Beyond the basics

Karen Ellithorne delves deep into the subject of beauty beyond skin types.


Renowned artists and architects from the Renaissance era used an equation known as the ‘golden ratio’ to measure out their masterpieces.


Today, thousands of years later, scientists have adopted this exact same formula as a measurement to help explain why some people are considered more beautiful than others… and it’s all about facial symmetry.


However in most cases, measurable facial asymmetry exists and is overlooked and can be perceived to be just as attractive. One of the most important factors contributing to this illusion is smooth, healthy, flawless and radiant skin.


The role of corrective skincare with cosmeceutical active ingredients as an effective tool against premature ageing is well documented and is no longer just used by the middle-aged woman trying to fend off already developed wrinkles. Now the younger generation is also well aware of the importance of using skincare products to balance their skin and slow down the ageing process.


A new addition to this group, especially in South Africa, are men who are also interested in grooming and age prevention.


The variety and choice of skincare products can be overwhelming, with most consumers generally picking their products off of supermarket and pharmacy shelves. Unfortunately, in these instances trained skincare therapists are not involved in assisting customers to choose suitable products for their skin types. Consequently, on most occasions these purchases are left up to the customer’s own judgment, resulting in them not choosing the most appropriate product for their skin type, or being dissatisfied with their purchase.


Skin classifications


Conventionally skincare has always been categorised into four basic skin types, namely normal, dry, oily, and combination. Specific formulations are formulated for skin conditions like acne, sensitivity and dehydration.


Many researchers classify the skin based on genetic disposition, how the skin reacts to sun exposure, and how it reacts to cosmetic treatments.


The gold standard of these types of classification systems is the Fitzpatrick classification, which is a simple classification based on genetic background and the skin’s reaction to UV light. This is a well-used industry guide to predict treatment outcomes.


Skin properties and how it responds to external stimulation is very much determined by its genetic origin. This depends on many factors, such as the quantity of melanin found in the skin, the type of pigment, the melanosome content, and how much exposure the skin has had to UV light.




Skin ageing results from two main factors: the intrinsic factors (genetically determined) and the extrinsic factors (environmental). How the skin responds to ageing depends on the interplay of these two factors. Therefore genetic composition and ethnic background of an individual play a large role in the ageing process.


As aestheticians we should be better educated in understanding the structural variations of skin types between the different ethnic groups and consider the various differing roles that skincare should be addressing. Age suppression may not be the first thing that needs to be considered on the client’s skin, but rather prevention and retardation of specific skincare issues related to race groups.


Thus the product selected must not only be targeted towards a specific skin type but should also be based on the ethnic and genetic background of the individual.


Streamlined classification


Based on the existing classifications, dermatologist, Dr Sherine S Raveendran from the UK suggests working with a categorisation system that highlights photo ageing patterns among the races and the skin’s reaction to physiological and pathological situations. This categorisation should also focus on specific skin issues related to the various ethnic backgrounds.


Group 1: Fair Skin Types (Nordic and European)

Signs of ageing develop early, with wrinkles and sagging being the predominant features

Risk of skin cancer is high

Scars heal well


Group 2: Tan Skin Types (Central and East-Asian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern)

Signs of ageing develop later than Group 1; ageing is found in the form of wrinkle formation and pigment changes like freckles

Low risk of skin cancer

Scars behave variably


Group 3: Darker Skin Types (South Asian, African, Afro Caribbean)

Signs of ageing appear very late

Wrinkles not common; pigment changes observed frequently

Skin cancers extremely rare

A tendency to keloid scar formation


Working with this form of classification, it is possible to start introducing active ingredients daily into the client’s skincare programmes to maintain and prevent specific problems that are highlighted in each category before they become problematic. This forces us to think out of the box and move away from our basic classifications of normal, dry, oily and combination skins, as this general of way of treating skin cannot possibly deliver the most effective skincare results on all the different race groups.


Active selection


Your common cosmeceuticals, namely antioxidants and peptides, will benefit all skin types and an effective combination of these actives will be even more beneficial to the skin.


Sunscreens are, and will always remain, an important component of daily skincare across all skin groups.


Due to the fact that darker skin types have a more compact epidermis, an increased rate of cell renewal, as well as an increased rate of transdermal loss of water, it is important to hydrate to prevent the skin from cracking and to consider adding a low level AHA (alpha-hydroxy acid) product to assist with dead skin cell removal. However, one should always avoid harsh abrasives that can lead to irritation and post inflammatory hyper pigmentation. Skin brighteners and melanin suppressors are also good actives to include. A daily use of an anti-oxidant is vital to avoid changes in pigment.


The main concern of the fairer skin types is premature ageing and wrinkle development. Many cosmeceutical ingredients like retinoids, peptides and growth factors can address these issues and assist to increase the collagen content of the epidermis to assist with wrinkles and sagging.


Pigmentary changes such as melasma and freckles are becoming more noticeable among the Asian group. In comparison to the Fair Skin group though, the Asian group is less likely to develop wrinkles and sagging.


Seasonal changes can also have an impact on what ingredients you select. In the cold winter months the skin may require more moisture than in the humid, hot summer months. Conversely, in summertime it is always good to incorporate more antioxidants, namely L- ascorbic acid, niacinamide and alpha lipolic acid, to assist with additional UV protection, especially when the client is outdoors and travelling.


Constant use of the same product for a long period is also not a solution as the skin becomes acclimatised to the ingredients and you no longer get the best effect. Swapping ingredients for seasonal changes, or to help specific concerns, will give superior results.


Since we cannot all have perfect facial proportions like Angelina Jolie, let’s change the way we consult and assist our clients in having beautiful, healthy, radiant and smooth skin.


A qualified aesthetician, Karen Ellithorne has been actively involved in the skincare industry since 1992, working as a lecturer and therapist, as well as successfully importing and distributing various products throughout South Africa.

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