Why Skin Colour Matters When It Comes To Eczema
Most dermatology training in the UK is based on white skin yet the prevalence of eczema and psoriasis is significant across all skin tones. It was reading an excellent article on this (Decolonising Dermatology by Neil Singh in the Guardian) that prompted us at Cotton Comfort to ask ourselves how we can ensure we better represent and support the broad spectrum of skin tones that exists within our itchy skin community.
As well as starting to take a good look at our own practices, including our product range and photography, we wanted to open up the discussion in our blog and are really excited to share our latest piece by journalist Sue Omar: Why Skin Colour Matters when it Comes to Eczema.
Sue has a breadth of experience writing for various publications including The Times, The Evening Standard, ELLE UK, & Grazia UK and we think you'll love reading her below insights on this important and timely topic.
In recent years, medicine has become more advanced than ever before thanks to successful scientific studies that have led to tremendous treatment and diagnosis discoveries for a plethora of common health conditions. While such medical research has saved lives, it's important to also acknowledge how racial disparities in healthcare - that disproportionately favours white patients - impact the validity and effectiveness of data-driven remedies on people of colour. The reality is that the cause and cure for most medical conditions can differ from person –to person based on a multitude of factors - including genetics, family health history and ethnicity - despite what the textbook teaches. That's why it’s essential for researchers to take a more inclusive approach when developing new or updated medical case studies that can heavily influence how health professionals provide care to patients from diverse backgrounds. Especially when it comes to identifying issues that can compromise the look and feel of the largest organ in the body - our skin.
From psoriasis to eczema, there are many skin conditions that are overwhelmingly overlooked in Black and other ethnic minority groups. Although eczema impacts over 15 million people in the UK alone - according to Allergy UK - there is still very limited medical information or imagery available on how it shows up and manifests in melanin-rich skin-tones. But why is this?
How To Identify Eczema In Dark Skin
For decades, dermatology and skincare industries have been known to produce advertising and imagery that promotes white skin as the right skin. As a result, these racially-charged images have created complexion hierarchies that dismiss dark skin. In 2021, there is a strong demand to decolonise dermatology and diversify medical education with more inclusive imagery to raise awareness on how to identify skin conditions like eczema in dark skin. Founded by Black-British medical student, Malone Mukwende, Mind The Gap is a clinic handbook designed to tackle the lack of diversity in medical literature on the signs and symptoms of Black and brown skin. The platform is disrupting dermatology by its launch of a digital database of images submitted by the general public - that showcase how skin conditions - including eczema - look on dark skin in real life.
According to MayoClinic - a popular online source for medical information - “atopic dermatitis also known as eczema is a condition that makes your skin red and itchy.” The text here is accompanied by an image of a white patient who evidently experienced redness as a result of the condition, however it fails to mention that this is an example of how eczema looks on light skin. But as seen on Mind The Gap, redness is absent from Black and brown skin - due to the high levels of melanin – and instead may show up as ashy-grey, purple or brown pigmentation that blends in and out of a person’s natural complexion. Since eczema looks different on darker skin-tones - than on its white counterparts - it can easily be dismissed as just a bit of itchy or dry skin. However, this is absolutely not the case - eczema even its most mildest forms can cause extreme discomfort and completely change a person’s life. “The truth is, skin can really impact our general wellness, so if you have a concern that you can’t stop thinking about, you should visit a specialist skincare clinic for medical advice as soon as possible,” says Dr Ejikeme, British-Nigerian Medical Consultant and owner of the award-winning Adonia Medical Clinic based in London. “In our clinic, we offer so many treatments that work wonders on Black and brown skin, so booking a consultation can get you one step closer to identifying and your issue,” she adds.
Signs and symptoms of eczema in dark skin:
- Visible dryness and scaly on the skin to touch
- Hypo (light) or hyper (dark) pigmentation that causes uneven skin- tone
- Irritating inflammation caused by the common eczema itch
- Increased temperature and warmth in skin
- Thickened texture and leather-like feel
- Dark circles around the eyes and mouth
- Bumps that can appear in hair follicles on the head
Should you experience any of the above symptoms, make it a priority to seek medical advice to be diagnosed with eczema as soon as possible. If you are worried that your GP or other health professionals in your network may not be trained to treat dark skin, try to get a second opinion from a specialist skin clinic. For recommendations on the best specialist skin clinics for dark skin, head to The Black Skin Directory - an online platform founded by aesthetician Dija Ayodele to better connect people of colour to professional skincare, products experts and treatments.
Treatments & Solutions For Eczema In Dark Skin
Despite popular belief, there is no real cure for eczema but incorporating a few simple lifestyle changes can make living with condition more comfortable. “Treatment needs to be holistic and consider diet, clothing, washing, environmental issues as well as actual creams or skin treatments,” says Jo Greenslade, Managing Director of Cotton Comfort. Here are a few other things to consider when treating eczema on darker skin…
Significant temperature changes can cause havoc for those with eczema prone skin and sensitivity is one of the general symptoms of eczema, so when showering be sure to turn the temperature down to a warm temperature and avoid hot showers at all costs. Be sure to also select shower products and accessories that are gentle to the skin to minimise inflammation and flare-ups. Make sure you always do a patch-test to double check your skin’s natural response to the product before using on a regular basis. Or try a warm (not hot) bath and tie a clean pop sock with half a cup of oats in the foot onto the hot tap so the water runs through it and creates a soft milky solution to soothe your skin
You Missed A Spot
Many people of colour may experience eczema without even realising at first as it can creep up in the cracks of the skin in small areas before spreading or becoming more prominent. Taking your time to moisturise with non-allergenic and fragrance-free creams after showering can help hydrate and soothe the skin. If you are concerned about hyper-pigmentation and un-even skin-tone triggered by your eczema – opt for moisturisers with active vitamin A, C and E to help colour correct these areas over time.
Like many people, you might be surprised to learn that clothing can cause irritation to the skin and make symptoms of eczema far worse. That’s why it’s super important to re-think your wardrobe, washing detergent and any other item of fabric that may come in close contact with your skin. Cotton Comfort stocks a wide-variety of inclusive, comfortable and stylish underwear, nightwear and base layers for children and adults that have been specifically designed to help people from all walks of life live comfortably with itchy skin and eczema. Click here to shop now.
The Anti-Eczema Diet
As the saying goes, you are what you eat and this is especially true for skin conditions such as eczema. A healthy diet packed with anti-inflammatory foods can calm down irritation caused by eczema and reduce other symptoms. Try including more Omega-3 fatty acids - such as fish - fresh fruits and vegetables into your daily diet, as well as probiotics that promote good gut health. Foods to avoid for flare-ups include dairy, gluten, wheat and spices but this list can vary from person-to-person so it’s best to keep a food journal to monitor how your skin responds to what you consume.
Images courtesy of www.blackandbrownskin.co.uk