Skip to Main Content

INTRODUCTION

KEY POINTS

  • Myth and religion provided the earliest explanations of skin color.

  • Most early rational explanations ascribed skin color to climate.

  • Nineteenth-century pseudoscientific theories often supported the polygenist school, which stated that there were separate origins of the “races.”

  • Pseudoscientific misinformation, based on faulty or undocumented evidence, justified early twentieth-century sociopolitical prejudices.

  • The theory of evolution ended the polygenist argument and subsequently led to theories of skin color based on evolution.

  • Modern research led to the vitamin D/sunlight theory and an understanding of the evolutionary process behind skin color.

  • The Fitzpatrick skin type scheme classifies skin types by the response of the skin to sun exposure. A few dermatologists use this scheme to classify skin types, although sometimes without fully understanding its correlation to sun exposure.

  • Understanding of the biology of the melanin pigmentary system is based on research using light and electron microscopy.

  • The Human Genome Project, along with advances in DNA and the mapping of the genes, should help dermatologists to further understand skin diseases and their treatment.

Throughout history, the subject of skin of color has been shrouded in mystery, misconception, mystique, and misunderstanding. Since antiquity, people have sought answers to various questions, such as where skin color comes from, the skin color of the first humans, and why humans developed different skin colors [Table 1-1].1

TABLE 1-1Summary of historical perspectives on skin of color

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.