This proposition – that black skin is better skin – is not a political statement. Rather, it is based upon scientific observations. Darkly pigmented skin is functionally superior to lighter colored skin in several ways. Our purpose here is give our readers a scientific perspective to a socially fraught question. And to acquaint our readers with some of the most important functions of skin that are influenced by skin color.
Some of the benefits of skin color are obvious and widely recognized. Darkly pigmented skin is less susceptible to skin cancer. And dark skin is less prone to develop wrinkles over time.
Poetically speaking, age has a lighter stroke on the canvas of black skin.
But there are other, less well-known, but very important ways in which darkly pigmented skin functions better than pale skin. We are not talking about “racial” differences, because race is not a valid scientific construct. The differences we speak of are attributable to skin pigmentation per se in whomever and wherever it is found. Whether in an African-American, Filipino, or Sri Lankan, it is dark pigmentation itself that confers multiple advantages to the part of the skin called ‘epidermis’, which comprises the outermost and protective layers of the skin.
In the first place, darkly-pigmented epidermis is more cohesive. This renders dark skin less susceptible to injury from friction and other mechanical traumas than the skin of lightly-pigmented individuals. Second, and most critically, dark skin exhibits a tighter permeability barrier. The epidermal permeability barrier is what allows the skin to hold the inside in and keep the outside out. A tight permeability barrier retards the evaporation of our body water when we are exposed to a hot desert climate. And it also protects against the uptake of toxins and allergens from the environment. This feature alone may have conferred an evolutionary advantage to ancestors of early humans who lived in the dry, sunlight-intoxicated atmosphere of equatorial Africa.
In other words, dark skin color may have evolved in the earliest humans, not to prevent skin cancer, but to protect against dehydration!
Lastly, keen observers long ago have noted that darkly pigmented skin seems more resistant to infections than is the lighter skin of many visitors to the tropics. Better cohesion, an enhanced permeability barrier, and superior defense against infections – that’s a substantial brace of advantages for pigmented skin. Stay tuned for a discussion of how dark pigmentation accomplishes all of these benefits.