Mom of mixed-race child creates ‘Brown Skin Matters’ Instagram to help doctors

Ellen Buchanan Weiss created the Instagram account Brown Skin Matters to help parents with pediatric dermatological conditions. (Photo: Getty Images)
Ellen Buchanan Weiss created the Instagram account Brown Skin Matters to help parents with pediatric dermatological conditions. (Photo: Getty Images)

A new Instagram account called Brown Skin Matters helps families of color identify pediatric skin conditions — and possibly save lives.

Ellen Buchanan Weiss, 38, a white mother from Raleigh, North Carolina, created it after finding only three online reference photos for hives — out of 400 — that presented on her mixed-race, 20-month-old baby.

“Most reference photos are of white children,” Weiss, a stay-at-home mother and doula, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Even when I added search qualifiers such as, ‘hives on brown skin.’”

A doctor diagnosed Weiss’s son with vaccine-related hives; however, frustrated and concerned, she searched for other possible ailments: For chickenpox, for example, Weiss had to scroll through 19 photos before finding one that depicted a brown-skinned child. Out of 500 chickenpox images, only five showed kids with brown skin.

A search for eczema yielded 80 photos of white children before a brown-skinned child appeared. “Out of 300 images, I found only four of brown-skinned or Asian kids,” Weiss tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

When her son developed eczema a few months later, his pediatrician wan’t helpful. “She had no black staff and no significant experience working with non-white patients, so we switched to a black doctor,” says Weiss.

The mom wanted to help other parents so in August, she launched Brown Skin Matters, posting parent-submitted photos of diagnosed skin conditions: Mosquito bites, chicken pox, and hand-foot-and-mouth are several featured on the account.

Because Weiss has no medical training, she is assisted by Azucena Hernandez Vite, MD, a general practitioner, who has a background in dermatology.

For no charge, Vite eyeballs the Instagram photos and unofficially confirms the diagnosis. “In medical school textbooks, we mainly learn on white patients,” Vite tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But in practice, conditions look different depending on skin color, and that is where doctors struggle.”

Research from 2012 published in the journal Dermatologic Clinics found that skin cancer outcomes for patients are worse for minorities. The study cited 2011 data from dermatologists, who received poor training on skin conditions among black people, and little exposure to patients of color.

“Many doctors treating non-white patients consult each other to ask, ‘Have you seen this skin condition before?’” Weiss tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s important to have diverse documentation.”

Some day, Weiss would like a panel of doctors to contribute to the project. “I shouldn’t have to do this,” she says, “but feedback from parents proves it’s a problem that needs solving.”

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