Skin color comes from combinations of the colors red, yellow and blue. This article will explain why different people have different skin color and why skin color changes in different lighting.

How does light affect skin color?

Lighting affects the perception of color. This is why colors look different when viewed on a computer vs a phone vs in person. The type of light (which wavelength) that color is viewed in also has an effect on the perception of color.  This is why makeup foundation looks like a different color in a store under florescent lights and then the color changes outside in natural light. It is always recommended to walk outside and look at the foundation color in natural light before purchasing. This is also why makeup lights often have different settings so you can apply your makeup depending upon what light you will be viewed in.

Color perception also changes depending upon the colors that are around it. All of these facts make it difficult for to match color cosmetics, tinted sunscreens and cover foundations to your skin color.

Reflection of light also affects skin tone.  Smooth surfaces reflect more light and appear brighter than rough surfaces. This is why smooth hydrated skin looks radiant while people with dull skin do not reflect light because the skin’s surface is dry and rough. Darker skin types get an ashy skin tone when dry due to the way light reflects off of the retained corneocytes on the skin’s surface. If skin is dull, use the proper skin care routine to treat dry skin on the face. 

Skin tone and complexion

When people use the term “complexion”, they mean skin tone. The complexion is the surface color of the skin. A beautiful complexion occurs when the skin is an even tone. The skin tone is derived from combinations of melanin pigment, hemoglobin (oxyhemoglobin and deoxyhemoglobin), bilirubin, and carotene.

The skin tone results from the visual impact of the two kinds of melanin found in the skin; eumelanin and pheomelanin. 

The top layer of the epidermis – the stratum corneum- and skin color

The top layer of the epidermis, the normal stratum corneum (SC), does not play much of a role in skin color. The SC is clear and see-thru like plastic wrap in healthy skin of light skin types. The SC of healthy dark skin types is slightly yellow due to the presence of “melanin” dust in the corneocytes. 

The epidermis and skin color

Melanin absorbs and scatters light. The skin tone of healthy human skin depends upon the melanin concentration in the epidermis and the type of melanin. Eumelanin protects the skin and has a brown black color while pheomelanin, which is a yellow red color, ages the skin especially when exposed to UVA.   Human skin, regardless of Fitzpatrick Skin Type and ethnicity, has a consistent ratio of 74% eumelanin and 26% pheomelanin. (Except in red heads who have a defect in the gene that produces eumelanin).

The dermis and skin color

The dermis has less melanin than the epidermis. For this reason, the hemoglobin (either oxyhemoglobin or deoxyhemoglobin) in the skin which is contained in capillaries (except in the case of trauma or bruising) is the predominant contributor to skin color in the dermis. In dark skin types, the melanin in the epidermis obscures most of the redness seen from hemoglobin, but in light skin types, hemoglobin can make certain areas of the skin pink or red.  Areas of the skin with more capillaries look pink or reddish as compared to other areas of the skin with fewer capillaries. (the nose and cheeks and chin are often pink in light skin). When skin is inflamed as seen in sensitive skin, the skin appears pink or red.  How pink or red the skin color is a depends upon the number of capillaries involved, their diameter and blood flow rate.

Many factors contribute to skin color. If you have an uneven skin tone, the best thing to do is take the quiz and on the question that askes if you have uneven skin tone- choose “yes and I want to treat it.” A skincare regimen will be recommended to you to help even your skin tone.

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