of human life on earth.

The idea of skin colour means  different things to different people. For some it represents sense of origin, history, identity and  pride while for others, it represents social and economic standards and relationships.

The way an individual  sees the colour of their skin and what interpretations they make of it, says a lot  about the  individual.

For some it shows a strong, and in depth  pride in their heritage, history, and in their background while for some others,  skin colour is more of a social economic issue, in which case they always  aspire to a certain colour that they feel puts them in good stead.

Colour has also played the infamous role oaf being a great dividing factor amongst races even more than language.

So why is  Skin colour so important and what makes up an individuals skin colour?,

Simply put, skin colour is just a function of the activity of some tiny cells in the human body, called the melanocytes. These  melanocytes produce melanosomes, which are the capsules for the melanin skin pigments that gives skin its colour. The activity and chemistry of these cells  coupled with their interaction with our epidermis determines the colour of our skin.

The melanocytes produce two types of pigments. The Eumelanin and the Pheomelanin. The eumelanin produces the dark pigments while Pheomelanin produces lighter skin pigmentation. The more Eumelanin you have the darker your skin colour, the more  pheomelanin you have the lighter your skin colour.

There has been a lot of debate  about how skin colour evolved through the evolutionary process of man, one school of thought believes that man started out with pale skin under a dark hairy cover that evolved as the weather got hotter to a darker tone with less hair covering and more sebaceous glands, to protect the skin from UV rays.

As man moved from, from the hotter regions to the more temperate regions, there became a need for the skin colour to lighten a bit,  another school of thought suggests that the reason why the pigmentation reduced as man moved away from the hotter regions, was not necessarily  a function of  the effect of UV rays to cause cancer on the skin, but instead a self preserving and procreating mechanism to ensure the sustainability of the human race to procreate and exist.

UVrays  are essential for the production of vitamin D in the body, therefore, as humans moved towards the more temperate regions of the Earth, they  developed lighter skin as a self surviving mechanism  because lighter skins absorbs more UVA rays than darker skin, enabling  lighter skinned individuals to synthesise vitamin D in the presence of very little UVray.

There is a little bit of controversy as to  which is more responsible for pigmentation, the need for procreation or skin cancer prevention.  I tend to agree with the school of thought that suggests that pigmentation is actually driven more as need for procreation as opposed to cancer prevention. This is because in humans  excessive sun exposure destroys folic acid in the body and folic acid is necessary for the development of healthy foetuses

Therefore, darker skin tones, for people who live around the tropics, was a way to ensure sufficient level of folic acid in the skin to produce healthy foetuses to carry on  humankind, whereas as you move away from the tropics, into the temperate regions, you find that the skin colour begins to lighten up and skin pigmentation is reduced because lighter skin is able to absorb more more UV rays  compared to darker skin, in the low  UV index temperate regions.

To further strengthen  this theory, people who live near the coastal areas  in temperate regions  e.g the native peoples of Canada and Alaska tend to have darker skin tone compared to their other counterparts in the temperate areas as a result of their ability to synthesise vitamin D  from alternative sources using vitamin D rich seafood available to them hence no need for the extra lighetening of the skin.

Effects of skin colour on Africans in Nigeria

There are three groups of people in Africa specifically Nigeria regarding the issue of skin colour

The   people who, who accept colour of their skin, as part of their history,  take pride in their history and in the generations that have gone before them, owning and wearing their skin tone as a form of identity.

There’s another group of people in Nigeria, who see the black skin,  as inferior to the lighter skin.

This mindset, was most likely adopted as a result of the fact that, Nigeria was colonised by the British, who were seen as more educated, more enlightened, and in some ways superior to he natives at that time in Nigeria. These individuals would like to achieve a lighter skin tone in an attempt to give them a sense of superiority or acceptance making fairer looking skin the benchmark for defining beauty for them.

And then is a third group of people who are caught in the middle, who neither  have, a sense of inferiority complex as a result of the colour of their skin, nor an immense sense of pride in their skin colour and are  in so many ways  indifferent, one way or the other.

However, they have found themselves victims of inadvertently  lightning their skin due to ignorance  or unhealthy skin care practices that has caused them skin issues, which were not  properly managed, leading  to the point where the only solution,  is to lighten their skins to make it look better.

