We Asked Our Founder's Dermatologist Part I: The Lack of Expertise in Asian Skin

Skincare can be frustrating for Asian women and men alike – and especially for those who live in places like the United States, where Asians are a minority. A lack of experience with Asian skin exists not only in the beauty industry, but the dermatology world as well – where even professionals struggle to cater to our needs. Our founder, Yu-Chen, has experienced her fair share of skin mishaps –like burns from laser hair removal and adverse reactions from a derm-prescribed skincare regimen. For a long time, it seemed as if she would never find anyone who truly knew how to treat her skin. That was until she met Dr. Annie Chiu in 2014, whom she now calls “The Asian Skin Whisperer.”

Annie Chiu, M.D. is an LA-based Chinese American board-certified dermatologist with quite the list of accomplishments. She graduated with top honors from Stanford University and UC Berkeley, runs her own private practice, The Derm Institute, and regularly gives lectures and seminars on advanced cosmetic procedures and techniques. She’s no stranger to the media, appearing on TV shows like The Doctors, and receiving the title of “Skin Genius” from Elle Magazine. She also happens to be the personal dermatologist of our founder, Yu-Chen Shih, who found her after years of searching for someone who truly understands Asian skin. She finally found a true expert in Dr. Chiu, and has since nicknamed her “The Asian Skin Whisperer”.

In this three-part series, we sit down with Dr. Chiu to get your questions about Asian skin care answered. We dive into the details about why there’s a lack of expertise when it comes to treating Asian skin, if and how Asian skin can benefit from laser treatments, and the dos and don’ts when it comes to fillers.

Is it true that there is a lack of expertise in treating Asian skin? If so, why?

Yes. Disproportionately, textbooks, postgraduate training, and continuing medical education, the examples that are often represented are most commonly of fair skin types (types 1 through 3). Whereas, Asian skin tends to fall anywhere between type 2 and type 5. The gap starts in med school, at least here in the US. Because of the events of last year (2020), there’s been a recognition in dermatology, and the lack of diversity in our knowledge on skin of color has really come to light. Only 3% of dermatologists in the U.S. are African American, which is a horrible underrepresentation. Asian American dermatologists do exist at a slightly higher percentage, but our curriculum through medical school and residency (when you really specialize in dermatology) truly falls short in training students on how to address Asian skin types. The textbooks don’t have a lot of specifics or examples related to Asian skin.

I’ve learned a lot about Asian skin in my career, but only because I sought out the info myself. So much of what we do clinically as dermatologists is shared among our peers as pearls; they’re not always published in a paper that someone in another country can find. Countries like Taiwan and South Korea are huge on cosmetic dermatology, but their clinical pearls are passed along to one another at meetings that are local to them, so we don’t necessarily get access to that information. Also, we need more information on what Asian Americans, which is a unique population, desire in terms of ideal aesthetics vs Asians from other countries. 

Do you think that Asian clients should seek out Asian experts when looking for dermatological or cosmetic procedures? How do I find the right practitioner for me?

Because there has historically been less structured education on how to address Asian skin types in the US, I do recommend seeking out a practitioner who has a specific interest in treating skin of color, including Asian skin and has experience in treating Asian patients.

One question you should ask yourself when choosing a practitioner is: if something untoward were to happen, does s/he have the capability to resolve it? In medicine, there’s always a chance that something unexpected could happen. This risk can sometimes be minimized by going to a practice where the doctor themself is performing the treatment, or a practice where the nurse practitioner is under close supervision by a doctor that is actually onsite.