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How does equity feature in skincare research?

People with darker skin tones represent 40% of the world population and yet only 1% of skincare clinical trials are inclusive, according to new meta-data analysis of research.

The world’s first skin tone research lab has launched to address the worrying lack of skincare research that includes darker skin tones, especially Fitzpatrick IV, V and VI. Those falling into these types require products that specifically target their skin needs.

Skincare brand 4.5.6 Skin’s comprehensive review of skincare research has found that medical training about skin conditions in darker skin is limited, with as many as 60% of dermatologists struggling to diagnose and treat patients with darker skin tones. This is exacerbated by medical textbooks failing to reflect diversity; only 4.5% of images in such texts are diverse.

The review found that the vast priority of the skincare industry (70%) focuses on the main skin concern of lighter phototypes I, II and III, namely anti-ageing. However, that is not necessarily the focus for women of colour. In fact, 90% of the women of colour asked by 4.5.6 Skin said their top priorities were even skin tone and a healthy glow.

In addition, current testing procedures could be causing harm, as regulatory testing currently used by the industry is based on Fitzpatrick skin tones I, II and III only. This means that crucial patch tests are all based on white skin, despite irritation and inflammation appearing differently in darker skin.

For various reasons, clinical trials traditionally tend to include people with lighter skin tones.

Over the past few years, the conversation about diversity has improved, which may give the impression that inclusivity has increased. However, research suggests that this perceived increase has been heavily led by skincare marketing, for example, advertising campaigns, rather than specific products and research.

In a survey of individuals interested in 4.5.6 Skin, 60% of women of colour reported that they did not confidently understand how to care for their skin. This emphasises a lack of consumer-facing education.

When discussing the different skin tones, most conversations focus completely on colour, but research has shown numerous structural and functional differences in darker skin tones that go beyond that.