Understanding the Different Photo Types of Skin

Florence Barrett-Hill

Having completed the last of my seminars for another year, I now have time to reflect on all of the comparisons of the skins I have seen during my global travels. Suffice it to say, I found plenty of evidence of how genetics and environment play a huge role in the way “genetically” northern hemisphere skins respond in both their own environment and when relocated to other parts of the world, and how important it is to be aware of this genetic location history during the consultation process.

around the world
Skins can respond very differently when subject to environments different than their genetically “native” location.

It was in Ireland that I first noticed huge differences between New Zealand, Australian and South African skins and the rest of the world. The first major observations were made under black light, and then using my C&K SD202 digital diagnostic device. This device allowed me to determine oil/water/melanin and erythema levels and depth of damage.

On this tour, the Irish skin was the most beautiful showing a striking lack of dermal deterioration. The structural integrity of the Irish skin was also strong and with greater density, and the lack of vascular damage and pigmented lesions were also evident. These observations were noticeable across all ages with a similar work life style: they were all beauty therapists/aestheticians.

I immediately thought of the New Zealand and Australian population originally founded on the Irish and Scot immigrants (as was many parts of South Africa) and this prompted me to ask myself why was it that although we have the same genetic heritage of the Irish, our southern hemisphere skins didn’t show the same strength.

In Germany, I began to record the highest lipid (oil) levels, even among age groups as high as the mid 50s. This was most unusual, as naturally high lipid levels are generally only observed in teenagers in other parts of the world.
It is apparent that the New Zealand, Australian and South African skins seem to be ageing the fastest, with extensive loss of structural integrity, thin skin density (vascular damage) and almost always zero lipid levels being the three most frequently observed and measured conditions.
A higher frequency of asthma, eczema and dermatitis was also recorded during the consultations conducted.

To put these observations into some perspective and to rationalize them made me think of many things, but genetics, nutrition and environment were the three points that seem to make the most sense and deserved more thought.

Genetic history as part of the consultation

Genetics is a subject that I have always found most interesting, and in recent years, aspects of it has been included as part of the Pastiche Skin Diagnostic Methodology. By including this parameter, skin treatment therapists and practitioners are able to evaluate Skin Risk Assessment. This assessment includes establishing burn time, melanogenic dose and sun burn history as well as gathering data about client heritage and makes the simple determination of the client genetic heritage re the red head gene and the darker skin gene.

This type of consultation has historically been thin to say the least, and one hour is barely long enough to do the job properly. The imminent future development of skin diagnostic devices that will help to determine how much pheomelanin pigment (red) is present in individual skins will make it much easier to assess potential for skin cancer, irrespective of the colour of the skin.

Until then, a greater understanding of skin and genetics will need to be made. For example; where did the Irish come from, and what was their country of origin? So many questions run through my mind demanding to be answered, but they have to be put aside for another time.

skin types
The anaolgy between silk and calico can be quite useful when describing the structure of different skins

Let us stay with what we know has happened over the last 300 years or so and keep it relevant to premature ageing of skins of our clients in New Zealand, Australian and South Africa.
I often teach the paradigm that we are born with a skin that resembles something between silk or calico, and that skin is like a piece of fabric, with a weave, nap and bias.
The silk represents the thinner and more fragile skins, while the calico represents the denser, less opaque skins.
This analogy enables the therapist to diagnose, choose modality and treat skin more successfully.

The fibroblast cell is genetically coded to produce a finer or denser collagen fibril, and this will ultimately reflect in the outward appearance of skin.
This density of this collagen fibril also contributes to the premature ageing factor.

Silk is a fabric that has a fine thread with great strength and is able to be woven into a diaphanous and sheer fabric, and that is were the comparison ends.
The fine skin, which is transparent and fine textured like silk, does not have the strength of its comparative thread silk. These skins are difficult to repair without leaving trace and scar or mark easily. Conversely, the denser the collagen fibril, the stronger it will be, with the predisposition to scarring, marking and damage reduced.
The fineness and fragility of the collagen fibril means a greater predisposition to early ageing when its environment is harsh with high exposure to UVR and nutritional requirements of the fibroblast are not met.

Outdoor lifestyles
Outdoor lifestyles in non-native environments require more environmental defense measures


With the observation of the fine textured and slower ageing (Example: Irish) skin cocooned within its home Northern Hemisphere environment of long winters and shorter summers, it really reinforced the reverse effects of the same skin in the New Zealand, Australian and South African environments.

The long harsh summers, often with extremes of low or high humidity, plus warmer shorter winters combined with an outdoor mindset and sporting lifestyle will contribute to the premature ageing of the genetically northern hemisphere originating skins observed in these countries.

In addition, because many people where often unprotected from the elements as children, it will mean tissue damage (of the collagen fibril) and final cell damage occurs earlier than our Irish descendants in their native environment. (It is only recently that environmental protection has become commonplace for children worldwide)

Nothing new there you say; however how laterally do you think about these aspects during the skin analysis? Have you asked the question of sunburn history? Was the client born in New Zealand, Australia or South Africa, or did they emigrate? And at what age did this happen? Where did they spend their childhood years? Was that time spent mostly indoors, or outdoors? Was it spent nutritionally sound? Do they have any red head relatives in their genetic pool? All these questions are relevant and provide important information.


Another marked contrast I found during my travels was regarding total skin lipid levels of the German skin compared to New Zealand, Australian and South African skins.

healthy diet
Quality of diet can be directly related to skin health.

What I found was that irrespective of age, the German skins routinely measured higher surface lipid levels, and further observation of these excellent sebaceous secretions under black light.
This phenomenon was unusual to say the least because as we age, the sebaceous secretion usually declines in productivity and increases in viscosity.

When examining the skins of a particular country or culture, I always try to evaluate the nutritional (skin wise) well-being of a country by asking questions like: What quantity of oily fish is routinely eaten and what levels of oils like olive oil are consumed or used in cooking on a daily basis?

Of course with these questions, Im trying to evaluate the Omega 3 and 6 intakes. On my initial enquiry there didnt seem to be any great difference to other countries, however over the course of a week and by reading the dietary consultation of seminar attendees, I noticed there was a marked difference. German women generally eat healthily, and they eat more good foods in larger quantities. Their breakfast is always high protein.

This diet must make a difference. We know we are what we eat (who said that?). The skin will reflect our nutritional well being in a balanced acid mantle, proper oil flows and rapid cellular repair.

premature ageing skin
A typical result of a genetically northern hemisphere skin prematurely aged by a life in the southern hemisphere.

The German skins I observed reflected health in all three areas, however there was unfortunately a high incidence of vascular damage and pigmented lesions.
This is due perhaps to the typical German women being naturalists at heart, and enjoying the sun whenever they can. This may be because of the long harsh winters and the nations love and need to be outside after months of confinement over winter.
This lifestyle is reflected in the many pigmented anomalies observed, but what has saved this nation from a high incidence of skin cancer? The answer is a marked lack of the red head gene.  Very few of the attendees at my German seminars had a genetic history of read head relatives. They generally exhibited long burn times and a higher melanogenic dose, and consequently many had not used sun protection products until later in life.

These observations all help to give you a bigger picture of a variety of skins and how genetic background, environment, diet and lifestyle play a role in how they respond to various situations and stimuli. The more we know about the physiological make up of our client’s skin the better we will be equipped to find effective treatment solutions.

May this article give you food for thought and encourage you to extend the consultation process into the genetic, nutritional and environmental history of your client.

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