Taking care of ‘Hispanic skin': what you need to know

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Woman with acne

Acne in Latinos can result in hyperpigmentation, which can make skin look worse than it really is. (Shutterstock photo)

Skin complexion among the Hispanic population varies as significantly as Latino heritage. According to Plastic Surgery Practice, because of a diverse multicultural background, many Hispanics do not escape a variety of skin conditions.

In fact, Vivian Bucay, MD, FAAD, graduate of University of Miami and the Baylor College of Medicine, has treated Hispanic skin in Mexico City for over eight years, and states, “Other than an increased tendency for hyperpigmentation, there is not a unifying skin trait that applies to all Hispanics.”

Her opinion is shared by Dr. Miguel Sanchez, an associate professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine, who told the New York Times, “Basically people have been doing these studies in ‘Hispanics,’ in quotation marks, and I say, ‘Well, who was your group — Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans?’ ”

Pigmentation issues

While experts agree there are few Hispanic-only skin issues, one area of concern for the demographic is that of skin pigmentation.

Melasma: RX For Brown Skin states overactive melanin in Latino skin can cause hyperpigmentation known as melasma.

Melasma occurs through exposure of the skin to sunlight. It is most commonly found on the face and is often symmetrical. Chemical peels and topical steroid creams as well as laser treatments are used to treat the condition, but daily use of sunscreen is the best way to prevent it in the first place.

Vitiligo: A less-common form of pigmentation issue seen among Latinos, characterized by a loss of pigmentation which leaves white markings on the skin. According to the National Library of Medicine, these de-pigmented areas are more likely to develop skin cancer.

Treatment for this condition can be complex and may involve skin grafting. It is thought to be a result of an autoimmune process, and is associated with hyperthyroidism, Addison’s disease and pernicious anemia.

Inflammation: Another issue Hispanic skin faces is that of hyperpigmentation resulting from inflammation. Acne, insect bites, eczema, psoriasis and burns can all result in hyperpigmentation.

“Hyperpigmentation following laser hair removal and skin resurfacing procedures is becoming an increasingly frequent reason for which Hispanic patients seek treatment, as more of these procedures are performed by individuals not familiar with the care of Hispanic skin,” said Bucay to Plastic Surgery Practice.

Acne

While Hispanics are not predisposed to acne more so than other ethnicities, acne is a common inflammatory process which may lead to hyperpigmentation issues. In addition to the marks left on Latino skin, acne can also lead to self-esteem issues.

Bucay indicates treating Hispanic acne can be difficult, especially since she has found many patients are sensitive to common over-the-counter acne treatment medications.

“I have found that Hispanic patients can be very sensitive to products containing benzoyl peroxide, an ingredient found in countless over-the-counter as well as prescription medications for acne,” she said.

Sensitivity to commercial products may not become apparent until professional intervention, as many Latinos commonly use home remedies for the treatment of acne and other skin issues. Such is the case with Vilda Vera Mayuga, a lawyer and native Puerto Rican who told the New York Times, “I like to use the cream that comes out of the cactus. You cut it and you squeeze it out and you boil it, and then you put it against your skin.”

This natural approach is one shared by many Hispanic women; however, experts caution there is a time and place for traditional methods.

Folk remedies that are so common in the Hispanic communities are wonderful things,” Sanchez remarked. “We just want people to remember that should not be a substitute for traditional medicine when things are not going well.”

Latinos who suffer from acne should seek assistance from a medical professional specializing in Latino heritage to treat the condition before hyperpigmentation becomes an issue.

Skin cancer

Woman in bikini

Protection from the sun is important regardless of skin coloration. (Shutterstock photo)

Skin cancer is a medical condition most people associate with fair-skinned individuals. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, however, people of all skin colors and tones are at risk for this often deadly medical issue.

Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks are at particular risk because they are more likely to be diagnosed in the later stages of skin cancer, a delay which often results in a high mortality rate among these populations.

One study cited by the Skin Cancer Foundation revealed Hispanics who develop basil cell carcinomas (skin cancer directly attributed to ultraviolet ray exposure) are more likely to have multiple lesions at the same time or in upcoming years.

“We think because we have a better ability to tan, we don’t need to wear sunscreen, and then when we start getting skin cancer, we’re shocked,” said to the New York Times Dr. Flor A. Mayoral, a Miami dermatologist, who hit the nail on the head when it comes to the reason why more Hispanics don’t wear sun screen.

Regardless of skin tone, experts recommend wearing a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater to decrease the risk of skin cancer.

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