Episode 165: Dr. Susan Taylor, Founder of Skin of Color Society

Dr. Susan Taylor, Skin of Color Society Founder, always wanted to grow up and be a doctor, but she didn’t know she’d become a dermatologist. She created @skinofcolorsociety when she realized that many dermatologists were not well-versed in treating darker skin tones, and even afraid to perform procedures on brown or black skin.

Tune in to this week’s episode to hear about how Dr. Susan Taylor started SOCS, and the ways they help promote awareness, research and education on treating skin of color, and provide mentorship and networking opportunities to aspiring dermatologists.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty®, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHey everybody, it's Jodi Katz, your host of Where Brains Meet Beauty® podcast. This week's episode features Dr. Susan Taylor. She's the founder of Skin of Color Society, she's also a dermatologist. And, if you missed last week's episode, it featured Sonya Dakar, she's the founder of Sonya Dakar. Thanks for listening.

Hey everybody, welcome back to the show. I am so happy to be here with Dr. Susan Taylor. She is the founder of Skin of Color Society, she's a dermatologist. Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty®.
Dr. Susan TaylorThank you.
Jodi KatzIt's so great to have you here. I want to make sure that I'm shortening Skin of Color Society correctly. My team, we've been calling it SOCS. Is that the right way to say it?
Dr. Susan TaylorThat's what people say. It's not my favorite, but yes.
Jodi KatzWhat do you call it for short?
Dr. Susan TaylorEverybody calls it SOCS, so you're absolutely right.
Jodi KatzAll right, great.

Well, I'm so excited to learn about you, and share your wisdom with our fans. But, let's go back in time before we learn more about what you've been doing lately. I love this question because we're a career and journey focused show. When you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Dr. Susan TaylorSo I was the kid who wanted to grow up and be a doctor. Now, back then I'm not sure I understand what that really meant and all the work that entailed, but I knew I wanted to help people. So that's what I said, and that's what I ultimately did.
Jodi KatzSo when you were in middle school and high school, you were completed devoted to this path of becoming a physician?
Dr. Susan TaylorI was, I was. My mother was a single parent, and she bought me a microscope, there was some after school and weekend programs that she signed me up, to really support my interest in science. Yeah, middle school, high school, that was my path.
Jodi KatzThat's so cool, because I had some friends in middle school ... One of them, she's like, "I want to be a brain surgeon," and today, she's a brain surgeon. It's so unusual, really, that people are feeling compelled and committed to a career that early on in their lives. So when you see that actually happen, it's pretty cool.
Dr. Susan TaylorYeah. You know, everyone recognizes their passion at various times and various stages in their lives. I just realized that's what I wanted to do, and I'm just thrilled that I've been able to be afforded the opportunities to become a physician.
Jodi KatzWas dermatology on your radar back then?
Dr. Susan TaylorIt was not. Throughout high school and college, and even medical school, my goal was to become an internist, and treat individuals in the inner city. I'm from Philadelphia, so the inner city of Philadelphia, where hypertension, and diabetes, and heart disease are rampant, so that's what I wanted to do. Dermatology was not on my horizon, until I was a fourth year medical student. That's when I did my first dermatology rotation in medical school, and I just was enthralled by all that it offered.
Jodi KatzWhat's one of your earliest memories from that dermatology rotation?
Dr. Susan TaylorWell, it was so incredibly exciting to actually see the disease, to see the pathology, to touch it. As opposed to listening through the stethoscope whether it was the heart or the lungs, this was just so visual. That's what struck me, originally.
Jodi KatzWhat was the process like to become a dermatologist, once you fell in love with that specialty? Do you just sign up? I didn't go to medical school, I don't know how this works.
Dr. Susan TaylorI wish it were as easy as, "Sign me up."

When I was first exposed to it, I was pretty far down the path of applying for an internal medicine residency. I decided that I went to medical school, as I said, to treat the under served, treat their medical problems, so I actually decided I was going to remain on that path and I matched into internal medicine. I ultimately did three years of internal medicine residency, and I'm board certified in that specialty.

