VI Peel Creator Vitality Institute Launches The Brown Skin Agenda To Increase Awareness Of And Education On Treating Skin Of Color

For most white consumers, going to the dermatologist to address a skin issue is a relatively straightforward process involving examination of the issue followed by solution recommendations. For most people of color, the experience isn’t nearly as cut and dry.

“Women of color go to medical spas, dermatologists or plastic surgeons and are literally being turned away and told that there aren’t any treatments for them or that there aren’t any options to treat some of the conditions that they’re dealing with,” says Marya Khalil-Otto, CEO of Vitality Institute, creator of the VI Peel chemical peel, and a woman of color. “I think that comes from a place of practitioners being fearful of treating skin of color because they don’t have the right education and training—and it is absolutely true that skin of color has more risk involved.” 

To fill patients and providers on what the options for skin of color are, Vitality Institute is launching The Brown Skin Agenda, an initiative to increase awareness of and education on how to treat skin of color and the importance of bringing a dialogue to the forefront of the beauty industry. “When you’re doing some of these more intensive treatments, there are things that you need to be more careful about that you don’t have to necessarily worry about if you’re treating lighter skin tones,” says Khalil-Otto. “Because of that, again, consumers are either getting misinformed or being told that there aren’t options for them.”

Vitality Institute has researched the skin concerns of people of color since its inception in 2005 and views The Brown Skin Agenda as an opportunity to inform and lead conversations related to the treatment of darker skin phenotypes through workshops, educational tools for service providers, and social media activations and other virtual content. Khalil-Otto has put together an advisory board of eight renowned medical professionals specializing in melanin-rich skin, including dermatologists Alia S. Brown, Sumayah Jamal and Wendy Roberts, and plastic surgeons Nia Banks and Vikisha Fripp.

Activations will kick off on August 16 with a webinar called “Redefining the Cultural Code: The Myth and the New Reality for Skin of Color” that will be hosted by advisory panel members and dermatologists Jeanine Downie and Roberts, and plastic surgeon Nia Banks Khalil-Otto. The Brown Skin Agenda advisory board hopes to offer guidance that will allow skincare professionals to confidently treat skin of color and help patients learn more about their skin. 

“It’s a fun topic because it’s all about the myths of skin of color,” says Khalil-Otto. “The physicians picked three myths they know that people of skin of color tend to believe in like black don’t crack. Just because you have skin of color doesn’t mean that you don’t have to protect your skin from the sun. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to use good skincare. We’re all going to age, just differently. So, we’re going to go through the myths, explain why they’re not true and what the reality really is.”

Vitality Institute CEO Marya Khalil-Otto

Khalil-Otto suggests a lack of knowledge and understanding about skin classification based on reaction to exposure to sunlight, usually measured by the Fitzpatrick Scale, is pervasive. The Scale classifies skin in six types. Type I is the palest skin that never tans, and type VI is deeply pigmented skin that never burns. “Inflammation can cause damage in skin of color that doesn’t tend to happen in lower Fitzpatrick types,” she says. “When skin of color gets burned, it gets a brown spot. That’s actually one of the questions that’s asked of you on a Fitzpatrick Scale questionnaire. Once you go to a dermatologist and fill that out, they can tell you your Fitzpatrick type. There’s also certain technology they can use to help tell what Fitzpatrick type you are. You can’t tell if you have skin of color by looking with your naked eye. A lot of consumers don’t even realize that they have skin of color because, maybe to the naked eye, they look light.”

Keloids is an issue that disproportionately occurs in skin of color, especially Black skin. “If they get a scar, have a surgical procedure where they have an incision, they can actually keloid, a raised, darker scar which is a very difficult thing to predict and treat. That’s why I think it’s really important that they go to a practitioner physician and find out what their Fitzpatrick type is,” says Khalil-Otto. She adds Roberts has developed her own scale that’s an in-depth and specific way to assist patients with figuring out their Fitzpatrick type.

The Brown Skin Agenda is launching as the field of dermatology continues to lack diversity. Only about 3% of dermatologists identify as Black or African American while about 13% of Americans are Black. A recent New York Times article highlights that Black Americans are less likely than white Americans to visit a dermatologist. The article says, “Even when they do see a dermatologist, studies have shown Black patients are less likely to get certain treatments than white people with the same conditions.” Outside of dermatology, consumers of color have been increasing their beauty spend and outspend their white counterparts in several categories.

If dermatology doesn’t respond to patients of color, it risks being irrelevant and, more importantly, not treating people for critical issues that require dermatological attention. Khalil-Otto points out, “The truth of the matter is America is becoming more and more of a melting pot every day. By about 2025, it’s going to be more than half skin of color.”