The underlying factor for these last  2 groups of individuals, is the strong psychological connection between  their minds and the colour of their skin.

This line of thought has been amplified by the media , entertainment and modelling industry, as they tend to portray a certain skin colour as more beautiful, more acceptable  and better than the other.

The truth of the matter is that every skin is beautiful, when it’s well taken care of . Consider having an unhealthy lighter skin colour compared to a healthy, beautiful black skin and vice versa.

The key here is to push the narrative of maintaining beautiful, healthy skin, so that no matter what colour you are, no matter what shade you are, you are proud to wear your skin colour, because that colour presents the best version of you that is possible.

Constitutive and Facultative skin colour.

There’s something very interesting that I’ve noticed in the cause of being a skincare formulator and talking to so many people about their skin.

Most of us  seem to be ignorant of the fact that our skin colour does not remain constant throughout lifetime or through the year. It constantly changes from season to season.

Its amazing to assume that your skin will be the same colour from childhood to adulthood.. not unless you have been living in a cocoon! The truth of the matter is that so many of us, looked much lighter as babies compared to as adults and the answer is pretty obvious.

As babies, our skin mostly has  constitutive colour . And the constitutive colour of your body simply means the natural colour your skin has based on the activity of the melanin in the body, without any external influence. So, if you’re light skinned as a baby that’s your constitutive skin colour, it would be unrealistic to assume that you would be that same shade of colour as you progress through life.

There are so many things that actually affect the colour of our skin as we age on in this life,  the environment,  sun,  pollution , wind , heat, the hormones that rage in our bodies, oxidative stress that our bodies undergo every day, diet, and lifestyle. These factors determine the  facultative colour of our skin .

So the moment a child is born from age zero to one or two years depending on how protected the child is, the child is expected to have a constitutive skin colour, but as the child begins to interact with the environment, and as the environment interacts with a child along side growth and development, colour of the skin would gradually change to respond to the environment. It’s really unfair to assume that our skin colour should remain constant  during the entire course of your life, while the other cells and organs in the body are constantly changing. We tend to forget that the skin is the largest organ in the body after all. So it’s only natural and normal that as you get older,  the shade of your skin will also change a lot or very little depending on the activities that you carry on, how you interact with your environment and how your environment interacts with you and responds to  stimuli.

Certain parts of our body that that are mostly protected  and not directly exposed to the sun on a regular basis, would remain slightly lighter or constant for the rest of our lives like our  under arms, stomach region, and thighs . These parts of the body that are not always exposed to the elements but most times covered with clothing will  pretty much remain a constant skin colour throughout the duration of our lifetime, but other exposed parts of the body, especially the face, hands and the feet will not remain the same throughout the course of life.

As a matter of fact, skin colour changes by season, during the dry season in Nigeria, when the weather is really hot, you should expect that your skin should tan slightly in response to increased UVrays and this is a  normal  reaction for the skin  to protect itself from the raging heat of the sun.  Remember that heat is also another factor that is responsible for  darkening in that summer. So protecting yourself from the sun and keeping cool are important factors to consider when thinking about skin darkening during the hot months.

As we move into the cooler regions and cooler times of the year  during the rainy season, it would be normally expected that your skin should become lighter colour because now  the UV intensity is reduced, and the heat is reduced, reducing  the external factors responsible for skin tanning.

Apart from the sun, and heat, and other external factors, remember the other internal factors already mentioned above such as  your hormones, free radicals , oxidative stress, diet etc. that also affect the complexion of your skin.

Skin colour is something, I think that we should learn to accept, love, appreciate in whatever shade it presents. We should also learn to appreciate the way  our skin reacts to our environment to protect us, which is something we should admire and encourage and use as a marker of our skins’ wellness and ability to respond to stimuli.  Being upset at the skin, for performing its normal functions, then seems to be an unreasonable behaviour.

The focus should be on maintaining healthy skin because if your skin is healthy, no matter what shade, colour or tone it is…It will be beautiful.

What is more important, is maintaining clear, flawless complexion that is healthy. ..Not the colour of your skin.