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Common African-American Skin Conditions

June 29, 2015

Some skin conditions occur more often among certain ethnic groups than others. Among African or darker skin people, acne is the most common skin condition, with pigmentation anomalies (known as dyschromias) close behind.

A common condition called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is experienced among people of color. The increase in pigmentation causes dark spots at the sites of inflammation. Acne is a trigger for PIH and the murky spots are often of greater concern than the pimples produced by acne.

Hyperchromia is a term that refers to hypopigmentation or hyperpigmentation. This is caused by several things including pregnancy, changes in hormonal levels or fungal infection.

The color of your skin depends on how many melanocytes you have. A melanocyte is a cell containing melanin, the pigment that makes our skin darker. Hypopigmentation and hyperpigmentation refer to the light or dark patches on the skin. Melasma is often a diagnosis when darker patches appear; whereas vitiligo is when lighter patches occur.

Dyschromia can manifest as one or more light or dark patches on the skin. There are usually no physical systems with dyschromia, although some patients do experience mild itching. To find out if you have this condition, see your dermatologist for a complete evaluation.

Hypopigmentation such as vitiligo can begin as one patch and develop into many or even cover large areas of your skin. Light patches on the skin can also be related to eczema or a fungal infection. Each of these conditions has a different dyschromia treatment.

Hyperpigmentation can be triggered by hormonal changes tied to pregnancy and birth control pills and often fades without issue. However, dyschromia patients choosing treatment have several options, including topical or steroid creams.

Any treatment should involve proper sun protection. A broad-spectrum sunscreen with both UVA and UVB barriers should be used.

Melanin provides a sun protection factor (SPF) in African American skin that is about 13.4, compared to 3.4 in white skin. This difference shows why skin cancer is more prevalent in Caucasian people than people of color; it is, in fact, the most common type of cancer in the U.S. among Caucasian people.

Although dark skin is naturally more protective against harmful UV rays than fair skin, people of all skin types can burn without sunscreen protection. While you may not see the burn it is still there. Nobody is immune to sunburns or skin cancer, regardless of skin color.

Melasma, often referred to as the “mask of pregnancy,” because it usually kicks in at that time, is the second most common pigmentation problem for darker skin people. It shows up as muddy patches on the cheek, forehead, top lips and, rarely, on the face.

While women are more affected than men by melasma, the condition can occur in anyone. It is often seen in people age 40 through 60. You may be genetically prone, hormonally affected or reacting to UV exposure. Treatment is similar to PIH. Cosmetic treatments for melasma include chemical peels and laser therapies.

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