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Expert shares tips on hair disorders and photoprotection for patients of color


AT PDA 2022

When individuals with skin of color seek help from dermatologists to optimize the treatment and management of scalp and hair disorders, they expect them to understand their concerns, but sometimes their doctors fall short.

“Many times, you may not have race concordant visits with patients of color,” Janiene Luke, MD, said at the annual meeting of the Pacific Dermatologic Association. She referred to a survey of 200 Black women aged 21-83 years, which found that 28% had visited a physician to discuss hair or scalp issues. Of those, 68% felt like their dermatologists did not understand African American hair.

“I recommend trying the best you can to familiarize yourself with various common cultural hair styling methods and practices in patients of color. It’s important to understand what your patients are engaging in and the types of styles they’re using,” said Dr. Luke, associate professor of dermatology at Loma Linda (Calif.) University. “Approach all patients with cultural humility. We know from studies that patients value dermatologists who take time to listen to their concerns, involve them in the decision-making process, and educate them about their conditions,” she added.

Dr. Janiene Luke, associate professor of dermatology at Loma Linda (Calif.) University.

Dr. Janiene Luke

National efforts to educate clinicians on treating skin of color have emerged in recent years, including textbooks, CME courses at dermatology conferences, and the American Academy of Dermatology’s Skin of Color Curriculum, which consists of 15-minute modules that can be viewed online.

At the meeting, Dr. Luke, shared her approach to assessing hair and scalp disorders in skin of color. She begins by taking a thorough history, “because not all things that are associated with hair styling will be the reason why your patient comes in,” she said. “Patients of color can have telogen effluvium and seborrheic dermatitis just like anyone else. I ask about the hair styling practices they use. I also ask how often they wash their hair, because sometimes our recommendations for treatment are not realistic based on their current routine.”

Next, she examines the scalp with her hands – which sometimes surprises patients. “I’ve had so many patients come in and say, ‘the dermatologist never touched my scalp,’ or ‘they never even looked at my hair,’ ” said Dr. Luke, who directs the university’s dermatology residency program. She asks patients to remove any hair extensions or weaves prior to the office visit and to remove wigs prior to the exam itself. The lab tests she customarily orders include CBC, TSH, iron, total iron binding capacity, ferritin, vitamin D, and zinc. If there are signs of androgen excess, she may check testosterone, sex hormone binding globulin, and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S). She routinely incorporates a dermoscopy-directed biopsy into the evaluation.

Dr. Luke examines the patient from above, the sides, and the back to assess the pattern/distribution of hair loss. A visible scalp at the vertex indicates a 50% reduction in normal hair density. “I’m looking at the hairline, their part width, and the length of their hair,” she said. “I also look at the eyebrows and eyelashes, because these can be involved in alopecia areata, frontal fibrosing alopecia, or congenital hair shaft disorders.”

On closeup examination, she looks for scarring versus non-scarring types of hair loss, and for the presence or absence of follicular ostia. “I also look at hair changes,” she said. “Is the texture of their hair different? Are there signs of breakage or fragility? It’s been noted in studies that breakage can be an early sign of central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia.” (For more tips on examining tightly coiled hair among patients with hair loss in race discordant patient-physician interactions, she recommended a 2021 article in JAMA Dermatology)..

Trichoscopy allows for magnified observation of the hair shafts, hair follicle openings, perifollicular dermis, and blood vessels. Normal trichoscopy findings in skin of color reveal a perifollicular pigment network (honeycomb pattern) and pinpoint white dots that are regularly distributed between follicular units.

Common abnormalities seen on trichoscopy include central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA), with one or two hairs emerging together, surrounded by a gray halo; lichen planopilaris/frontal fibrosing alopecia, characterized by hair with peripilar casts and absence of vellus hairs; discoid lupus erythematosus, characterized by keratotic plugs; and traction, characterized by hair casts.

Once a diagnosis is confirmed, Dr. Luke provides other general advice for optimal skin health, including a balanced (whole food) diet to ensure adequate nutrition. “I tend to find a lot of nutrient deficiencies that contribute to and compound their condition,” she said. Other recommendations include avoiding excess tension on the hair, such as hair styles with tight ponytails, buns, braids, and weaves; avoiding or limiting chemical treatments with hair color, relaxers, and permanents; and avoiding or limiting excessive heat styling with blow dryers, flat irons, and curling irons.


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