Is there an age at which a child's skin colour becomes permanent?
September 10, 2012 5:05 PM   Subscribe

Is there an age at which a child's skin colour becomes permanent?

I have a beautiful nephew who is mixed race (half Caucasian, half middle Eastern). His father is quite a bit darker, both I hair and skin, than he is. He is a beautiful kid and of course the colour of his skin doesn't matter to any of us. But I know a baby's skin can darken or change from when they are born and I am just curious about what age that stops. He is about to turn two, so he is not a 'baby' anymore. Can we assume that the colour he is now is the colour he'll be forever? Or can it change more as he grows up or during puberty? As I said, it's no big deal either way. We're just curious about whether there is an 'age of permanence' or whether it's one of those things that will change as he grows.
posted by JoannaC to Grab Bag (16 answers total)
Strictly anecdotally, I was under the impression that our grandparents thought it was three days. This may also strictly be an old-wives tale.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:10 PM on September 10, 2012

I don't know exactly what you mean... but even someone who isn't mixed-race can have skin color that changes dramatically depending on how much or how little sun he gets.
posted by ethidda at 5:11 PM on September 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

Fairly worthless anecdata I am sure, but I pass for fully white far more easily as an adult than I ever did as a child.
posted by elizardbits at 5:12 PM on September 10, 2012

In my experience with Indian children and adults, their skin color tends to darken until the mid-teens at least. Mine definitely did but was complicated by hyperpigmentation. It also depends on the amount of sunlight where you are.
posted by peacheater at 5:18 PM on September 10, 2012

Skin color can definitely change somewhat over time. I'm mixed - half Italian (mom had rosy-pale skin) and half South Asian (dad had medium olive-brown skin). I think skin tones (rosy, olive, yellowish) remain consistent for most people, throughout their lives although one can certainly get a little darker and lighter irrespective of the sun. FWIW I've always had very yellowish tones - my mom had skin cancer, so we were always very conscientious about sun exposure. I was pretty pale as a baby/toddler, got at least a few shades darker during adolescence, and then resumed paleness as an adult.

Hair color can also change shades before adulthood. Eye color can fluctuate some.
posted by raztaj at 5:21 PM on September 10, 2012

This can really change based on sun exposure and skin type, to the point where it's difficult to pinpoint a "default" shade for his skin. Anecdata: I and my middle Eastern relatives tan to varying degrees. I and some of my relatives stay pasty and really pale all year round and can't tan at all. Some of my cousins were olive-skinned as children and can now tan to a pretty deep brown. For some, their skin tones evened out to a slightly darker olive-toned shade or light brown as they got older. I'd say the biggest factor is amount of sunlight.
posted by yasaman at 5:30 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think it's pretty variable. My sister and I are mixed, Irish on my mom's side, and Mexican on my fathers side. For most of my dad's life he was very dark skinned as are most of the family members on that side. He's in his 50's now and very noticeably paler. I was super pale and black haired as a baby/child, so was my sister. As we got older, I got paler and very freckle-y and my hair turned auburn (though my eyebrows and eyelashes stayed very, very black) and I couldn't tan ever, just freckle and burn. My sister got super brown skinned but also freckle-y. Now I'm in my early 30's and I tan at the slightest exposure to sun and my hair has darkened quite a bit (when I see my natural color, which isn't often). Most of my cousins are mixed Irish/Black and almost all of them are A LOT paler than they ever were as kids (and a lot of them have much darker hair than they did then).

This is all to say: I really don't think there's some concrete moment where skin color becomes "fixed" in my experience.
posted by primalux at 5:33 PM on September 10, 2012

I have an olive undertone to my skin, though, racially, I am white, and as far as anyone in the family knows, we're mostly of northern European stock.

I was very dark as a kid. It probably didn't help that I grew up in a warm and sunny climate, where I was able to play outside for long hours during most of the year. But yeah. Super olive complexion, to the point that people used to joke that I took after the "Cherokee" side of the family.

Then something happened when I was a teenager, and I'm now about as pale as it gets. My skin will tan, but as an adult nobody would ever confuse me for swarthy.
posted by Sara C. at 5:44 PM on September 10, 2012

relatives said the baby would be whatever color the ears were.
posted by divinitys.mortal.flesh at 5:50 PM on September 10, 2012

relatives said the baby would be whatever color the ears were.

This was true for my youngest child, who is African-American (we are white). We took custody of him when he was about 4 days old, and his ears were darker than the rest of him. Over the next 72 hours or so, the rest of him caught up with his ears. It happened so quickly that you almost felt like you could sit there and watch his color change. He's stayed that same color ever since (he's now 5) except that he tans to a very deep and rich brown in the sun.
posted by not that girl at 5:54 PM on September 10, 2012

Personally I was a gorgeous golden tan color for most of my youth and now me getting a tan is like the biggest task ever and my mother regularly scolds me for being pale as hell. The true transition happened around age 21. I call that "the last time I was beautiful".

Not that I'm bitter or anything.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 5:59 PM on September 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

My college biology professor remarked that with sun exposure, etc, people tend to darken somewhat over time. The standard she used was that while your skin color may fluctuate with sun exposure and other things, you don't "return to your original baby color". (Yes, I realize some answers here are contradicting that. It is the most authoritative general observation I am aware of.)

My understanding is hormones also tend to darken skin a bit. For example, women who have had a baby tend to have browner nipples than they had before childbirth. So I am guessing some people change a bit when they hit puberty.
posted by Michele in California at 6:05 PM on September 10, 2012

My experience: tanned super great until I was about 12. After that it was fair city all the way and I just fry in the sun to this day. Like, I can blister really easily with too much sun. My thighs are so light as to be almost blue.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 7:02 PM on September 10, 2012

relatives said the baby would be whatever color the ears were.

I have also heard that the color of the skin between the last knuckle and their nail beds on their fingers is also a good indicator. Not sure if it's universally true, but I've seen more than one child born with that skin slightly darker, and the rest of the skin on their bodies "caught up" to the point that there was no longer a difference. YMMV.
posted by trivia genius at 7:35 PM on September 10, 2012

...oh, and to answer the actual question, anywhere from a few months to about 4 years.
posted by trivia genius at 7:36 PM on September 10, 2012

I spent a couple of months travelling with a friend who was half Somali and half Irish. We were outside a lot and it was hot and sunny.

6 weeks in, for no apparent reason, he shaved his head fully with a razor. We were shocked at how light he was on top - because the change had been so gradual we hadn't noticed. For a short period he looked quite funny and two-tone.

In short - environmental factors played a much larger role in his skin coloring than any of us thought.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:51 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

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