We all face challenges when it comes to keeping our skin looking youthful and flawless. For a healthy complexion, all skin needs to be taken care of with a daily cleansing, moisturising and sun protection regime. But for the UK’s South Asian women, certain problems are more likely to arise due to the genetic make-up of their skin.
Issues such as dark circles under the eyes and pigmentation are a common problem for Asian women, but can be tackled with the right advice and suitable products. Finding make-up shades to complement their skin tone can also require some expertise.
The pigmentation problem
One of the most common problems faced by Asians is a mottled and uneven skin tone. Brown marks that blight the skin are known in the medical world as hyperpigmentation, and are caused by excess melanin (pigment) production.
“Asian skin contains increased levels of melanin,” says consultant dermatologist Dr Nisith Sheth, of the Cadogan Clinic in Chelsea. “The pigment producing melanocyte cells churn out more melanin when stimulated by factors such as sunlight, skincare products, oral medications or certain medical conditions – and these reactions can be more marked and unpredictable in those with darker skin.”
In order to treat pigmentation, it is important to establish its cause. There are several different types of pigmentation. Prolonged sun exposure activates the melanocytes to produce more melanin, which leads to the formation of sunspots – small clusters of discolouration usually found dotted over the face, neck, hands and forearms.
Post-inflammatory pigmentation is most common among Asians, as their melanocytes are more active. This type of pigmentation develops after trauma to the skin – such as picking at scars or following a burn. Asians who suffer from conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis are also more likely to be affected. Factors such as pregnancy or taking the pill can cause the body’s oestrogen levels to fluctuate, which can trigger the melanocyte cells to go into overdrive and produce stubborn splotches, known as melasma around the forehead, cheeks and mouth.
Pigmentation fading tips
The best way to minimise pigmentation is to reduce exposure to the initial triggers, such as sunlight and harsh topical products. Dermatologists warn that even short spells of unprotected sun exposure can make pigmentation worse, so slathering on a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which contains both UVA and UVB protection, on a daily basis, is essential. Not only will it stop existing discolouration from getting worse, but it will also prevent new marks from developing.
Since pigmentation is considered to be every bit as ageing as wrinkles, beauty brands are bringing out blotch-fading skincare at lightening speed – and the choice is vast. “Look out for products containing ingredients such as azelaic and kojic acid, which fade discolouration by inhibiting the production of pigment,” advises Dr Sheth. “For stubborn marks, see a dermatologist who may prescribe topical hydroquinone, a bleaching agent which works by blocking melanin production.”
The Skinceuticals Pigment Regulator (£75) contains kojic acid and emlica to lighten existing hyperpigmentation, improve tone, and protect skin from future discolorations. And just arrived from the U.S. is Elure Advanced Skin Lightening Lotion (£105), which contains melanozyme – a mushroom derived enzyme that dissolves the melanin on the skin’s surface, whilst allowing natural production deeper down to continue.
Hiding dark circles
Dark circles around the eyes are another common issue. Experts are still not entirely clear about exactly why these patches form under the eyes, but there are several theories.
“Thinning of the skin around the eye allows transparency and light penetration, which gives a darker appearance,” explains cosmetic physician Dr Raj Acquilla of Cheshire Cosmetic Ltd. “It can also be exacerbated by excessive pigment around the eye zone, which is very widespread amongst Asian and Middle Eastern skin. Ageing is also to blame. As we grow older, our skin becomes thinner making the blood vessels around the eyes more visible and dark circles more prominent,” he adds.
“Thinning around the eyes can be improved by using retinoid creams (a vitamin A derivative) such as tretinoin, which can stimulate collagen and make the skin thicker, while hyperpigmentation in this area can be addressed using depigmenting creams like hydroquinone, and both of these can be prescribed by a dermatologist,” says Dr Acquilla. “The visibility of blood vessels through the skin can be reduced by using creams containing vitamin K oxide or professional laser treatments, which are designed to shrink the vessels,” he says.
Try Cernor XO Dark Eye Circles Cream (£19.99), which is designed to reduce skin transparency and the visibility of blood vessels. Some experts believe that injectable dermal fillers using hyaluronic acid may also help. When injected under the skin, the hyaluronic acid attracts water and softens the darkened patches.
While it can take several weeks for the results of creams to become visible, camouflaging under-eye circles with make-up can give instant results. Make-up artists recommend use of a creamy concealer containing mica or other light-diffusing particles, which help reflect light into the face to disguise dark circles. Begin by prepping the skin with an eye gel, and then dot the concealer over the discoloration using a light, tapping motion. Try YSL Touché Éclat (£24.50), which is now available in a range of colours to suit darker skin tones.
Many Asians feel that they are immune from sun damage, as their skin does not burn as easily as that of their white counterparts. “It’s true that Asian skin has an increased density of pigment cells, giving them a natural, in-built protection from UV damage,” says consultant dermatologist Dr Sandeep Cliff. “This means they are less likely to burn in the sun and their collagen remains intact for longer slowing the onset of ageing. However, all skin tones can burn if the sun is strong enough.”
It is this burning, which is the number one cause of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Plus none of us can escape UVA rays, which are prevalent year-round and can penetrate through clouds and glass to damage the skin’s DNA, leading to the formation of wrinkles, loss of tone and cancer.
“To minimise the risk of burning and premature ageing, use a sun block with a sun protection factor of at least 15 and four stars – to protect against both UVA and UVB rays,” advises Dr Cliff. The Uzuri Anti Tan Lotion SPF 40 (£11.99) has been developed for Asian, Afro-Caribbean, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern skin tones. Its clear gel formula doesn’t leave behind any white marks or chalky residue, making it a better option for darker skin tones.
Complementing skin tones
It’s not just particular skin issues that affect Asian women. Finding the right make-up to suit their duskier skin tone is a constant challenge for some. But over the past few months, even mass-market brands such as L’Oreal, Revlon and Avon have increased their range of colours to suit ethnic skin tones – so there are plenty of options on the market.
One of the biggest challenges is finding a foundation to complement Asian skin tones. “The key is to fi nd one that is designed with the right balance of tones,” says David Horne, Director of Product Development at Illamasqua. “Foundation for Asian skin needs to be yellow or olive-based, without having too much red added, as this can make the skin appear too orange. It is important to find a shade that can lift the fatigued-looking pigmentation under the eyes and the general sallow undertone, which normally prevents Asian complexions from looking refreshed.” Try Illamasqua Skin Base Foundation (£25), which is formulated with a flattering balance of red, yellow and blue undertones.
“Before buying a foundation, match the colour on the nose, forehead and chin so you can see how the shade looks on the central panel of the face and on different parts of the complexion. If the base disappears into the skin – the shade is perfect for you,” advises Horne.
When it comes to colour, Asian skin has a beautiful golden hue and can carry most cosmetic colours. Certain shades are more flattering, however. “My favourite way to enhance this skin tone is to emphasise the areas where light naturally falls onto the skin by adding luminosity using shades of copper gold or bronze,” says Horne.
Make-up artist Ruby Hammer says: “Steer clear of colours that are too close to your natural skin tone, or shades of silver and grey, as these can make you look washed out and will do nothing to enhance your skin tone. Punchy colours work well on the lips and eyes, while warm peaches and corals on the cheeks can add a youthful glow.”
Anjana Gosai is an award-winning beauty journalist