But, along the way of internal medicine I realized I wasn't going to be happy practicing medicine for the next 30 years, or however long, and that what really excited me was dermatology. So I applied to a dermatology residency, and when I applied, as is the case now, it's incredibly competitive. I was very fortunate in that I matched at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, and that's where I did my dermatology residency. That's three years of training, in addition to the three years of internal medicine training that I had. You know, it was extra time but so well worth it, and I get to do what I'm most passionate about.
Jodi KatzWhy is dermatology so competitive to get into?
Dr. Susan TaylorWell, there are very few residency spots for the number of medical students who are interested in the field, so I think it's more of an issue of supply and demand, unfortunately, because there should be ample room for all young people who want to go into this wonderful specialty.
Jodi KatzYou mentioned to me that you started the Skin of Color Center in 1998, so this is a precursor to Skin of Color Society. What was the Skin of Color Center?
Dr. Susan TaylorSo the Skin of Color Center was a center in New York City that I founded, and then directed. It was designed to meet the needs of people with darker skin tones, people with skin of color.

For example, at that time, and to a degree even now, there were many dermatologists who were not well voiced in the conditions that occur in individuals with darker skin tones. It was much more difficult for them to diagnose common conditions because of the nuances in presentation in darker skin tones. There also was a lack of cultural competency, a lack of knowledge in terms of cultural norms. For example, haircare, the way women of African descent care for their is quite different from the way Caucasian women. So there was a need for the center that could provide excellence in the diagnosis and treatment of skin diseases in darker skin tones.

There was also the need for a center to perform research, and to perform cosmetic procedures that, often, other dermatologists were very, very afraid to do on darker skin tones. So we met a whole host of needs.
Jodi KatzHow did that work that you did at Skin of Color Center evolve into creating SOCS?
Dr. Susan TaylorWell, one day a group of my colleagues and I at the Skin of Color Center were talking, and it was evident that we needed more than just one Skin of Color Center. We needed to provide education across the country, and actually across the world, on diseases of skin of color. We needed other people to do research on conditions that occurred in individuals with skin of color. We needed to stimulate interest, and support young people whether they be college students or medical students, to mentor them, so that they would be prepared to go into dermatology.

So what kind of organization does that? Usually a society, one of the medical societies, one of the medical specialty societies. So I decided to create the Skin of Color Society. I sat, and I created a list of 14 colleagues across the country, some were of African descent, some were Latinx, some were Asian, some were white, but all of whom had expressed an interest in skin of color. So I sat down and I called everyone, I told them the vision, I asked them to serve on the board. And you know what's amazing? Everyone said yes, everyone said yes. And, everyone whose still around, I think, in some capacity, still is involved in the Skin of Color Society.
Jodi KatzYou mentioned that, while you were studying to be an internist, you wanted to help a community that was under served in that space. But it seems like you did that with dermatology as well, right?
Dr. Susan TaylorAbsolutely. You know, it took me a while to realize that I could absolutely serve t under served, and that is, indeed, what I have been fortunate and privileged enough to do over these last many years, I should say.

There's so much that needs to be done in terms of research, and understanding the disorders, reaching people with certain skin, hair, and nail disorders. You know, I still have patients who come in today, and they'll tell me their problem and I can offer hope, and tell them what to do. They're like, "Finally! I've found a dermatologist who understands." That's what all our patients want, it doesn't matter what their race or their ethnicity is, they want someone whose interested, and is going to help them. Or, at least try to help them.
Jodi KatzI attended a SOCS event, a virtual event, a few weeks ago. I don't honestly remember what the main topic of the event was, because the chat in the Zoom was so compelling to me. It was so many students, medical students or wanted to be medical students, asking for guidance on how to get into dermatology programs, how to get mentors, how to create relationships with working dermatologists. I was so taken with the chat that I really went down the rabbit hole in trying to understand the needs of these students. It really seems like there's a huge thirst for connection, and mentorship, and opportunity. And SOCS is really delivering on that, to be able to help connect people who need the support with people who want to give the support.
Dr. Susan TaylorThat's so important, and that is one of the fundamental missions of the Skin of Color Society, to provide mentorship opportunities. That means providing some funding so these young people can come and spend time with a mentor. That could be a medical student, it could be a resident, it could be a young attending, to physically be in the same space. Now, that's been a little bit postponed with COVID, but I'm sure we'll go back to that.

