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Phototypes explained & why you should care

We all have a fairly good idea of what skin type we have; oily, dry, combination. But what do we really know about our integral skin physiology and structural characteristics? And more importantly, do we fully understand how these unique specifications affect our daily skin behaviours? While your answer may be uncertain, we’re here to clear up some of your burning questions regarding the most common skin concerns for deeper skin tones and why they happen; including some of our very own solutions. 


What is a phototype, and why is it important? 

The Fitzpatrick phototype is a clinical classification system that is designed to grade ultraviolet sensitivity into six categories, starting with three lighter skin tones and ending in three darker ones. But it’s not just skin tone that this scale takes into consideration either, eye and hair colour are accounted for as well. This demonstrates how our genealogical background shapes our current genetic make-up, and what that means on a structural level. And that’s all very important. 


The key factor between these phototypes lies in the melanin content present in the skin, and how these overactive cells often result in dehydration, pigmentation, sensitivity, and dullness if not cared for correctly. Knowing your own phototype is integral to understanding why your skin reacts to certain conditions, ingredients, or abrasions, and what skincare will work best for you. As  our name suggests, we focus on phototypes 4, 5, and 6 in order to address the unique differences that have arisen within melanin-rich skin garnered from thousands of years worth of adaptation. 


What are the physiological differences between lighter and darker phototypes?


The lighter phototypes I, II, and III (associated with Caucasian skin) exhibit minimal ultraviolet protection due to a lower production of melanin, resulting in a greater risk of premature ageing and sun-induced skin cancers. In contrast, the darker phototypes IV, V, and VI have hyperactive melanocyte cells that protect against those same harmful UV rays. And it’s in this major difference that the needs of the individual phototypes become apparent. Generally speaking, phototype IV is more likely to tan rather than burn, compared to the phototypes V and VI that generally will deepen in skin tone when exposed to sunlight. 


However, there are some structural and physiological specifications to these phototypes that require our additional care:


  • The risk of a vitamin D deficiency can be commonplace for the darker three phototypes, due to a heightened production of UV-protecting melanin causing this essential vitamin to be restricted upon absorption. Sunlight is integral for transforming 7-dehydrocholesterol to vitamin D3, and without this key component, skin can be left with an impaired skin metabolism which can lead to dehydration and dullness. Paired with a colder climate and a natural lack of sunlight, melanin-rich skin can suffer from skin sensitivity and a reduction in their ability to retain water. 

  • Environmental factors aside, deeper skin tones additionally shed skin cells 2.5 times more rapidly than lighter phototypes (also known as desquamation), causing added dullness when these dead cells remain on the skins surface. On top of this, natural oils and sebum are often over-produced to counter-act the effects of dehydration, leading to acne-prone skin. 

  • And what happens when acne heals? They may leave behind acne-scars. And it’s within this healing process that melanin plays a leading role. Any trauma the skin may experience will trigger the melanocyte cells to go into overdrive, resulting in an over-production of melanin that may lead to hyperpigmentation, hyperkeratosis, and even persistent dyschromia (discolouration). Frequently seen along the forehead, underneath the cheekbones, and around the mouth, with light spots occurring along the scalp and under the eyebrows; this melanin-driven healing process will often result in an uneven complexion.

  • As for physical differences, one such example can be noted in the actual thickness of darker phototypes, which contain an extra four layers of skin cells compared to their lighter counterparts. This additional outermost skin layer thickness means that skincare actives need to work even harder to penetrate the skin barrier in order to truly work their magic. 

What are the skin concerns that stem from the unique characteristics of phototypes IV, V, and VI?


  • Hyperpigmentation, dyschromia, and scarring can all lead to an uneven complexion based on the heightened levels of melanin production within the skin physiology. When the skin exhibits any form of  inflammation  or trauma, the melanocyte cells will boost into overdrive, leaving an excess of melanin behind. Acne flare-ups, hormone imbalances, and even harsh ingredient irritations can trigger this process into action. 

  • As melanin-rich skin is genetically-acclimatized to flourish in warmth and humidity, when met with a colder climate, the renewal of cells can often become slowed and even impaired. Ideally, the natural environmental humidity would sustain an optimal level of cell cohesion, but without it, skin becomes less compact, more fragile, sensitive, dehydrated, with an accumulation of dead skin cells on the surface. All of these factors contribute to a dull complexion, potentially leaving the skin vulnerable to pathogenic bacteria cellular anoxia; an occurrence that reduces oxygen from efficiently circulating through the bloodstream. 

  • There are a multitude of factors that may contribute to an impaired skin barrier, including an exposure to colder climates, pollution, harsh water, a continual lack of sunlight, stress, and direct contact with harsh products. When this protective skin barrier becomes impaired, dehydration may ensue, closely followed by hyperseborrhea; an overproduction of sebum to naturally counteract the effects of dehydration that can often be confused with the genetic ‘oily’ skin type. Even though the skin is in urgent need of water, the triggered sebaceous glands produce an excess of sebum that results in an oily appearance in a frantic bid to re-hydrate the skin.  

