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“First Clinic for Skin of Color in the U.S. Addresses Unique Needs of Patients of Color”

Patients of color in the United States now have access to specialized clinics that cater to their unique skin and hair needs. The first clinic for skin of color was founded in 1999 in New York City by dermatologist Susan Taylor, who recognized the importance of providing medical care that understands and addresses the specific conditions faced by patients of color. The Skin of Color Center, initially located at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center near Harlem, was groundbreaking and well-received, paving the way for sixteen similar clinics across the country.

Historically, there have been racial and ethnic disparities in the healthcare system, leading to a lack of trust among communities that have been underserved or mistreated. These specialized clinics aim to rebuild that trust by providing culturally competent care. Patients have shared stories of being misdiagnosed or feeling unheard, which has led them to avoid seeking dermatology care. The skin-of-color clinics and programs create an environment that fosters greater comfort and trust for patients, leading to improved compliance and outcomes.

These clinics focus on treating conditions common to dark-skinned individuals, such as hyperpigmentation, keloids, and hair loss or scalp disorders. Some conditions, like pigmentation and keloids, occur more frequently in people of color, while others, like hair loss and scalp ailments, require different treatments for both Blacks and Whites. For example, a special shampoo may be prescribed for hair and scalp problems, but it is important to recognize that what works for straight hair may not be suitable for tightly coiled curly hair. Cultural competence plays a crucial role in providing effective treatment.

Patients who have visited these clinics have reported positive experiences. Khelli Simpson, who had concerns about hyperpigmentation resulting from chronic acne, found relief at a skin-of-color clinic. She appreciated that the dermatologist understood African American skin and was able to explain the treatment options. Simpson’s primary-care doctor, also a woman of color, recommended the clinic, and Simpson now plans to refer her friends to the same dermatologist.

While these clinics primarily focus on African Americans, they also address the specific dermatologic disorders that affect other populations of color. For example, skin disorders like lichen planus pigmentosus are more common among South Asian populations, while erythema dyschromicum perstans, also known as ashy dermatosis, often affects patients of Hispanic or Latino descent. The clinics aim to provide specialized care for these population-specific variations in dermatologic disorders.

It is important to note that the existence of these clinics does not imply that general practice dermatologists cannot competently treat people of color. They certainly can and typically do. However, these specialized clinics offer a higher level of expertise and cultural competence, similar to other disease state clinics. The goal is for all dermatologists to be able to treat patients with skin of color excellently and in a culturally competent manner, but there is still progress to be made.

The presence of dermatologists of color in these clinics inspires patient confidence. Many patients prefer to see a dermatologist who looks like them and understands their unique needs. However, it is crucial for all dermatologists to be prepared to care for the hair, skin, and nails of all patients. The expertise provided by these clinics can be achieved without a formal center, as long as culturally sensitive care is delivered to all patients.

In conclusion, the establishment of specialized clinics for skin of color in the United States has been a significant step towards addressing the unique needs of patients of color. These clinics aim to rebuild trust in the healthcare system and provide culturally competent care. By focusing on conditions common to dark-skinned individuals and addressing population-specific variations in dermatologic disorders, these clinics are bridging the gap in healthcare disparities. While the ultimate goal is for all dermatologists to provide excellent care for patients with skin of color, these clinics serve as a valuable resource in the meantime.


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