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Program to Treat Skin of Individuals of Color

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January 25, 2006

CHICAGO --- Northwestern University has created a Center for Ethnic Skin, a specialized program focusing on the diagnosis and treatment of hair, skin and nail disorders in individuals of skin of color – African Americans, Asians and Hispanics/Latinos.

Roopal V. Kundu, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, was named director of the Center for Ethnic Skin. Kundu is also a staff dermatologist at the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation and at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Persons of color currently represent over 35 percent of the population of the United States, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. By 2050, persons with ethnic skin will make up almost half of the American population, suggesting that dermatologists need to increase research and development of new therapies to better serve the needs of the growing population of persons of color.

Skin of color contains increased amounts of melanin (pigment) compared with white skin. The amount of melanin can vary dramatically among brown- and black-skinned persons, including men and women of descendents of African, Hispanic or Latin, Native American and Asian ancestry.

Because of the increased melanin in ethnic skin, persons of color are more susceptible to certain skin conditions, including those caused by the reactive nature of melanocytes, the specialized cells that produce melanin.

“There is a misconception that persons of color have tougher skin because it is darker. In actuality, their skin is more sensitive because it is prone to discoloration and scarring,” said Kundu.

Persons of color are also prone to particular conditions because of other unique biological properties of their hair, skin and nails.

Some of these conditions include: acne and dark marks caused by pimples; excess hair or hair loss; keloids, massive scar formations from injury or surgery; dermatosis papulosa nigra, fleshy raised bumps on the skin; vitiligo, loss of skin pigmentation resulting in white patches; dyschromia, discolorations producing uneven skin tones; and pseudofolliculitis barbae, also known as razor bumps, that occur when highly curved hairs grow back into the skin, causing itchy, painful bumps.

“The Northwestern Center for Ethnic Skin focuses on understanding cultural practices that are relevant to these patient populations, along with educating patients on skin and hair care techniques and treatment options appropriate for skin of color patients,” Kundu said.

Kundu and the staff of the Center for Ethnic Skin use techniques such as laser hair removal, chemical peels, microdermabrasion and other therapies specifically designed for ethnic skin, as well as advise patients on the effective use of skin and hair products and cosmetics.

Another key member of the center includes Mario E. Lacouture, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology, who is fluent in Spanish. Lacouture, who is also a researcher at The Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, focuses on skin disorders in Spanish-speaking patients, as well as in individuals with high risk factors for developing cancer.

For more information on the Center for Ethnic Skin, or to schedule an appointment, call (312) 695-8106.

Topics: University