It’s summer again, a time when many people of African descent are lax about the care of their skin. Susan C. Taylor, M.D., a leading dermatologist, says care is needed year round. About five years ago, Taylor became director of the Skin of Color Center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. The first of its kind, the Center specializes in the skin problems of people of color, although people of every ethnicity are treated there. Taylor is also the author of Brown Skin: Dr. Susan Taylor’s Prescription for Flawless Skin, Hair, and Nails (Amistad). She spoke to The Network Journal about caring for skin of color.
TNJ: Why is skin care so important?
SUSAN C. TAYLOR, M.D.: First, the skin is our body’s largest organ. It’s also the most exposed to damage from the elements (including sun and wind). We also mistreat it in numerous ways, e.g., razor burns from shaving, cosmetics that clog pores.
TNJ: It sounds like skin care is critical for both women and men.
TAYLOR: Absolutely. Both men and women can develop problems like acne, eczema, and scarring, to name just a few. More and more men are using a variety of skin creams, colognes and other products that can potentially damage skin. As the job market becomes more competitive, both genders are turning to cosmetic techniques like chemical peels, Botox and face-lifts to make themselves look younger.
TNJ: What is some good advice for everyone to follow?
TAYLOR: Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily; it keeps the skin hydrated and healthy. If skin is dry, avoid alcohol-based cleansers or toners. Periodically review your cosmetic products—and that includes colognes, by the way. Something that worked or felt great when you were 20 may not be right when you’re 40. Always remove makeup before going to bed. And both men and women should make sure to protect their skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation all year round.
TNJ: What is “brown skin”?
TAYLOR: Brown skin contains more melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. Besides the term applying to the skin of African-Americans, it also applies to the skin of Hispanics and that of many Asian populations, such as East Indians and Pakistanis.
TNJ: Are there benefits to melanin?
TAYLOR: Yes. Melanin protects skin from UV rays; people of color have a natural SPF factor of 13! That’s why the skin ages less rapidly and so many people of color look younger than their years. That doesn’t mean they don’t need sun protection, however.
TNJ: So what’s the downside of melanin?
TAYLOR: People of color are more prone to hyperpigmentation, or darkening of the skin. Even a simple acne pimple or cut can leave skin darkened. Some medications, including some drugs for hypertension and diabetes, can cause this darkening. So can chemical peels, surgeries (including face-lifts) and other procedures. That’s why people of color should find a skin specialist, a dermatologist, who understands the special risks and problems relating to brown skin.
TNJ: What other pointers do you have for people of color?
TAYLOR: Be careful using pomades. The oils can seep into the skin and cause acne. If you are fighting acne, do NOT use a maximum-strength benzoyl peroxide product. Use something as mild as possible. Better yet, see a dermatologist before self-treating. Since acne and eczema are medical problems, most insurance plans should cover treatment.
TNJ: How do patients find a qualified dermatologist?
TAYLOR: Obviously if you have access to the Skin of Color Center, that’s great. The National Medical Association can refer you to African-American physicians, but remember the doctor’s ethnicity is not as critical as his or her experience in actually treating people with your skin tone or problems. So ask family, friends and colleagues for recommendations.