by Rhea Cartwright (JULY 15, 2020)
The broad spectrum of the beauty industry stretches from cosmetic to medical and while the shocking lack of diversity is not a new phenomenon, the racial bias within dermatology can have catastrophic, and in some cases, fatal consequences. Although a highly competitive and financially lucrative specialty of medicine, finding dermatologists specializing in Black skin can be almost impossible.
Despite the 12-year education process to become board-certified, 47 percent of dermatologists believe their medical training was inadequate in regard to treating skin conditions on people of color according to research from the University of Alabama Birmingham. (Dermatologists are responsible for issues relating to skin, hair and nails.)
Given the diverse range of skin tones in society, within medical textbooks and literature for future doctors, the images are primarily of white bodies. Even when Googling conditions – although not always advised – despite the billions of image aggregated, very few are shown on darker skin simply because they haven’t historically been photographed. The Skin Of Color Society (SOCS) is a non-profit organization that advocates for improved education and awareness when treating people of color. Their President, Dr. Lynn Mckinley-Grant, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist and Professor at Howard University tells TZR that all doctors, from primary care to cardiologists, need training on skin of color. “Certain conditions manifest differently on darker skin and it is vital to be able to identify them to avoid mistreatment and misdiagnosis,” she says. “There has been a slight improvement, particularly in recent years to show conditions on all skin types.”
Dr. Grant reveals that the society is working closely with software system VisualDx, who have over 40,000 images to increase those on darker skin. As the world’s largest medical image library, this crucial partnership with SOCS allows medical practitioners worldwide to improve their diagnostic accuracy and potentially save lives.