You know, you don't know what you don't know. That's where a mentor comes in. It's not only mentorship in regard to how to get into dermatology, it's not only mentorship in regards to how to advance in an academic setting. But it's also those intangibles, like lifestyle, family, all of those questions that young people have. Also, we help them plan out what kind of papers, or where their interests like. So mentorship is so critically important, and I am exceedingly proud that SOCS, which is an organization that went from 15 of us to now having 800 members, not only in the United States, but all across the globe. Our reach is quite far.
Jodi KatzI think there's such a cool opportunity here, not just for the medical students but for physicians who were trained and maybe didn't get a deep enough training on Skin of Color, to come to the organization and say, "Help me, because I want to grow and evolve as a physician." Are there opportunities for that as well?
Dr. Susan TaylorThere are. So the Skin of Color Society hosts a conference, a scientific conference, every year. It is scheduled to be right before the American Academy of Dermatology Annual Meeting, so that's usually in March, sometimes in February. We have a day long program of speakers, who discuss various topics related to skin of color, so direct education that way.

We also provide an opportunity, a forum, for young people, for residents, or medical students, or young attendees, to present their research work. There's a great deal of learning that occurs because of that. We even have a competition, and give an award to the person who has the best and most impactful presentation. So I would guide anyone whose looking for more education to that absolutely excellent program that occurs each year.
Jodi KatzThat's so great. Well, I hope we have one next year in person, as normal because it was canceled for 2020.
Dr. Susan TaylorThere was a virtual Skin of Color program this year. We've not stopped our mission of education.
Jodi KatzThat's great. Let's move the conversation beyond what you do as a dermatologist to what the brands and pharmaceutical companies need to do to support skin of color storytelling and education as well. On my side, we're on the marketing side, and I look at photos from clinical results, and most of the time it's always Caucasians. It appears like Caucasian skin. These are the tools I use as a marketer to communicate, and I'm not seeing diversity in the testing and the research.

I imagine that it's been slow to happen, where these products whether it's an injectable or a topical, where the thinking and the testing on multiple skin tones is starting from the beginning. Am I right in that assessment?
Dr. Susan TaylorYou're right. A couple of things. First, the foundation is, at the Skin of Color Society, we could not do what we do and meet our mission without the support of industry with their wonderful educational grants. We are very, very happy with our industry partners, because they're the ones who allow us, for example, to provide research grants to young researchers. They're the ones who allow us to put on an excellent program, educational program. Without our industry partners, our reach wouldn't be as far as it is.

Now, until recently, I would say the last five to 10 years, in many clinical trials, people with darker skin, people with skin of color, were not included for the most part. But, more recently, partly because the FDA often does require for approval of medications, as well as devices, which are what you think of as some of the cosmetics that we have available, that people with darker skin tones must be included, particularly those of African descent. What I think industry has realized is that there are, indeed, researchers who have large panels of individuals with skin of color, who are interested in various studies.

Now, the spotlight is being turned on the importance of being inclusive, much more broadly, whether it is for prescription medications, or whether it's for toxins or fillers, for examples.
Jodi KatzRight. Does the Skin of Color Society have a consultancy program to give guidance to brands on how to be thinking about all skin tones and types, in doing their product development?
Dr. Susan TaylorNot necessarily on a formal basis, but I think industry is very knowledgeable about those of us who are active in the Skin of Color Society, and invariably will turn to, for example, our president, our immediate past president, boards of directors. And even beyond that, if there's a call for a group, the administrators will help disseminate that information.

