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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2017  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 1-2

Skin pigmentation in relation to gender: truth and myth

1 Department of Dermatology, Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, India
2 Max Panchsheel, New Delhi, India

Date of Web Publication19-Jun-2017

Correspondence Address:
Rashmi Sarkar
Department of Dermatology, Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2349-5847.208350

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How to cite this article:
Sarkar R, Bansal S. Skin pigmentation in relation to gender: truth and myth. Pigment Int 2017;4:1-2

How to cite this URL:
Sarkar R, Bansal S. Skin pigmentation in relation to gender: truth and myth. Pigment Int [serial online] 2017 [cited 2023 Feb 4];4:1-2. Available from: https://www.pigmentinternational.com/text.asp?2017/4/1/1/208350

Skin, the finest covering of the body, functions as an active biological barrier separating the internal homeostasis from the environment outside. Skin protects our internal organs and system from harsh environments by functioning as a barrier to microbes, chemicals, and ultraviolet radiation found in sunlight and also prevents water loss. As one of the most conspicuous human polytypic variations, skin color has probably attracted more scholarly attention than any other aspect of human variability. The color of the skin plays a major role in the appearance of an individual, as beauty is nothing but skin deep.[1]

Two types of melanin pigmentation occur in humans.[2] The first is constitutive skin color, which is the amount of melanin pigmentation that is genetically determined in the absence of sun exposure and other influences. The other is facultative (inducible) skin color, or “tan,” which results from sun exposure. Human skin color is determined by the total quantity of melanin, the proportion between the brown-black eumelanin and the yellow-red pheomelanin, and its distribution through the epidermis.[3],[4] In addition to melanin (brown), the blood flow (red oxygenated hemoglobin and blue reduced hemoglobin) and β-carotene (yellow) content of skin also contribute to skin color.

The controversy regarding the cosmetic differences between skin of men and women is occupying center stage, thanks to media hype and the boom in cosmeceutical industry. Now the pharmaceutical and cosmeceutical companies have launched the so-called specialized general skin creams, moisturizers, and fairness skin cream for the men. Is this premise of this concept is biological plausible or is it a simply new selling gimmick?

Men and women are not born with different skin colors. It has been observed that adult human females are consistently lighter in skin pigmentation than males in the same population.[5] This form of sexual dimorphism is due to the requirement in human females for high amounts of calcium during pregnancy and lactation. Natural selection has led to females with lighter skin than males in all indigenous populations because women must get enough vitamin D and calcium to support the development of the fetus and nursing infant and to maintain their own health.[6]

Very few studies are there that are delineating difference in skin color of men and women. Firoj et al. assessed the difference in melanin index in relation to age, sex, and body site. Melanin index was significantly high in men as compared to women.[7] Lower levels of melanin were observed in female at buttocks, glabella, V area of neck, inner arm, dorsal forearm after first decade of life. In other study by Fullerton and Serup, baseline color in prone position was measured with the Minolta Chroma Meter® (Konica Minolta Chromameter, Japan) in the upper, middle, and lower level of the upper back and on the forearm of 168 volunteers. Females were found to have a generally lower basal a* level than males both on the upper back and forearm skin.[8] In a Korean study, gender differences in skin color were also significant at all body sites after the first decade.[9]

The sexes also differ in how they change their skin color with age. Men and women begin to diverge during puberty with the influence of sex hormones. Women can also change pigmentation in certain parts of their body, such as the areola, during the menstrual cycle and pregnancy, and between 50 and 70% of pregnant women will develop the “mask of pregnancy” (melasma or chloasma) in the cheeks, upper lips, forehead, and chin.[6] This is caused by increases in the female hormones estrogen and progesterone, and it can develop in women who take birth control pills or participate in hormone replacement therapy.

Gender difference is also present in incidence of hyperpigmentary disorders. Melasma is a frequently observed facial hypermelanosis of light to dark brown color. It is common in women and dark skinned patients of Hispanic, Asian, and African origin. In Caucasians, only 10% males are affected. This could perhaps attributed to the effect that hormonal factor do not hold a causative significance in men. However, in an Indian study, 25 to 83% males were affected. In men, the malar pattern is more common than the centrofacial and mandibular patterns.[10] Sunlight was the major incriminating factor as majority of the patients were outdoor workers, reporting exacerbation on sun exposure. Practice of mustard oil massage in India after bath could definitely contribute to high incidence in Indian men. Male melasma could possibly be more responsive to treatment. In one study by Hassan et al., it has been found that all hyperpigmentation disorders were more in female as compared to male except the postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.[11]

Although gender difference is present in color of skin, there is paucity of literature regarding the difference in treatment between male and female. All agents target the key regulatory steps in melanin synthesis. Is there any need for separate depigmenting creams in both gender, is this a myth or truth? There should be clinical trials on melanin index of men and women before and after starting any depigmenting therapy, which will help us to a better understanding.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Radhakrishnan N, Vijayachandra K, Ranganathan S. Changing skin color: evolution and modern trends. Indian J Dermatol 2007;52:71-7.  Back to cited text no. 1
  [Full text]  
Abdel-Malek Z, Kadekaro AL. Human pigmentation: its regulation by ultraviolet light and by endocrine, paracrine, and autocrine factors. In: Nordlund JJ, Boissy RE, Hearing VJ, King RA, Oetting W, Ortonne JP, editors. The Pigmentary System. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing; 2006. p. 410-20.  Back to cited text no. 2
Lin JY, Fisher DE. Melanocyte biology and skin pigmentation. Nature 2007;445:843-50.  Back to cited text no. 3
Jimbow K, Quevedo W, Fitzpatrick TB, Szabo G. Some aspects of melanin biology: 1950–1975. J Invest Dermatol 1976;67:72-89.  Back to cited text no. 4
Taylor SC. Skin of color: biology, structure, function, and implications for dermatologic disease. J Am Acad Dermatol 2002;46(2 Suppl Understanding):S41-62.  Back to cited text no. 5
Jablonski NG, Chaplin G. The evolution of human skin coloration. J Hum Evol 2000;39:57-106.  Back to cited text no. 6
Firooz A, Mehryan P. Does skin pigmentation differ amongst the two genders?. Pigment Bull 2014;2:3-6.  Back to cited text no. 7
Fullerton A, Serup J. Site, gender and age variation in normal skin colour on the back and the forearm: tristimulus colorimeter measurements. Skin Res Technol 1997;3:49-52.  Back to cited text no. 8
Roh K, Kim D, Ha S, Ro Y, Kim J, Lee H. Pigmentation in Koreans: study of the differences from Caucasians in age, gender and seasonal variations. Br J Dermatol 2001;144:94-9.  Back to cited text no. 9
Sarkar R, Jain RK, Puri P. Melasma in Indian males. Dermatol Surg 2003;29:204.  Back to cited text no. 10
Hassan I, Aleem S, Bhat YJ, Anwar P. A clinico-epidemiological study of facial melanosis. Pigment Int 2015;2:34-40.  Back to cited text no. 11
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