Skin and Hair Care for Women of Color: A Live Event Chat with Susan Taylor, MD

WebMD Live Events Transcript
Event Date: Wednesday, March 17, 2004.

By Susan C. Taylor, MD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Live Events Transcript

Women of color have special concerns when it comes to protecting the health and beauty of skin and hair. We learned what makes skin of color beautiful, yet vulnerable, and got healthy help for hair during our Q&A with Susan Taylor, MD, author of Brown Skin and director of the Skin of Color Center in New York City.

The opinions expressed herein are those of the guest's alone. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live, Dr. Taylor. What makes skin of color beautiful, yet so vulnerable?

Taylor: It is the melanin in the skin of color that protects it from the sun. Often women of color will look 10 years younger when compared to their counterparts with white skin. The melanin in the skin absorbs the ultraviolet light and prevents many of the changes that we associate with aging. Unfortunately, that melanin can create problems, specifically the increased melanin can cause dark marks on the skin. Those dark marks, often called blemishes, are very difficult to eradicate.

Moderator: Uneven skin tone is problem many women of color face. What are some of the causes and what are your recommendations for dealing with it?

Taylor: There are many causes of discolorations on the skin. For women in particular acne bumps cause dark marks. When the acne bump goes away a woman of color is often left with a dark blemish. In addition, any type of rash on the skin, for example eczema, can resolve with a dark mark. Cuts, scrapes, burns, and abrasions may all heal with a dark area on the skin. So as you can see, there are many causes of dark marks. Unfortunately, despite the exact cause, it can require several months, if not years, for the dark mark to fade.

Fortunately, there are treatments that can hasten the fading of the dark mark. The first and most important treatment is the use of sunscreens. The sunscreens should be applied on a daily basis, and I recommend a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or 30.
There are both over-the-counter and prescription items that can lighten the dark marks faster. The ingredient that dermatologists recommend most often is hydroquinone. Hydroquinone comes in both prescription and over-the-counter concentrations. Typically, this cream is applied twice a day to the dark mark. There are other agents, namely glycolic acid, kojic acid, azeleic acid, and soy, which can lighten discolorations.

Finally, chemical peels or even microdermabrasion are procedures that can lighten the discolorations.

Member question: My skin is relatively clear, except for dark circles under my eyes. My mother suffers from the same problem. She tells me it's hereditary and there is nothing I can do about getting rid of them. I have tried different products costing up to $25 and it has not helped with eliminating my dark circles. So, I am beginning to believe my mom. Are these products made for Caucasian women, and are our skin types so different it would not work for African American women? If so, do you know of a product made specifically for us?

Taylor: Dark circles under the eyes are a very difficult problem to treat for people of any skin type or color. Often, dark circles are caused by poor drainage of blood from around the eyes. This poor drainage occurs often with people with allergies. If that is the case, then there is not a good treatment for the disorder.

However, there are times when the discoloration is due to excessive pigmentation in the skin of the lower eyelids. In that case, bleaching creams that contain hydroquinone may be helpful.

Member question: Can my birth control pills be causing the dark patches I'm getting on my face? If so, is there anything I can do besides changing birth control methods? Even if I do that, will the patches go away on their own?

Taylor: Birth control pills may cause a condition called melasma. With melasma, dark patches typically develop on the cheeks, lower forehead, and chin. Also of note is the fact that melasma can occur during pregnancy. In some individuals, discontinuing the birth control pill can result in lightening of the melasma. However, medication to lighten the dark marks is often required.

Member question: I'm getting light patches! What is causing this? What can I do to even out my skin tone?

Taylor: There are many causes of light patches on the skin:

  • The most common cause is a condition called postinflammatory hypopigmentation. This is a condition where light patches develop after some type of inflammation in the skin. The inflammation may be itching, redness, a rash, or even a pimple. When the inflammation resolves it may leave a light spot.
  • Alternatively, a form of eczema, called pityriasis can produce light spots on the skin.
  • Finally, vitiligo may result in the complete loss of pigmentation in the skin, with very prominent white spots developing.