Over the past few weeks we have seen the world come together in solidarity against the injustice that was served to George Floyd and stand up against the systematic racism that permeates societies across the globe. Videos have been shared, influential people have spoken up and black squares have been posted – but what’s next? How can we use this opportunity to make positive, permanent change and not let it be news for tomorrow’s fish paper?
Dr Ifeoma Ejikeme is a black British, female NHS medical consultant and highly experienced aesthetic doctor with extensive global training in Medicine and Surgery. Throughout her years at medical school and in training in aesthetic medicine, she – along with her black peers – has been acutely aware of the racial discrimination and unconscious bias within the medicine, health and beauty industries.
Dr Ejikeme has actively sought extensive education in black skin, taking knowledge from the clinics in Ghana, Nigeria and America and sharing it with clinics in the UK. She recently spoke at the Black Skin Directory – the first conference in the UK to focus on black skin – and is passionate about educating her peers on this topic further, in order to make permanent change.
A snapshot into the racism and unconscious bias in the industry:
* When studying aesthetic medicine – case studies of fillers, toxin treatments and body contouring are all shown on Caucasian skin, including in published literature. If doctors would like to study black skin, they have to deliberately seek out additional courses, independently.
* In lectures – Dr Ejikeme has attended every UK lecture and conference in aesthetics for the last 7 years and found that each time there are thousands of talks on Caucasian skin but only one or two on black skin. Even when it is spoken about, there is a notion that black skin is difficult to treat. The language used around treating black skin is negative – “hard”, “we can’t do this”, “we shouldn’t do this” – which scares doctors into avoiding treating black clients or educating themselves further.
* In practice – despite being one of the most advanced doctors in the UK with training that is highly acclaimed internationally, Dr Ejikeme – like many other black doctors – is often mistaken for the junior in the room against the white, male that assumed as the doctor, yet is by far her junior.
* In products and treatments – lasers, peels and products on the market are labelled “cannot be used on black skin” but do not offer alternatives. There has always been an asumption that there is not a market for black skincare and treatments but this is very wrong – there is a huge demand. A Nielsen study found that black women spend nine times the amount of money on skin and haircare than white women.
* Black clients are mistreated – Dr Ejikeme has treated many clients at her clinic that have been refused treatment elsewhere or, worse, have been treated wrongly for their skin with traumatic conseqeunces.
Thoughts for change:
* A revised and expanded medical curriculum – with diverse case studies that include all skin types.
* Real representation in the media – magazines and brands need to be showing different skin types. Often in a shoot there will be a number of models with different Caucasian skin types and then one model of colour. There are many different types of black women, all of whom should be represented.
* Real representation in experts – we need experts in the field that are black and look black and know what it is like to have black skin. To achieve this, young black men and women need to be encouraged to aspire to be an expert. Give black experts the opportunity to share their stories in schools and in the media to inspire future generations.
* Products and brands – need to understand black skin. Invest in research, education and training in order to create products that cater to black skin. It is not only ethical, it is profitable.
* Companies that produce lasers and skin peels – need to include black skin on their protocols. If they do not know how to do it, then they need to learn. Team up with a black doctor who does know.
* Revise conferences – black skin (and all skin types) needs to be spoken about in every talk given and case studies of all skin types shown. For doctors hosting talks that do not have experience with black skin, team up with a doctor that does.
* Influencers – brands should be responsible for choosing the right influencer and a diverse range of influencers. Products should be used on appropriate skin and the influencer should be educated on what results they can expect so that this can be communicated clearly to their audience.