Dermatologist addresses skin care for African-Americans
Published: Friday, July 19, 2013 at 2:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 19, 2013 at 2:36 p.m.
It was 1965, just a year after the landmark Civil Rights Act outlawing racial segregation, and Dr. George Cohen was an adolescent learning about sunscreen for the first time — when, at the beach, a white girl asked him to rub some on her back.
“I didn’t know what sunscreen was, and I’d never touched a white girl,” Cohen told an audience Thursday night at the University of Florida Springhill Health Center’s dermatology department.
What Cohen, a dermatologist with the clinic, also didn’t know back then is that he should have been wearing sunscreen, too.
A common misconception that still persists is that African Americans, because of their darker skin pigmentation, don’t need to wear sunscreen and are immune to skin cancer.
Cohen’s talk Thursday was dedicated to skin issues in African Americans, which have been overlooked, Cohen said.
“Many dermatologists in America did not receive formal training” in treating typical skin conditions in African Americans, Cohen said, adding that their textbooks don’t have a lot of pictures of the conditions.
There’s also been a dearth of research on these conditions, Cohen added. Keloids, for example, are abnormally large scars that are 16 percent more prevalent in African Americans than Caucasians.
Sarcoidosis, clumps of abnormal tissue growth that can be disfiguring, is also not unusual in the black population, Cohen said.
He said that melanoma can appear on the hands and feet — Reggae legend Bob Marley in fact died of a melanoma that started on his foot but was caught too late to be successfully treated.
Black people need to check for irregular or changed moles just like whites, Cohen said.
Dr. Michael Wangia, a dermatology resident at the Springhill clinic who was at the talk, said that doctors also need to familiarize themselves with conditions typical in African Americans — and how to treat them.
Removing benign lesions with liquid nitrogen may cause white spots in African Americans, for example.
Cohen said that doctors’ familiarity with treating people of darker skin pigmentations will serve them well, since by 2050, the majority of the country is predicted to be non-white. A lot of medical schools are incorporating these needs into their curriculum, he added.
Another ongoing challenge is access, which goes hand in hand with research, he said.
“If you don’t have access, folks are not going to see the dermatologist,” making it harder to discover the underlying genetic causes of disease, Cohen said.
Wangia, who is originally from Kenya, would also like to provide people there with basic knowledge on skin care such as sunscreen usage — especially for farmers in the fields all day.
“They die of skin cancer in Kenya,” he said.
Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or email@example.com.