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The Need For Diversity in Dermatology

Skin conditions can be more than just a nuisance – they can kill if not treated! So why are many doctors and dermatologists lacking knowledge in how to treat skin conditions on black skin?  

A 2013 study by the Dermatologic Clinic showed that 47% of dermatologists admitted to having little to no proper training on treating skin issues on black skin. Images of black skin in dermatology textbooks cover only between 4% to 18% of the content in these books meant to educate dermatologists. In 2020, a different study found that dermatology is the second least diverse specialty in medicine, with 75% of participants in 58 different skincare studies having white skin.  

Now in 2022, things haven’t gotten much better.  

The gap in the field is worrying when there are a vareity of skin conditions that appear more frequently in BIPOC patients (such as hyperpigmentation and melasma) with many doctors and dermatologists not knowing how to effectively treat these conditions. Hyperpigmentation is a common skin condition for black skin causing an area of the skin to become darker than the rest. While hyperpigmentation can affect many different skin tones, it is often more intense and can last longer on black skin. This is because higher pigmented skin types are typically rich in melanin. Yet some of the beauty products that claim to treat hyperpigmentation aren’t necessarily formulated to work for melanin-rich complexions. For example, if a vitamin C serum is advertised to fade dark spots, it’s highly likely that it was exclusively tested on lighter skin types, meaning it might not be as effective on darker skin tones.  

But it isn’t just in dermatology, it is across the medical field. From the anatomy posters, to the plastic mannequins for CPR practice to the cadavers that doctors practice on – they are all typically a white-skinned man (typically only a woman when a certain organ needs to be examined).  

When many skincare products are tailored to white skin, it can be extremely difficult to find what you’re looking for. One black female Cohorted reader told us that it took them a while to find the right suncream for their skintone that didn’t make them look “ashy”. The product she uses is – La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra-Light Invisible Fluid Sun Cream.

To help fill this gap, clinics have been set up where people can exclusively see dermatologists who specialise in darker skin. But these are usually private clinics you have to pay for out of your own pocket rather than being covered by the NHS.

After the Black Lives Matter Movement however, more skincare & beauty brands and researchers started taking note of the inequality in their products and marketing. Johnson & Johnson have taken the necessary steps to remove words and phrases like “whitening” and “lightening” on their marketing and packaging. L’Oréal launched “Beauty for All” and became committed to meeting the needs for every different culture. Estée Lauder became focused on racial equity and committed to becoming a more diverse beauty company with choices for every consumer. Unilever and Neutrogena removed the word “fair” from their products with Unilever’s “Fair & Lovely” face cream now being called their “Glow & Lovely” face cream. 

But there is still a long way to go in ensuring equality in the dermatology field.  

Check out In Black Skin: The Definitive Skincare Guide by Dija Ayodele for an in-depth guide for black skin.


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