LAS VEGAS – Disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of skin of color can stem from incorrect diagnoses and lack of knowledge on the part of clinicians, and also from knowledge gaps on the part of other health care providers and patients, Susan C. Taylor, MD, said in a presentation at MedscapeLive’s annual Las Vegas Dermatology Seminar.

Additionally, some disparities occur because of gaps in access to health care, said Dr. Taylor, vice chair, diversity, equity and inclusion, in the department of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, who moderated an expert panel discussion of treatment tips for several common dermatologic conditions in skin of color patients.

Susan C. Taylor, MD, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Dr. Susan C. Taylor

Atopic dermatitis angles

Atopic dermatitis (AD) is the fourth most common dermatologic complaint in Black patients, based on data from the United States National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. Also, data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey show that Black children are nearly twice as likely as White children to develop AD after controlling for socioeconomic factors, Dr. Taylor said.

When Black patients present with AD, “you may not see the erythema,” said Valerie D. Callender, MD, of Howard University, Washington, who presented on AD. Instead, “you may see more follicular and papular presentations.” Erythema and erythroderma can present as shades of violet, gray, or dark brown in patients with rich skin tones, added Dr. Callender, who practices in Glenn Dale, Md.

Consequently, disease severity can be misinterpreted, she said, noting that data suggest that scoring systems such as the Eczema Area and Severity Index and Scoring Atopic Dermatitis underestimate AD severity in dark skin.

As for treatment, skin of color patients with AD are often as bothered by postinflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) as by active lesions, so treatment should take these concerns into account, Dr. Callender said. Studies evaluating the effectiveness of AD treatments in diverse populations are limited by lack of representation of racial groups in clinical trials and lack of subset analyses by race.

Acne awareness

An important consideration of acne in skin of color patients is that the acne “might not be red, it might just be darker,” said Andrew F. Alexis, MD, vice-chair for diversity and inclusion in the department of dermatology, and professor of clinical dermatology at Weill Cornell Medicine, New York. A study published in JAMA Dermatology of nearly 30,000 patients with acne from 2007 to 2017 found that non-Hispanic Black patients were more likely than non-Hispanic White patients to see a dermatologist for acne, but Black patients received fewer prescriptions for acne medications than White patients.

Dr. Andrew F. Alexis, chair of dermatology and director of the Skin of Color Center at Mount Sinai St. Luke's and Mount Sinai West hospitals in New York

Dr. Andrew F. Alexis

The study also showed that Black patients who received prescriptions for acne were more likely to receive topical retinoids and topical antibiotics, and less likely to receive oral antibiotics, spironolactone, or isotretinoin, compared with White patients. Similarly, Asian patients were more likely to receive topical antibiotics and less likely to receive oral antibiotics, compared with White patients.

Other panelists shared some of their best practices for acne in patients with skin of color, including treatment with topical retinoids (for inflammation) and spironolactone, and therapies that address both inflammation and pigmentation, such as salicylic acid and azelaic acid. Dr. Callender also advised asking patients about makeup, as they may not know that many types of makeup used to cover acne are in fact comedogenic.

Melanoma misconceptions

One of the most common misperceptions about melanoma among skin of color patients is that they don’t think they can get it, Dr. Taylor said. Many health care providers don’t think about melanoma in skin of color patients because of the dramatically lower incidence in this population, but as a result, cases may go undiagnosed, and as studies have shown, the mortality rate from melanoma is higher in Black patients.

Consider the palms, soles, nails, and web spaces as possible melanoma sites, Dr. Taylor added.

Dr. Nada Elbuluk, a dermatologist who directs the University of Southern California Skin of Color Center and Pigmentary Disorders Program

Dr. Nada Elbuluk

Educating skin of color patients about melanoma is important, although the incidence is 20 to 30 times lower than in non-Hispanic Whites, said Nada Elbuluk, MD, the founder and director of the University of Southern California Skin of Color Center and Pigmentary Disorders Clinic, Los Angeles. A 2020 editorial published in Cancer Cytopathology pointed out that 1 in 3 Black men or women with a melanoma diagnosis in the United States dies of the disease, compared with 1 in 7 non-Hispanic White men and 1 in 11 non-Hispanic White women with melanoma.

Don’t skip the total body skin exam in these patients, Dr. Elbuluk emphasized. Many patients will only partially undress, and areas such as toes can be missed.

Rosacea review

For patients with skin of color, clinicians need to look for different signs of rosacea than those typically seen in White patients, Dr. Elbuluk said. “The most common presentation of rosacea in skin of color is papulopustular,” and the granulomatous variant.

“These patients will often give you a history of sensitivity to products,” Dr. Elbuluk noted. They may not always have the flushing, but they may report warmth or itching, in addition to product sensitivity.

When considering rosacea in skin of color patients, be sure to have good lighting for close examination, as skin thickening is another subtle sign of rosacea in these patients, she said. Skin thickening “is a very early sign that will present in skin of color with no erythema, so keep that in mind.”

Stinging and burning sensations may be reported by skin of color patients with rosacea. Use patient history to confirm the diagnosis of rosacea, which is often delayed in skin of color patients because of a low index of suspicion, she said.

Psoriasis pointers

Psoriasis in skin of color patients used to be considered rare, “but that is far from true,” Dr. Alexis said. In fact, many cases of psoriasis are undiagnosed or the diagnosis is delayed in these patients.

The panelists noted that current guidelines for psoriasis treatment are based on clinical trials composed mainly of White patients, and do not contain specific recommendations for skin of color patients.

Notably, the morphology, location, and color of psoriasis lesions may be different for patients with darker skin, such as thicker plaques and more scaling over larger areas, they said. Also, skin of color patients may experience long-lasting dyspigmentation from psoriasis lesions that have resolved.

When developing a strategy for psoriasis in skin of color patients, consider not only disease severity, but also comorbidities and medications, response (if any) to prior therapies, patient preferences, and quality of life, the panelists said.

Dr. Callender, Dr. Elbuluk, Dr. Taylor, and Dr. Alexis reported conflicts of interest from numerous sources in industry. MedscapeLive and this news organization are owned by the same parent company.