Parents often turn to the Internet to help diagnose unfamiliar symptoms that arise in their children. However, that tactic doesn’t work equally for all families, especially when it comes to rashes, bumps, and other skin conditions. If you’re the parent of a non-white child trying to find clues to a dermatological condition, you’d be hard-pressed to find images that don’t exclusively feature white children.
That’s what happened to Ellen Buchanan Weiss when she went looking for pictures of childhood chickenpox to compare against the skin of her mixed-race child. “Even adding the qualifier ‘chickenpox on black child’ yields mostly Caucasian examples,” Weiss told Lifehacker.
This is a serious issue, as many of these conditions appear vastly different on different skin tones.
Rather than just accept the lack of information, Weiss launched @BrownSkinMatters, an Instagram feed with images of a variety of skin conditions on non-white people, on August 5, 2019.
All images posted on @BrownSkinMatters are user-generated. Each photo names the skin condition shown and identifies the ethnic background of the person pictured. At press time the feed had already amassed more than 5,700 followers.
Parents and doctors welcome this new dermatology resource for families of color.
Weiss isn’t the first person to take note of this information gap in dermatology.
Comments on the feed range from “this is so helpful” from parents who have experienced the same frustration as Weiss, to doctors admitting that the training they receive on black or brown skin is extremely limited. The vast majority of followers who comment see it as a welcome resource that was sorely missing from the Internet.
“I’m a pediatrician and during my year as chief resident I tried to include photos of kids with different skin pigmentation in a dermatology lecture, and I found ZERO public photos on the subject I was teaching,” wrote Katy Miller, M.D., a Minneapolis, Minnesota pediatrician and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Provisional Section on Minority Health, Equity, and Inclusion, who posted on @BrownSkinMatters on Sept. 10, 2019. “I practice in an area with kids of all skin colors and it is absolutely a disservice to them to have every textbook photo represent kids with pale skin. Thank you for doing this!”
Knowledge gaps among dermatologists make it difficult to treat patients who aren’t white.
One recent study published in the journal Dermatology found that black dermatology patients are extremely dismayed at the lack of knowledge among dermatologists when it comes to black or brown skin. It goes on to address how these information gaps among doctors in this field can directly affect the quality of care that patients receive.
Weiss says she shares each image with a physician for accuracy before posting. However, she’s quick to point out that the images are posted by regular people and meant for reference only.
As she told Lifehacker, “I’m just a regular person who dearly loves her son and wants equitable representation and resources available to him and other people who look like him.”