I was 36 years old when I first noticed symptoms. I’d been struggling with psoriasis since the fall of 2019, but I didn’t know what it was or why it was happening.
As it turned out, neither did two of my healthcare providers. One was my primary care physician at the time. The other was my dermatologist.
Yes, it was that hard to diagnose.
From the onset of my first flare-up, it took roughly 9 months to get a proper diagnosis. Throughout those 9 months, I was misdiagnosed twice, which meant taking medications for conditions I didn’t actually have.
Misdiagnoses seem to be common if you have higher levels of melanin in your skin. This, unfortunately, is a large part of what it’s like to live with psoriasis as a Black person.
I remember traveling with my two daughters quite a bit during 2019. It was an exciting and equally stressful time — I had my youngest daughter in tow, who was just over a year old.
Flying from coast to coast and enduring long days began to take a toll on my body. I recall being in a hotel room with my girls when I noticed I was experiencing itching and irritated skin on various parts of my body.
This issue went on for months, and the lotions and creams that I used at the time did nothing to soothe my skin. I decided to pay a visit to my primary care office to get more insight on what was happening.
My physician at the time told me it was a fungal infection, so I was prescribed a topical steroid cream and an antifungal cream.
I used this cream for 3 months but noticed that the issue had gotten worse and was beginning to negatively impact my day-to-day life.
I was advised to see a dermatologist for further evaluation. I went to a dermatologist, but this was during the COVID-19 pandemic, so there was minimal physical contact.
The dermatologist looked at the affected areas and determined that it was a fungal infection, but that the previously prescribed creams were only feeding the infection.
She prescribed a different cream and an oral medication, which I took for 1 month, as prescribed. My symptoms began to get progressively worse, spreading rapidly on my skin.
I became really discouraged and felt as though no one knew what was really happening. I’d taken so much prescribed medication already. I decided that something else needed to be done for me to get an answer and relief.
Back at the dermatologist’s office, I insisted that the doctor do a scalp biopsy to really get to the bottom of what was going on. A week later, I returned to get the sutures removed from my scalp.
My condition was at its worst, and I was in constant pain and discomfort. I felt self-conscious about being in public and allowing myself to be seen by anyone other than family.
The dermatologist entered the room and explained to me that I had psoriasis. She said she never would’ve guessed that psoriasis was the cause of all the painful symptoms I was experiencing.
I felt shocked and confused. I had no clear understanding of what psoriasis was, nor how I could be the only Black person I knew who had this condition.
She instructed me to stop all medications that she had prescribed when she’d believed it was a fungal infection. Instead, she called in medications that were specific to treating psoriasis symptoms.
Once I began the new medications, along with some natural remedies, I finally began to feel some relief.
It took 9 months of suffering and being misdiagnosed twice before I got an accurate diagnosis.
The more I research the issue of Black people living with psoriasis, the more I’m learning about how often we’re misdiagnosed. It’s not only psoriasis — this pattern happens with many skin conditions, including those
From what I’ve learned so far, psoriasis symptoms are typically evaluated based on data used to diagnose conditions on white skin. As a result, people of color aren’t properly treated and often face prolonged suffering without a confirmed diagnosis.
Our healthcare system needs decolorization. By this I mean that our healthcare system must view and accept all skin colors as equally worthy of understanding, research, diagnosis, and treatment.
This must happen if healthcare researchers and doctors are interested in truly helping Black people understand our skin conditions and ailments. It must happen in order for us to live fuller and healthier lives.
As I began to search the internet for psoriasis images and articles, I was immediately disheartened. I found countless images of people who looked nothing like me. Their psoriasis looked nothing like mine.
I spent days searching online for Black stories and images, in hopes of finding anyone who may have been enduring the same struggles I was going through.
I finally found an article written a few years back by a Black woman who runs a psoriasis support group. I read her story and was nearly brought to tears by her decades of suffering because doctors had no idea how to properly treat her Black skin.
I also felt discouraged, as though I’d have to endure more suffering along my psoriasis journey because there’s still little advancement for treating psoriasis on Black skin.
It wasn’t until I found a young Black woman on social media, who’d been living with psoriasis for over two decades, that I began to become hopeful. Her story and images gave me hope.
I connected with both women online. As a result, I have felt more empowered to share my story.
The voices of Black women and other women of color are virtually nonexistent within the psoriasis community. I’m determined to be that voice and show women of color that a full life with psoriasis is possible.
I’ve had encouraging results with a combination of prescribed oral medications and natural creams, along with incorporating more natural juices and teas into my diet.
I focus heavily on consuming anti-inflammatory foods. I live in a place where I can easily access natural medicines to help soothe and decrease flare-ups.
I understand that certain medication regimens may become less effective over time as my body adjusts to them, so I closely monitor my condition. I note how my body is responding or not responding to treatment and discuss any changes with my dermatologist.
It’s my goal to get to a place where I can rely less on prescribed medications. As much as possible, I want my diet to help fight the flare-ups for me.
Psoriasis affects everyone differently. And while there’s no cure for this autoimmune disease, there are ways to keep the flare-ups at bay.
I’ve learned that there are people suffering in silence and shame because of the effect that this condition has on the body.
I’m still learning what it means to exist as a Black woman with a condition that’s difficult to navigate and understand due to the lack of information available for Black people and people of color.
I’m learning that this condition not only affects the skin but also one’s self-esteem and ability to be seen beyond their skin.
For resources about psoriasis and other skin conditions in people of color, check out the Skin of Color Society.
If you’re reading this article, it’s my hope that you’ve been able to see yourself in my words and know that your diagnosis is not what defines you or your life. You’re not alone in this journey.
Deidra McClover is a recently diagnosed psoriasis warrior and advocate. Her mission is not only to educate herself about living with psoriasis, but also to educate other people. Whether they’ve been newly diagnosed or have been living with this autoimmune disease, her goal is to prevent people from feeling alone in their journey. She hopes to help amplify the voices and presence of those who have not been seen or heard in the healthcare world. You can find her at @deidrasworld on Instagram.