Eczema. It’s one of those things that people can recognize once they see it – dry, patches of skin. However, otherwise known as atopic dermatitis, this skin condition is characterized and treated differently in people of color as opposed to whites. This makes much of the difference when it comes to treatment.
Dr. Angelo Thrower, owner of Dr. Thrower’s Skin Care located in Miami Shores, is a local dermatologist who treats skin conditions specifically for darker skinned people. He developed a line of products with that demographic in mind.
“One of the things that struck me with the textbooks that were in the medical library is that all the pictures of skin disorders were of white people,” Thrower said of his days as a medical student at the University of Miami. “As you know, at the UM School of Medicine, Jackson Memorial Hospital is our teaching hospital and a lot of our patients are Black. The skin condition on the white person would look totally different on the [Black] person.”
Thrower originally went to medical school to become a cardiovascular surgeon, but began to inquire about dermatology after hearing from a physician that the Black community needed dermatologists. He ordered dermatology books from England to find out more about skin conditions in Blacks.
“I discovered a book called ‘Black vs. White Skin Disorders.’ They would show atopic dermatitis in a light person and in a Black person, and it was night and day,” he said.
When people who are of lighter pigment get the condition, the affected area appears as a red, scaly rash. When darker people get it, the area can appear dark, ashen or grayish.
Eczema is a very common skin condition. However, according to nationaleczema.com, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that 19 percent of Black children have atopic dermatitis, compared to 16 percent of white and 8 percent of Asian children. Another study found that Black children are 2 times more likely to develop atopic dermatitis than white children. Dr. Angelo Thrower Dr. Deborah Longwill, who operates Miami Center for Dermatology in Pinecrest, said there are several different possible triggers for eczema.
“Chlorine in the pool, dust, stress, irritant type of clothing, some detergents, some fabric softeners, certain soaps that are anti-bacterial or perfume soaps…,” she listed.
Atopic dermatitis usually affects young children from the age of 2-3 months but can affect anyone at any point in life. Longwill said one reason why it affects children is because of their immune system.
“Their immune system may be a bit lower and they can’t fight the triggers of the dust and environmental influencers, plus they’re scratching a lot,” she said. “Then the skin breaks and it becomes this itch-scratch cycle and the skin can’t repair itself.”
People with eczema tend to use a kind of moisturizer to keep the skin from getting too dry.
“The best treatments would include to moisturize with a barrier protectant type of cream that the patient’s not allergic to,” Longwill said. “Non-chemical, non-perfume moisturizers.”
Dr. Thrower said those with darker skin tend to need a heavier kind of moisturizer.
“There’s different levels to dryness. That’s why we have lotion, creams and ointments,” he said. “When Black people get [eczema], they need an ointment, like vaseline-type. It improves the health of the skin, then the medication they’re given is in ointment form.”
In addition to topical creams, there are also natural remedies that can be used to help treat eczema.
“[They can take] short baths, they could put moisturizer [on] right after they get out the bath tub when there’s a bit of water on their skin to help with the dryness of their skin,” Longwill said. “The main thing is to stop the scratching by constantly moisturizing.”
Some oils such as hemp seed oil and jojoba oil can also soothe the area.
Thrower’s products are custom made with the needs of darker-skinned people in mind.
“When I started looking into treating dark spots and skin discoloration, there was no set guideline on how to fade dark spots and there were really no medications available,” he said.
He then met with a formulator to produce products that would properly and effectively treat the skin conditions darker-skinned people face, including eczema.
Other conditions that Dr. Thrower said affects many of his patients is hyper pigmentation and alopecia.
“Say 20 people walked in today, five will have eczema, seven hair loss,” he said. “The balance will be between some form of skin discoloration and acne or dark spots.”
He said he’s currently seeing a “tremendous” amount of women for alopecia.
“There are very specific types of it,” he said. “For example, when you are thinning around your edges from ponytails and weaves that pull your hair tight, that’s called traction alopecia and that’s very common for Black women. Scarring alopecia, that typically occurs in the crown of the head. All of this is stemming from chemical exposure or contact, whether it’s from [a] relaxer, hair dye, etc.”