Dr. Candrice Heath: Why Melanated Skin Need More Commitment from MDs

Dr. Candrice Heath is a triple-board certified dermatologist and the CEO of skincare line, My Sister’s Beauty. She shares with us her uphill journey and the inspiration behind My Sister’s Beauty.


Dr. Candrice says, “My sister had a birthmark where the melanin was deposited deep into her skin. Normally, melanin is deposited in the upper layers of the skin or the epidermis, but in this specific birthmark, it actually deposited in the dermis. As light would reflect off of my sister’s face, her skin would appear to be a bluish-green color because of where the pigment was deposited. When we were outside of loving environments like church or home, I remember how she would cry because people would look and stare at her. When we would go to doctors, they would suggest laser-based treatment, but the laser technology at that time was not safe for people of color to use because it would cause harm and scarring to melanated skin. From that moment on, I knew wanted to be able to help people like my sister. I would not be a physician today if I did not have to witness firsthand the accessibility problems that African-Americans had with dermatology. ”


Dr. Candrice goes on to explain further how sometimes it is difficult to seek medical care relevant to your skin type as an African-American. She says, “All dermatologists need to understand how skin conditions look like on melanated skin because they can look very different on brown skin. Also, there are some medical emergencies that are primarily noticed and diagnosed because the patient’s skin starts to get very red, but if you’re not familiar with what “red” looks like on deeply melanated skin, you can miss something, and in turn, the patient could be compromised.”


However, Dr. Candrice also believes that there has been progress and more inclusion in the medical field since last summer. “Over the past year, there has been so much social unrest, and it actually has really impacted my field. Medical schools are looking at their curriculum, and they’re finding that medical students, who go through intensive training, are actually shown very few images of what different conditions look like on melanated skin. Because of recent social movements, med schools are exploring how to change the curriculum so that physicians are better able to serve the entire community. While there still is inequity, there is now at least momentum for change.”


Dr. Candrice continues, “This is the whole reason I want to serve the community. When I first became a dermatologist, I knew that people of color would flock to me because I look like them, but then I realized they were coming to me for a deeper reason. These patients had gone places where they had experiences with physicians who were not culturally competent. Patients were coming to me because they had visited a physician who did not know how to diagnose things on melanated skin, or because the physician didn’t know how to give a scalp examination on someone with really tightly coiled hair. After extensive research and training on skin of color, I have now positioned myself to teach other physicians and primary care doctors about melanated skin for this exact reason. I train other doctors so that they can adequately treat their patients no matter how they look. There just needs to be more knowledge. I’ve always noticed how at major dermatology conferences, lectures on how to treat melanated skin would have a small audience. The rooms on how to do cosmetics for people of color would be very full, but the rooms on medical dermatology for people of color would be smaller. Sometimes these issues come down to whether or not the physician thinks learning about melanated skin is truly valuable. And sometimes, that can be a little hurtful, but that’s why I’m so passionate about training other physicians who are interested in treating melanated skin and are committed to being the best dermatologist they can be.”


Dr. Candrice believes that this is an essential step for equity in the medical field because just like anyone else, dermatological care is necessary for people of color as well. “When it comes to aging, we do have more melanin, and it does protect us from the sun, collagen breakdown, brown spots, wrinkling, and sagging. We may not be prone to that because of the extra melanin, but we can still get hyperpigmentation as we get older. We still do get conditions. We are not people of steel who don’t feel pain or people who can go through all of these things unscathed. Believe it or not, these are myths that stayed in medicine for a really long time. Sometimes it’s believed that black people don’t need as much pain medicine or treatment. This is alarming because this is not a study from in the 1960s, this is a recent perception that influences treatment and care methods.”


Likewise, Dr. Candrice shares how her skincare line was made to reaffirm the value of melanated skin, “This is the reason that I’ve started my skincare line. My skincare line is called My Sister’s Beauty, and it is named after my sister. As women, especially as women of color, we take on the burdens of the family, and we’re always trying to be strong and get things done. However, we need to know that it is okay to take time for ourselves. Skincare is self-care, and I really wanted to personalize my skincare line by paying homage to my sister, the woman who helped me understand the true purpose and impact of skin and beauty. Every patient that comes to my office is beautiful, but our skin can make us affirm or question our own beauty. My skincare lines shares with everyone that regardless of what you see or what society tells you - you are beautiful.”