The Ottawa Hospital has opened a clinic that focuses exclusively on the skin conditions of people of colour.
The Skin of Colour Dermatology Specialty Clinic at the hospital’s Civic Campus is the first of its kind in Canada.
Dr. Reetesh Bose, a dermatologist and founder of the clinic, said several skin conditions, including psoriasis and eczema, are increasingly diagnosed in immigrants and refugees. He said patients may have suffered with these issues before they immigrated to the country, but the condition flared up because of the dry, cool climate in Canada.
Bose said white-skinned people are prone to skin cancer because they have less melanin in their skins compared to those who are Black, Asian or mixed-race. Melanin provides protection against ultraviolet rays from the sun and pigmentation to skin, hair and eyes.
Skin cancer has been on the rise in Canada for the past 30 years. Based on current statistics, one in 73 women and one in 59 men develop melanoma, a serious skin cancer that mostly affects people with lighter skin.
In 2019, the Canadian Cancer Society estimated 7,800 Canadians would be diagnosed with melanoma and 1,300 Canadians would die from it that year.
The Skin of Colour clinic focuses on providing care and the latest treatments for patients with non-white skin, which includes people who are of South Asian, Chinese, Black, Filipino, Latin American, Arab, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Korean and Japanese origin.
So far, about 150 patients have been treated at the clinic, which officially opened in December 2021.
“Throughout my training, I found hardly any focus on diverse skin types in dermatology, with very few images in textbooks showing conditions in dark skin types,” said Bose, who studied in the U.S. He said this lack of information led him to delve deeper into the subject.
Bose said immigrants might have been given mixed diagnoses and not found answers as to why they have scarring and other skin and scalp conditions. For instance many skin rashes are mistaken for fungal infections.
“When patients finally approach a dermatologist, the delays in diagnosis could affect the outcomes of treatment,” Bose said. “Melanoma is one of the most serious type of skin cancer.”
Bose said using tanning equipment can increase the risk of skin cancer. Henna, the temporary dye applied on the skin can cause allergies and contact dermatitis, and discolour the skin.
Psoriasis and eczema are common skin conditions seen in immigrant populations in Canada, Bose said. According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, psoriasis affects one million Canadians and 125 million people worldwide.
The National Eczema Association states people of all skin colours, races and ethnicities can be affected by eczema. Those from Asian and South Pacific Islands are slightly more affected by the disorder.
People with darker skin tones are also more likely to be diagnosed with scarring alopecia, keloids (thick raised scars) and lupus (immune system disorder). Vitiligo, a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes patches of skin to lose pigment, affects all skin colours and races equally, but can be more psychosocially troubling for darker skinned individuals because it is more visible.
This story has been updated to more accurately reflect Dr. Reetesh Bose’s interview with the reporter.
Gita Abraham is a journalist of 45-year standing and has worked in national dallies and magazines in New Delhi including Hindustan Times and India Today. For 15 years she was the Feature Editor of The City TAB in Bangalore. She was also a Professor of Journalism, at the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai. Treading the thin line between fact and fiction, Gita has launched her debut novel “Daughter of the Blue Hills” early this year. She and her husband are snowbirds shuffling between Chennai and Ottawa. She has two daughters and two frisky grandsons who inhabit her world.