6 Common Skin Problems Among African Americans

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African Americans, among other ethnic groups, are more prone to certain skin conditions because of their genetic makeup, lack of treatment for darker skin types, increased sensitivity, and use of products that are not ideal for African American skin. Luckily, there are experienced African American doctors who are well-versed in treating black skin. However, patients themselves need to be aware of the skin conditions they are more susceptible to so that they can avoid developing them in the first place.

Here are some of the most common skin conditions that disproportionately affect African Americans:

1. Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a skin condition that often results in discolored patches along the skin, causing different skin tones in various parts of the body. This condition can affect any person of any gender, but it is more noticeable in people with darker skin tones and is often more stigmatized in people of color.

The treatment options for vitiligo include topical medications, surgical skin grafts, and light treatment. As a short-term solution, people with vitiligo use make-up such as foundation or concealer to even out their natural skin color.

2. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

Black skin contains more melanin, and since melanin cells are often more reactive to inflammation and injury, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is more likely to occur in people with darker skin tones.

Acne is a common cause of PIH. Dark spots can occur as a result of inflammation or trauma on the skin, which is, in this case, pimples. Even long after the pimples heal and fade away, the dark spots and scarring may stay on the skin indefinitely.

Treatment for PIH includes laser therapy, kojic acid, chemical peels, and bleaching creams to either block the transfer of melanin to the upper layers of the skin or remove excess pigment that has already formed.

3. Folliculitis and pseudo-folliculitis barbae

Folliculitis and pseudo-folliculitis barbae, also known as razor bumps, can occur on any part of the skin that is shaved, waxed, or plucked. This is a very common skin condition in African Americans because their hair shafts are curved, which means that hair grows into the skin instead of out of it after shaving, which leads to inflammation and bumps.

Although both men and women can be affected by razor bumps, it is disproportionately more common in African American men. This skin condition can be avoided by using a safety razor, shaving in the direction of hair growth, and using topical treatments to soothe inflammation.

4. Acne keloidalis nuchae

Acne keloidalis nuchae (AKN) is a type of folliculitis that affects the hair on the back of the head and neck, causing hairs to grow into the skin and cause inflammation or even scarring. African Americans, especially males, are found to make up a great percentage of AKN patients.

AKN is typically treated with topical antibiotics and steroidal gels to reduce inflammation. In worst cases, dermatologists may recommend surgical removal of the affected area.

5. Acanthosis nigricans

People with diabetes and/or dark skin are more susceptible to developing acanthosis nigricans, a skin condition that causes hyperpigmentation and hyperkeratosis (thickening) of the skin. These effects often occur in areas where the skin folds, such as the neck, armpits, and groin.

Acanthosis nigricans require a variety of treatments to address the symptoms of the condition, which are mainly thickness, color, pain, and odor. Topical treatments may be used to correct the color of the darkened skin, while the thickness can be addressed through laser therapy. Bacteria that make the affected area smell strange may be treated through topical antibiotics or the use of antibacterial soaps.

6. Traction alopecia

Many African hairstyling practices can put excessive tension on the hair. This increased and constant tension is a leading cause of traction alopecia in African Americans, which, in turn, increases the risk of skin inflammation and, in some cases, permanent hair loss.

The good news is that traction alopecia can be reversed by ceasing to put hair up in high-tension hairstyles (unless the damage is already permanent). It is also a good idea to strengthen hair and repair damage by deep conditioning the hair, using oil treatments, avoiding excessive brushing, and styling hair with minimal heat and tension. If inflammation is already present, topical medications are usually recommended to get rid of symptoms.

Black skin is unique, and it is often more vulnerable to certain skin conditions due to a variety of reasons–the increased melanin being a common one. These are just some of the skin conditions that people with darker skin need to be aware of. By knowing the causes of these conditions, one will be better equipped to avoid and/or handle the condition effectively.

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