Pruritus in Black Skin: Unique Molecular Characteristics and Clinical Features

Michael McColl, Emily Boozalis, Crystal Aguh, Amarachi C. Eseonu, Ginette A. Okoye, Shawn G. Kwatra

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Chronic pruritus dramatically disrupts quality of life, impairs sleep, and is difficult to treat. The pathogenesis and severity of chronic itch can vary significantly with race. Black skin has inherent structural and molecular characteristics that exacerbates pruritus, leading to unique presentations of pruritic conditions and added challenges in finding effective therapies. The aim of this review is to discuss structural variances in black skin, the subsequent epidemiological disparities in chronic pruritic conditions, and clinical management pearls for the management of itch in black patients. Methods: Current literature including mechanistic, translational, and epidemiological data on racial differences in pruritus focusing on black skin were reviewed in Pubmed. Findings: Black skin has several unique structural properties related to the pathogenesis of pruritus, including increased trans-epidermal water loss, decreased ceramide levels, lower pH in the stratum corneum, and increased size of mast cells. Black patients consequently are disproportionately affected by chronic pruritic disorders including atopic dermatitis, prurigo nodularis, HIV-related pruritic dermatoses, and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. Conclusion: Pruritus and chronic pruritus disorders disproportionately affects black patients. Management of pruritus of special importance in black patients includes low pH skin care products to protect the skin barrier along with emollients to diminish trans-epidermal water loss. Further mechanistic studies are needed to characterize racial differences in biomarkers and therapeutic targets of chronic itch.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)30-38
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the National Medical Association
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • AA
  • African
  • American
  • Black
  • Itch
  • Management
  • Pearls
  • Pruritus
  • Skin of color
  • Treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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