In recent years that diversity has begun to have a significant impact on the practices of cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists — to the extent that many observers now see the multicultural market as a huge opportunity for physicians and consumers alike.
Changing ethnic landscapeThe U.S. Census Bureau has published statistics projecting that by 2050, 28 percent of the U.S. population will be people of color, up from 19 percent five years ago.
Eliot F. Battle Jr., M.D., assistant clinical professor in the department of dermatology at Howard University and co-founder of Cultura Cosmetic Medical Spa in Washington, D.C., puts the numbers even higher.
"More than 40 percent of the world's population is non-white, and by the year 2010, 35 percent of the U.S. population will be comprised of nonwhites with darker skin types," Dr. Battle says. "There already is a large, untapped patient population out there made up of people of color, and it's only going to get larger."
"Corporate America is always looking at where new growth is coming from, and that includes skincare companies," says Derene Allen, senior vice president of the Santiago Solutions Group, a New York/Los Angeles-based consulting firm that specializes in multicultural strategic planning, marketing and market research.
In recent years, one in four new consumers traditionally has been Caucasian, meaning that three out of four are multiethnic.
"In urban areas, that number is higher — seven of eight new consumers are nonwhite. In terms of cosmetic surgery, 500,000 procedures were performed on Hispanics alone in 2004, a number which was up significantly over the year before," Ms. Allen tells Cosmetic Surgery Times.
Cultural sensitivity needed
The point is that there's a burgeoning market of prospective patients who are people of color, and who desire the kinds of cosmetic surgery procedures and dermatologic treatments that not so long ago were perceived as being exclusively desired by — and offered to — wealthy Caucasians. Physicians not already serving this market — but looking to do so — must be willing to learn about cultural differences and to adapt to them both personally and medically.
"There can be cultural insensitivity, even among well-educated physicians," says Jeanine Downie, M.D., co-author of Beautiful Skin of Color and founder/director of Image Dermatology, a Montclair, N.J., practice that serves a largely multiethnic patient population.
"A Caucasian colleague of mine once told an Asian-American patient not to worry about the darker skin on her elbows and knees when that patient wanted that darkness removed before her wedding. My colleague didn't know that in that patient's particular culture, darker skin in those areas is viewed as a sign of impurity, so she was somewhat insulted," she says.
Ethnic medical considerations
In addition to the cultural sensitivity, physicians delving into the multiethnic market need to be aware of certain physical issues that are shared by many non-Caucasian ethnic groups.
"Darker-skinned patients are often more prone to scarring that remains visible following a surgical procedure, for example, and that can be an issue if the physician isn't aware or lacks experience dealing with people of color," Ms. Allen says.
"People of color also are often sensitive to many ingredients in skincare products that are targeted to the Caucasian market, so doctors suggesting the use of such products need to be aware of those issues and concerns."
Laser treatment can also be an issue for darker-skinned patients, according to Dr. Battle.