Looking into the Window: Skin of Color

As your body’s largest organ, your skin is a window into your systemic and dermatologic health. Your skin, as well as your hair and nails, can reveal important (and sometimes life-saving) external signs of underlying internal disease—in addition to indicating a wide variety of chronic and acute dermatologic conditions.

A board certified dermatologist is your go-to expert who is specially trained to detect, diagnose, treat and manage various dermatologic disorders and conditions. To me, the field of dermatology is endlessly fascinating, as it touches on so many aspects of an individual’s health, well-being and personal essence. It’s the body’s “outer wrapping” that to the trained eye, tells so much about a person…inside and out.

Throughout my rewarding career as a dermatologist, my clinical and research passions have revolved around general medical dermatology with a special interest in pigmentary disorders and skin conditions which disproportionately affect minority patient populations.

As a clinician, researcher and active leader in the dermatologic community, I am particularly passionate about improving healthcare outcomes for all patients and reducing healthcare disparities affecting patients of color. To this end, I proudly serve in leadership positions with the Virginia Dermatology Society, the Skin of Color Society and the American Academy of Dermatology.

To ensure excellent outcomes for patients in my own practice, we emphasize many key aspects of the patient-physician relationship, including taking comprehensive patient histories, conducting thorough patient examinations, communicating clearly and completely, and above all, providing patient-friendly education to help each individual understand their conditions, concerns and treatment options, and encourage patient compliance to ensure the best outcomes.

Special considerations in individuals with skin of color

When treating patients with skin of color (known medically as Fitzpatrick Skin Types 4-6), there are many special considerations that need to be factored in when diagnosing, treating and managing various dermatologic disorders and diseases. Many chronic diseases such as eczema, psoriasis, diabetes, lupus and several other conditions can present differently in darker skin, which can result in missed diagnoses and misdiagnoses by medical providers who are untrained in skin of color dermatology.

Many of us in the dermatology community have been working hard for decades to expand education and training in skin of color dermatology, including more images of dermatologic conditions shown on skin of color in medical education. In some existing medical textbooks, some diseases are still characterized by referring to a visible “redness”; however, that description applies to lighter skin, whereas on darker skin, symptoms of skin diseases may appear in different shades of purple, grey, or brown. Moreover, some disorders not only look differently in color or pattern on darker skin types, but they may also feel differently, which is why it is so important for a dermatologist to not only visually examine each patient’s skin but to also touch the skin to determine the texture as another key source of information about the problem areas.

Deeply-pigmented skin is very sensitive to chemicals, various forms of light (including the sun and visible light), heat, cold, and trauma. Because of this, patients of color can often experience problems with hyperpigmentation (dark spots), including post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), hypopigmentation (lighter spots), acne scarring, keloids, and other issues. On darker or melanated skin, for example, even a slight bruise or short-lasting pimple can cause a long-lasting mark on the skin. Fortunately, pigmentary disorders in patients of color can be treated successfully when patients turn to a properly trained board certified dermatologist with experience in safely treating darker skin types, ideally one who expertly knows how to avoid risks/complications and assure patient safety that will lead to the best possible outcomes.

If you have a question or concern about your skin, please know that I am here for you and invite you to call the office for a consultation: (757) 232-8856.

I look forward to caring for you and your dermatologic health.

Dr. Valerie Harvey

About Dr. Valerie M. Harvey, MD, MPH

TPMG board certified dermatologist, Valerie M. Harvey, MD, MPH, has over a decade of experience specializing in treating common and uncommon skin conditions. Her past research efforts have focused on gaps in melanoma outcomes and the use of dermatology services among the underserved. She is an active leader in the dermatologic community and serves on numerous boards for the American Academy of Dermatology and Skin of Color Society. She continues to stay abreast of the latest research and advances in technology in the industry.

Dr. Harvey is located in Newport News at the TPMG Hampton Roads Center for Dermatology.

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