Conference Coverage

Foster cultural competence when examining hair, scalp of ethnic patients



– The way Susan C. Taylor, MD, sees it, rule No. 1 when examining the hair and scalp of young ethnic patients is to foster a sense of cultural competence.

At the annual meeting of the Society for Pediatric Dermatology, Dr. Taylor, a dermatologist at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, defined culturally competent care as a patient-centered approach in which clinicians establish a rapport with the patient and the caregiver. “It’s important that we ask the right questions,” she said. “In doing so, we have to be familiar with common hair care practices. It’s important that we respect our patients’ values, their goals, their health needs, and, of course, their cultural background. Finally, we have to engage in shared decision making. That’s where we can improve compliance and lead to an overall very satisfactory patient visit.”

Susan C. Taylor, MD, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Dr. Susan C. Taylor

To illustrate this point, she discussed the case of a four-year-old black female with a 9-month history of bad dandruff. The child’s mother reports thick flakes that never go away. She takes pride in caring for her daughter’s hair, and shampoos it every two weeks. “She tells me that during the 2.5 hours that it takes her on Saturdays to shampoo, detangle, and comb her daughter’s hair, which she then braids or cornrows and adorns with barrettes or balls, it is a great bonding experience for the two of them,” Dr. Taylor said. “The flakes are temporarily better after she ‘greases’ her daughter’s scalp, but after 2-3 days, they are back.”

In a case like this, Dr. Taylor recommends asking the parent or caregiver to join you while you examine the scalp. This way, the focus becomes the child’s scalp, and the parent is not just staring at your expressions. “The child also observes the pediatric dermatologist and parent/caregiver working together as a team,” she said. “You also want to ask the parent to remove the hair adornments. This makes the child feel more comfortable. It also allows you to observe how the hair is being managed. Are the adornments being removed gently? Is there aggressive pulling of the hair when they take out the braids? Is the child visibly wincing in pain? If the latter two happen this is a teachable moment. You can point out, ‘It looks like Susie is in pain. Let’s do it a little more gently. That might prevent further hair breakage.’ ”

The differential diagnosis of a scaly pediatric scalp includes infrequent shampooing, seborrheic dermatitis, tinea capitis, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and sebopsoriasis. The type of hairstyle also factors in. For example, cornrows are a popular hair styling option among ethnic patients. “These are very popular and very time consuming and may lead to infrequent shampooing,” she said. “If they’re put in very tightly or if they have beads or other adornments, it can lead to traction alopecia.” Twists, meanwhile, can create tension on the hair, while puffs can cause traction alopecia if they’re pulled too tightly. “Although dreadlocks are more common among adolescents, we’re seeing them more commonly in young children,” she said. “They can be very long and wavy and lead to traction alopecia.”

The time required to shampoo, detangle, and style tightly coiled African American hair can be significant. For example, in children with cornrows or braids with extensions, Dr. Taylor said that it might require 30 minutes to as long as 2 or 3 hours to remove their current hairstyle, followed by shampooing and conditioning. “Detangling can take at least 15 minutes. In tightly coiled African American hair, studies have demonstrated that detangling while the hair is wet is best, because you have fewer forces on that comb and the hair is less likely to break, as opposed to detangling when the hair is dry. After the wet hair is detangled and the conditioner is rinsed out, a leave-in conditioner is often applied. Then the hair is detangled again, which can take up to an hour, followed by styling, which can take 1-3 hours. That gives you some insight as to why there can often be infrequent shampooing.”

The recommended frequency of shampooing depends on the hairstyle selected. Many children with braids and extensions will have those braids and extensions taken out every six to 12 weeks, “but that doesn’t mean that the scalp can’t be shampooed,” Dr. Taylor said. “The scalp should be shampooed more often. Economics and socioeconomic status play into the frequency of shampooing. For example, if a parent or a caregiver sends a child to a hair stylist, that can range in price from $45 to $65 or more. Time also factors in. In the black community in particular, it’s a ritual on a Saturday to get your hair done. If the parent or caregiver works on weekends, that’s going to impact the frequency of shampooing.”

Dr. Taylor underscored the importance of framing the history-taking process to avoid common pitfall questions like “Do you wash the child’s hair every day or every other day?” or “Do you use dandruff shampoo every day?” It is important to remember that “the parent’s inherent perception is of a doctor who does not have my hair probably does not understand my hair or my child’s hair,” she said. “It’s unlikely that you’re going to find a parent who shampoos their child’s hair every day or every other day. Maybe once a week, probably biweekly. It’s important to ask culturally competent questions.”

She also advises against asking about shampooing when you’re examining the child’s hair, “because there’s going to be the perception that you may think the scalp is dirty,” Dr. Taylor explained. “You probably want to ask that when gathering the history of present illness. The culturally competent question is going to be, ‘Do you wash her/his hair weekly, every other week, monthly, or does it depend on the hair style?’ ”

Body language is also important. “Don’t lean in from afar when examining the patient,” she said. “Get up close and touch the child’s hair.” If you choose to wear surgical gloves for the exam “don’t hold your hands in the surgical scrub position,” she recommended. “Hold your hands in a more neutral position. I think it’s important to touch the hair.”

Referring back to the 4-year-old black child with bad dandruff, she said that a diagnosis of seborrheic dermatitis is unlikely since that condition usually occurs during puberty. “You should have a high index of suspicion for tinea capitis,” she said. “If the patient has occipital lymphadenopathy plus scaling of the scalp or alopecia, that’s enough to presumptively treat for tinea capitis. There are studies that support that.”

For established tinea capitis, Dr. Taylor advises parents to wash barrettes and other hair adornments in hot soapy water or in the dishwasher. She also recommends disposal of hair oil, pomade, and grease and shampooing the child’s hair with ketoconazole and use a conditioner to decrease household and patient spread, which decreases transmissible fungal spores. “There’s a misperception that the application of hair oils and grease can increase the rate of tinea capitis,” she noted. “That’s not true. However, if hair grease and hair oil is applied to the scalp within one week of culture, it could produce a false negative culture.”

For established seborrheic dermatitis, antifungal shampoos including ketoconazole, ciclopirox, and selenium sulfide may be too drying for ethnic hair, “which already has a propensity to break,” she said. “Instead, we recommend a 5-10 minute scalp contact time with the shampoo and avoid contact with strands of hair. Shampoo hair strands with a conditioning shampoo followed by a conditioner to limit hair breakage. We suggest once weekly or biweekly shampooing.”

Dr. Taylor disclosed that she has advisory board and/or investigator relationships with Aclaris Therapeutics, Allergan, Beiersdorf, Croma Pharmaceuticals, Galderma, Isdin, Johnson & Johnson, and Unilever. She also acknowledged Candrice R. Heath, MD, a dermatologist based in Newark, Delaware, for her assistance with the presentation content.

Next Article: