In Black Patients, Acne Scarring Might Not Mean What You Think

Treating the needs of patients of color requires an understanding of differences that may not be readily apparent, a dermatologist told colleagues. For example, clinicians generally understand what White patients are talking about when they mention acne scarring, but Black patients have a different perception of the term that may be misinterpreted in the doctor’s office.

“Scarring is not usually what they’re talking about, although they may have some of that as well. They’re [typically] talking about what we know as postinflammatory hyperpigmentation, not scarring. So right away, you have to clarify,” Amy McMichael, MD, professor and chair of dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., said in a presentation at the Inaugural Symposium for Inflammatory Skin Disease. “When you’re talking about scarring, do you mean the dark spots? What exactly are you concerned about?”

McMichael highlighted a 2014 study that reported the results of a survey of 208 women (51% were White; 49% were non-White), which included 51 Black, 23 Hispanic, and 16 Asian women aged 25-45 (mean age, 35) with 25 or more lesions. White women were more troubled by facial acne than were women of color (89% vs. 76%, respectively, P < .05), and they were more likely to say lesion clearance was most important to them (58% vs. 32%, respectively, P < .001).

Meanwhile, non-White women were much more likely than were White women to say that clearance of postinflammatory hyperpigmentation was most important to them (42% vs. 8%, respectively, P < .0001).

“Seventy percent of [non-White women] felt that their race and ethnicity required targeted attention [in treatment], and two-thirds desired acne treatment that was designed to meet the needs of their skin type,” McMichael said. “If you don’t address the issues, if you don’t talk about the pigmentation with them or explain how you’re going to address it, people don’t feel heard. They don’t feel like they’ve really seen a dermatologist who understands their needs.”

She added that it’s crucial to ask about over-the-counter products. “If you don’t discuss them, they’ll assume that what they’re doing is okay.” She warns her patients against using and exposing their skin and face to cocoa butter and oils such as tea tree oil.

Research has suggested that among people of color, Blacks and Hispanics are most likely to experience dyspigmentation and scarring, McMichael said. She advised colleagues to be aware of pomade acne in these two groups of patients. Pomade acne appears along the hair line and is caused by the use of hair products. She also cautioned about acne cosmetica, which can be triggered by products such as makeup, used to cover up acne and postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.

As for acne treatments, McMichael highlighted a long list of familiar topical and oral agents and procedural options. Less familiar strategies include laser and light-based therapies, she said.

As for up-and-coming options, she pointed to topical minocycline, “which allows us to use an anti-inflammatory agent topically rather than orally when we’re trying to get away from using a lot of oral antibiotics.”

Also consider whether female patients have polycystic ovary syndrome, she said. “Then you might consider spironolactone. I certainly use a lot more of that these days to try to avoid long-term oral antibiotics.”

She recommended earlier use of isotretinoin in patients overall, and she urged colleagues to proceed with their standard retinoid approaches. However, she noted that she lets patients know that she’ll focus first on treating the acne itself and then work on the dark spots in later treatments. “If you give people a bleaching agent in the beginning, they’re going to stop using their main products, and they’re going to chase those dark spots. That’s just something that they can’t help doing.”

McMichael disclosed investigator and consultant relationships with multiple drug makers.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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