Dermatologist Address Skin Conditions Common In People Of Color

Nearly half of the world and more than one-third of the United States population is comprised of people of color. And, just as skin color and tone varies among each individual, so do the unique needs of this sensitive and easily damaged skin.

Speaking today at the American Academy of Dermatology’s (Academy) skin academy, dermatologist Eliot F. Battle, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Howard University in Washington, D.C., addressed a variety of conditions that are common in people with skin of color and how to treat them.

“Skin of color reacts differently from Caucasian skin to almost all medical and cosmetic dermatologic treatments,” said Dr. Battle. “It’s more sensitive and it’s more prone to problems of discoloration and scars.”

– Excessive Hair
Excessive hair is a common problem for many people with skin of color. Conventional methods of hair removal like electrolysis, waxing, threading, shaving, and plucking, can not only be tedious and temporary, but have a higher incidence of side effects, including dark spots and scars when used on darker skin types.

While lasers have been used successfully to remove excessive hair in people with light skin for many years, only recently, with the advent of “color-blind” lasers, are they becoming a good option for people with darker skin. Because darker skin attracts more of the light from short wavelength lasers, using them on people with skin of color causes side effects such as blistering, changes in skin pigment and scarring.

“The ‘color-blind’ lasers use a longer wavelength to account for differences in skin tone,” said Dr. Battle. “These lasers are safe and effective for helping people with skin of color eliminate unwanted hair. They also are being used for skin rejuvenation and scar therapy and we are investigating their use in treating blood vessels and blending complexions.”

– Dermatologic Conditions
It’s important for people with skin of color to see a dermatologist as they may find that their skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema and atopic dermatitis can often be misdiagnosed by doctors who may not be familiar with darker skin.

“If these skin conditions are not diagnosed and treated properly, theinitial skin lesion may turn into pigmentary disorders because people with skin of color are prone to developing dark spots as the primary lesion heals,” said Dr. Battle. “These dark spots can be quite cosmetically disfiguring and can sometimes last for years.”

– Skin Lightening
Dark spots and other discolorations are so common that some people with skin of color turn to both over-the-counter and the more powerful prescription skin lightening creams to treat them. These creams can be used to lighten both large and small patches of darker pigmentation.

“Look for proven ingredients like hydroquinone and kojic acid, but be aware that long-term use of lightening creams can result in a condition called ocronosis, a darkened, bluish discoloration of the treated area,” Dr. Battle said. “Use of these products should be monitored by a dermatologist to help prevent any negative side effects.”

– Scarring
Many people with skin of color also find that their skin does not heal very well from trauma, such as cuts, surgical incisions or burns. As a result, they may be prone to developing keloid or hypertrophic scars, which can be disfiguring and painful. After the skin is wounded, both skin cells and connective tissue cells (fibroblasts) begin multiplying to repair the damage. With keloids, the fibroblasts continue to multiply even after the wound is healed and project above the surface of the skin. Hypertrophic scars look similar to keloids and are more common, but they do not get as big as keloids, and they may fade with time.

“The main key to alleviating scarring problems is prevention,” said Dr. Battle. People with a family history of scarring, both hypertrophic and keloidal, need to minimize any trauma to their skin, including avoiding body piercing and unnecessary surgeries. Once a wound has occurred, it should be cared for meticulously under the guidance of a dermatologist.

– Skin Cancer
While many people with skin of color tend to think that they are not at risk of developing skin cancer, Dr. Battle stressed that since anyone, regardless of skin color or ethnicity, can develop skin cancer, it is important to practice sun safety.

“Too often, people with skin of color visit the dermatologist after their melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has spread throughout the body. By that point, the chance of the treatment’s success is severely diminished,” said Dr. Battle. “It’s important that patients of color practice regular skin self-examinations and learn how to identify suspicious lesions.”

While early diagnosis is critical in the treatment of any type of skin cancer, it can be easy to miss in people with skin of color since cancerous lesions occur most commonly on the extremities, particularly the feet and on the scalp where they may be well hidden between the toes or by hair.

“It’s important for people of color to see a dermatologist who understands their skin’s unique needs,” said Dr. Battle. “The newer treatments that are available like safer cosmeceuticals, prescription medications, aesthetic services and ‘color-blind’ lasers mean that there are more options than ever before for helping people with skin of color keep their skin, hair and nails healthy.”

Via PRNewswire

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