  • When there’s an excess of sebum production, there’s a higher chance that this will lead to sebum plugs becoming oxidized and forming open comedones; also known as black heads. Add environmental pollutants and comedogenic products to the mix, and you have a recipe for closed comedones occurring (otherwise known as white heads). These blemishes can transform into inflammatory acne with bacterial proliferation, resulting in a rough and uneven complexion.

What is our scientific process?

Backed by science 


Aside from the research performed by Harvard Medical School graduate Dr. Thomas Fitzpatrick in 1975, our team of melanin skin experts have conducted their own findings over their years within the medical industry. US-based Board Certified dermatologist Dr. Carlos Charles and pharmaceutical skin expert Dr. Imen Azaiez have over ten years worth of experience caring for and treating thousands of melanin-rich patients while solving their skin concerns. Combined with fellow research partners and cosmetic research facilities, we have successfully discovered the most effective ingredients for the phototypes IV, V, and VI. 


Not only have we looked at the phototypes from a dermatologists' viewpoint and a nutritionists' standpoint, but we’ve also listened to the real-life experiences of melanin-rich patients, including our very own co-founder Noelly Michoux. This personal insight into the darker phototypes has enriched our clinical scientific research to the point where we fully understand the needs, concerns, and solutions to help the melanin-rich community to the best of our abilities. 

 

Dedication to melanin-rich skin

 

Through our intricate and thorough understanding of phototypes IV, V, and VI, we’ve selected only the most innovative biodynamic ingredients for our melanin-rich customers, exclusively tested on individuals with darker phototypes, and then formulated to their highest performance. Our mission is to tailor, customize, and freshly-mix each product to meet every individual customers needs for maximum results and efficiency, guided by our five formulation principles: 

 

  • Dehydration and dryness

To energize our formulations for maximum effectiveness, we infuse active and vitalized water to boost the mineral and essential vitamin content of our products, rather than settling for demineralized water often found in other cosmetic formulations. Plant extracts, active juices, water-retaining and skin barrier protecting ceramides, and anti-inflammatory vitamin D all aid in the restoration of the delicate skin microbiome. And in turn, increases the ability to retain water, allowing our clever combination of moisturizers and hydrating agents to penetrate deeper into the outer skin layers (also known as the epidermis). 

 

  • Acne, pore size, uneven texture, and oily skin 

Through gentle but effective cleansing and exfoliating agents concocted from a combination of plant extracts, low concentrations of essential oils, alpha hydroxy acids (AHA’s) and beta hydroxy acids (BHA’s), we provide relief for acne whilst improving overall skin texture. 

 

  • Hyperpigmentation

To best regulate potentially excessive melanin production triggered by surface trauma, we harness powerful tyrosinase melanin inhibiting agents, antioxidants, plant extracts, along with gentle chemical exfoliants AHA’s and BHA’s to promote healthy skin cell renewal. Our goal is to achieve a uniform pigmentation along with a natural glow-from-within. Read more about our brightening process using our carefully curated formulations here

 

  • Cell renewal and desquamation

By gently buffing away dead skin cells through enzymatic exfoliation, we aim to boost the cellular metabolism to unveil the skins natural radiance. And by further harnessing the regenerative and micro-nutritive properties of plants that grow in the same climate conditions that melanin-rich phototypes were garnered, we can aim for a brighter complexion.

 

  • Inflammation and a weakened skin barrier

Maintaining a stable microbiome is crucial for a healthy and balanced skin barrier, and that’s why we maintain the skins’ good bacteria through plant extracts, including both pre and post-biotics.


What ingredients don’t we use?

We use low concentrations of hypoallergenic fragrances in our formulations to offer a higher sensory experience for those who prefer perfumed products, which is of course optional via our customization questionnaire. Additionally, you'll only find low concentrations of essential oils in our products. We do this so that your melanin-rich skin can reap their benefits without the backlash.


You won’t find any “nasties” in our products either, with a deliberate exclusion of parabens, microbeads, sulfates, and plastic powders across the board. Here's a list of what else you won't find within our carefully curated formulations:


  • High percentage acids
  • Any and all sulfates 
  • Pore-clogging mineral oils 
  • Denatured alcohols 
  • Toxic chemicals such as triclosan and MIT 
  • Toxic bleaching agents hydroquinone, mercury, or corticosteroids 
  • Endocrine disrupting phenoxyethanol 
  • Silicones 

So there we have it; a comprehensive guide on how to best understand your own phototype and how to align your skincare routine around it. Still a little unsure of where you fall on the Fitzpatrick scale? Don’t worry. Our helpful melanin skin experts are only a quick message away. And if you’re uncertain of what skincare regimen to choose, have a quick read about our customized formulation service to best suit your unique skin requirements.

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