Knowledge gaps

Jun 01, 2007, 4:00am

Alopecia, acne, hyperpigmentation and dermatitis are the most common conditions for which people of color seek treatment, according to an expert. Hopefully, ongoing research in this area will net a wider array of preventative and therapeutic products for people of color.

Key Points

Chicago - The trend in industry research on ethnic skin and hair issues "is guided by gaps in fundamental knowledge and by patient and consumer concerns," says Victoria Holloway Barbosa, M.D., vice president of research and development for L'Oréal USA and director of L'Oréal Institute for Ethnic Hair and Skin Research in Chicago.

According to Dr. Barbosa, a significant portion of the institute's current research is focused on hair issues.

"These differences are most striking (when) comparing people of African descent to people of other ethnicities. The characteristic fragility of the tightly curled hair in its natural state, combined with the added effects of relaxers and heated styling appliances, make this a key priority area for our research."

Combating hair loss, knowing skin

Hair loss is a major issue for people of color, Dr. Barbosa says.

Based on her clinical experience treating patients at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center, where she serves as assistant professor of dermatology, she says many patients complain of alopecia.

"Alopecia is the most common hair problem I see, whether from hair breakage, thinning or loss - and grooming-induced alopecia is most common," she says. "For grooming-induced alopecia, a detailed hair care history is absolutely necessary, and I work with the patient to revise their hair care routine and product use. Treatments for alopecia are highly tailored to the etiology of the problem."

The institute's research on ethnic skin is focused on acquiring a better understanding of how ethnicity, age and season influence the structure and biophysical properties of skin, Dr. Barbosa says.

"In my clinical experience at Rush, acne is the most common condition for which people of color seek treatment," she says. "This observation is supported by some of our data at L'Oréal that demonstrates that acne is the single biggest skin concern for women of all ethnicities. The other common skin conditions that patients of color seek treatment for include hyperpigmentation from acne or other causes, and dermatitis, especially nummular and asteatotic eczemas."

Treatments of these conditions among people of color vary by individual patient, Dr. Barbosa tells Dermatology Times.

"For acne, I generally prefer a combination of oral and/or topical antibiotics with benzoyl peroxide and a retinoid," she explains.

"The treatment of hyperpigmentation really depends on the etiology and the location, but, in general, I consider using hydroquinone with or without retinoids and topical steroids, and may also use chemical peels, particularly for hyperpigmentation resulting from acne or melasma."

Research benchmarks

Noting the importance of the Institute's research, as well as that of others, Dr. Barbosa says research has led to significant advancements in therapy for skin conditions with which people of color most frequently present.

"The greatest advancements in recent years have been made in the area of laser treatments for ethnic skin, with a wider array of lasers that are tested in - and effective in - treating ethnic skin, with reduction of the side effect profile," she says.

One of the ways by which the institute promotes research is its annual Ethnic Hair and Skin Symposium, the fourth session of which will be held in November in Miami. The institute conducts the symposium in association with the Howard University College of Medicine's dermatology department, within which the institute was established in 1999. Geared toward researchers and toward dermatologists who treat an ethnically diverse patient population, the symposium's sessions cover basic and clinical research on ethnic hair and skin, as well as cosmetic and pharmaceutical product development and cosmetic procedures.

"It is my hope," Dr. Barbosa says, "that our findings will lead, ultimately, to a wider array of preventative and therapeutic products for people of color."