Are there ethnic differences in skin cleansing?

Beautiful Skin Image Gallery Skin tones can vary, but do they affect how the skin should be cleansed? See more pictures of beautiful skin.
© Olkha

There are a lot of people in the world -- nearly 7 billion -- and the diversity among them is great [source: U.S. Census Bureau]. Although sometimes people who have different ethnic backgrounds might share similar in skin tones and textures, the differences usually are more noticeable. Because of this, there are differences in the way people of varying ethnicities must take care of their skin, including techniques for cleansing.

For example, people with dark skin tones, such as those of African descent, tend to have sensitive skin. To avoid irritation and excessive dryness, it can be a good idea to go easy on cleansing products containing abrasive exfoliants and chemicals such as benzoyl peroxide because they can be too harsh and can cause problems [source: Nordenberg]. The same can be true for Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and anyone else with darker skin. Some products targeted to clear up acne -- especially those with bleaching ingredients -- can temporarily lighten the skin, causing blotchy discoloration [source: American Academy of Dermatology].


However, in Caucasians and others with very light skin tones, cleansers containing benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid can often be used to achieve a better skin tone and a smoother texture. Discoloration is less of a concern for them because light skin tones already have very little melanin, the pigment that gives skin and hair their color.

Just because two people have the same skin color, however, doesn't always mean that they will require the same treatment. People who share the same ethnicity may have different skin textures or skin conditions. Keep reading to discover ethnic differences in skin tone and texture and what can cause hyperpigmentation (dark spots) on certain skin types.

Ethnic Skin Tones and Texture

It's no secret that different ethnicities usually have different skin tones. But it doesn't matter whether an ethnic group's skin tone is a shade of white, olive, brown or black -- all people have melanocytes, the melanin-producing cells responsible for skin color. People with darker skin don't have more melanocytes than anyone else; theirs just produce more melanin [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. That doesn't mean, however, that all people of the same ethnicity produce the same amount of melanin. Some people of African descent have dark black skin, and others have light brown skin. The same can be said for Native Americans and south Asians, too.

People with darker skin tones tend to be more sensitive to problems such as ingrown hairs and acne. These things can lead to hyperpigmentation, which turns the irritated skin darker than the skin on the rest of the face. The spots often clear up, but not always. In fact, discoloration caused by a simple ingrown hair could end up sticking around for years to come [source: Marcus]. On a positive note, darker skin does help to naturally protect against the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. Even so, people with darker skin should take precautions to protect their skin to reduce the risk of skin damage and cancer.


As far as skin texture is concerned, ethnicity doesn't make a huge difference. Once again, people who share an ethnic background can still have completely different skin textures. One person might have dry skin that is flaky and irritated, and another can have oily skin that tends to break out. It varies from person to person regardless of ethnicity.

Read more about differences in ethnic skin tone and texture and cleansing techniques by visiting the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • American Academy of Dermatology. "More Frequently Asked Questions About Acne." (Accessed 9/11/2009)
  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Skin of Color." 2009. (Accessed 09/02/2009)
  • Marcus, Mary Brophy. "Patients' ethnicity can change the face of dermatology." USA Today. April 8, 2008. (Accessed 09/02/2009)
  • Nordenberg, Tamar. "Black Skin Is Beautiful, But Beware Its Darker Side." Discovery Health. 2009. (Accessed 09/02/2009)
  • Nordenberg, Tamar. "Tips for Looking Hot-Hot-Hot If You're Hispanic." Discovery Health. 2009. (Accessed 09/02/2009)
  • Nordenberg, Tamar. "TLC is Key for Your Middle Eastern or Asian Skin." Discovery. 2009. (Accessed 09/02/2009)
  • U.S. Census Bureau. "U.S. & World Population Clocks." (Accessed 09/02/2009)