So I think industry knows that our members are there, we're more than happy, at any time, to provide any guidance or wisdom. So don't hesitate at all, we value those relationships.
Jodi KatzLet's talk about normal life. You run your practice, and you work on SOCS, I'm sure you do other things. What is life work balance like for a dermatologist today?
Dr. Susan TaylorI had a solo private practice for many years, in my hometown of Philadelphia. Then, five years ago I was asked to join the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Medicine, the Department of Dermatology, which I have done. I've been here for about five years.

My day does consist of seeing clinical patients. I specialize in hair disorders, as well as pigmentary disorders, and acne as well. I see those patients, on a weekly basis. I am very active in performing clinical research trials, so currently we're conducting a device trial as well as a trial for alopecia, a couple trials for alopecia, so that's another part of my day. Within my department of dermatology, I'm the vice chair for diversity, equity, and inclusion, so that is a very busy role, particularly now. And I am currently the vice president of the American Academy of Dermatology.

So life is very full, it's very busy. I am married, I have a husband and I have two daughters who are grown. They're college graduates, so I don't have little children at home. But, life is full, it's very rich, it's very busy. But, here's the thing. I feel that I can make a significant impact in ways that I wasn't able to, let's say when my children were young, and perhaps I wasn't quite as involved. You know, I'm very pleased. Some days are a little overwhelming compared to other days, but it's all very rewarding and very good.
Jodi KatzWhat are your goals for, let's say, the next five years of Skin of Color Society?
Dr. Susan TaylorOh, I want the Skin of Color Society to continue to grow, to continue to meet the needs of our members. For example, we just received quite a substantial grant for research, which means that instead of several small grants, we can give a large grant to a researcher. That can be absolutely transformative to the researcher, to the researcher's career, and to the field of skin of color. So having those kinds of grants can be transformative.

We're very concerned about some of the journals in dermatology, there are many papers, many scientific papers, we would like to see published. So, we're in the process of discussing, and doing due diligence to see if maybe we'll branch out to publish some type of periodical, for example, that can reach even more people, that can bring to the forefront even more research. So exploring opportunities like that, to improve the reach of the society, improve what we do to the society. We would like to give out more mentorship grants. Suppose we could give out 20, or 40 of those, just think how that could influence young people in becoming dermatologists.

So there's just so much more we can do, so that's what the next five years looks like.
Jodi KatzThat's a great segue to me not hiding behind this. Tell us how people can donate to SOCS, whether it's an individual, a brand, or an organization?
Dr. Susan TaylorYeah. A lot of people, individuals, don't realize the power of individual philanthropy. Writing a check to SOCS, to Skin of Color Society, and you can either designate it for general funds, or to go towards a scholarship, or whatever you would like.

I encourage industry, you've heard some of the initiatives that we would like to accomplish, and what we can do with financial backing is really infinite. The needs are just so huge. Wouldn't it be wonderful for young people who are applying to dermatology ... that's an expensive process. Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to offer them some types of grants, to defer those expenses? There's just so much that could be done.

Please, whether it's a company or an individual, your donations, your philanthropy, can really change the lives of so many people right here.
Jodi KatzI love that SOCS really brings together everybody in the industry. We met you through one of our clients, and I'm so glad that we now know this organization. I've already learned so much, I'm excited to learn more. My team and I are doing research with professionals on darker skin tones and how acne treatments, and lasers, and all these things that I know as a Caucasian person are safe for me. It's a different ballgame, depending upon your skin tone, so we're doing a lot of learning there so that we can be more informed.
Dr. Susan TaylorWell, thank you for highlighting Skin of Color Society. You know, you just mentioned lasers. Wouldn't it be amazing to be able to fund a researcher to help develop lasers that are more appropriate for darker skin tones? As I said, the needs are great.
Jodi KatzAll right, well thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and story with us on our show, Dr. Taylor. I'm so excited to know you.
Dr. Susan TaylorThank you.
Jodi KatzFor our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Dr. Taylor. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes. And for updates about the show, follow us on Instagram at @WhereBrainsMeetBeautyPodcast.
AnnouncerThanks for listening to Where Brains Meet Beauty® with Jodi Katz. Tune in again, for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

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