a picture of pills on a table

a picture of pills on a table

Linda Oyesiku got a skinned knee on the playground at her elementary school when she was a kid. The school nurse cleaned her up and applied a peach-colored bandage to her wound. The bandage stood out against Oyesiku’s black skin. To make it fit in, she colored it with a brown marker. Oyesiku is presently a medical student at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida. She just had surgery and needs to conceal a wound on her face. Oyesiku didn’t expect to see any brown bandages in the surgeon’s office. She instead brought her own box. Those incidents made her wonder: why weren’t such bandages more readily available? 

Bandages in Living Technicolor

It looks great on fair skin. However, as Oyesiku pointed out, those bandages show out against darker skin. They convey the idea that pale skin is more “normal” than dark skin. It’s also a harsh reminder that medicine is still primarily focused on white people. Oyesiku is now advocating for the widespread use of brown bandages. According to her, they would serve as a visible reminder that varied skin tones are “natural and normal,” according to her. Her take on it was published in Pediatric Dermatology on October 17, 2020. 

Bandages are a global healing symbol. And they do more than treat wounds and scratches. Some medications, such as birth control and nicotine therapies, are delivered via adhesive patches. According to Oyesiku, the patches are typically peach in color. Smaller firms have been introducing bandages for different skin tones since the 1970s. However, they are more difficult to find than peach-colored ones. 

According to Oyesiku, the problem is more severe than a bandage. Whiteness has long been considered the norm in medicine. This has contributed to the mistrust of medical practitioners among Black and other minority communities. It has also resulted in biases in the computer algorithms used by US hospitals to prioritize patient treatment. These prejudices can result in worse health outcomes for people of race. 

Dermatology Explained

Dermatology is the medical specialty concerned with the skin. According to Jules Lipoff, this makes it an excellent beginning point for combating racism in medicine. He works at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia as a dermatologist. “Dermatology is racist in the same way that all of medicine and society are. However, since we are on the surface, racism is more visible.” It isn’t just true about bandages, either.

Consider the term “COVID toes.” This ailment is a sign of COVID-19 infection. Toes and, in some cases, fingers swell and discolor. A group of researchers examined photos in medical papers concerning COVID-19 patients’ skin problems. They discovered 130 photographs. Almost majority of them depicted persons with a light complexion. However, skin problems might appear differently on different skin tones.

Furthermore, in the United States and the United Kingdom, black persons are more likely than whites to be infected with COVID-19. According to the experts, photos of Black patients are critical for effective diagnosis and management. Lipoff laments the scarcity of medical photographs of people with dark skin, as well as bandages. He and his colleagues consulted standard medical texts. They discovered that just 4.5 percent of their pictures represent black skin. They published their findings in the American Academy of Dermatology Journal on January 1.