The physiology of the African Hair and Skin was not fully investigated until the last two decades when dedicated laboratories aimed to identify its specificities. L'Oréal Research & Innovation committed early to this goal, and has been pioneering research in this domain for the development of adapted cosmetics based on biology research and physical measurements. L'Oréal also ensured that this new bunch of scientific knowledge is continually shared, most especially amongst dermatologists and scientists of the African Continent.

Since 2004, L'Oréal Research & Innovation has been organizing workshop sessions in Africa bringing together different dermatologists of sub-Saharan African countries, Anglophone and Francophone. The dermatologists and scientists are given the unique opportunity of sharing their latest scientific and clinical discoveries on African Hair and Skin with their colleagues.

This supplement of the International Journal of Dermatology is intended to reflect the main lectures given during the third L’Oréal African Hair and Skin Workshop. This Workshop took place in Accra, Ghana from December 1st to 4th 2010 and was presided by Professor Margaret Lartey, Chief of the Dermatology Department of Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra. More than 80 participants from several African countries were present: Benin, Burkina Faso, Congo, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Rwanda, South Africa, Senegal, Tanzania, Togo and Zimbabwe. Dermatologists and scientists specialized in People of Colour Hair and Skin research from USA and Europe were also present. The programme was designed to allow all attendees present their basic science findings, clinical research or even peculiar significant clinical cases they experienced.

The two-day scientific lecture programme commenced with a presentation from Dr Wendy Roberts. She presented the Roberts Skin Type classification: a classification that allows a grading of skin of colour taking into account postinflammatory hyper-pigmentation.

Basic science communications on the relationship between skin colour and skin response to ultraviolet light and how it can be used to identify wide variations of darker skin colours were also showcased. This research by Sandra Del Bino-Nokin and Françoise Bernerd is fully described in this supplement.

The audience was captivated by the new insights in papillary dermis biology discovered by Daniel Asselineau. Using the in vitro skin models with fibroblasts from several ethnic origins donors, it was demonstrated that papillary dermis fibroblasts play a crucial role in the differences between African and Caucasian skin types.

Harold Bryant showed results of a survey where the perception of hair breakage by the women is related to well-documented grooming practices. This is in relation to specific hair breakage profiles of curly and frizzy hair.

Professor Ajose from Nigeria also showed a remarkable study on how chronic illnesses can induce regression of hair structure from that of an adult to that of a neonate thus, rendering a silky appearance to the African hair. These clinical observations are of utmost importance for basic science works on the biological grounds of silky and frizzy hair.

Dr Dlova from South Africa described Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia in two families, raising the hypothesis of endogenous cause for C.C.C.A. In the communication by Dr Khumalo, the possible transmission of HIV by haircuts bleeding in Folliculitis Keloidalis Nuchea patients and the need for individual hair clippers in certain communities were well emphasized. In the presentations by Drs Poli and Kombate, specificities of acne on darker skin populations were presented with rich iconographic examples. They stressed that skin bleaching agents may play a role in these patient populations and that the differential diagnosis may sometimes be tricky.

The following lectures were devoted to epidemiologic studies: Study of fixed drug eruption in Pointe-Noire, Congo, by Dr Ognongo Ibiaho and Major dermatological malignancies encountered in The University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, Nigeria, by Dr Asuquo who emphasized the high prevalence of squamous cell carcinomas on black skin. The study of Dr Keita in Mali stressed the high prevalence and difficulty to treat of dermatosis of folds in hot and humid climates and the specific localizations for eczema and mycosis.

Searching for skin clinical features in prostate carcinomas patients, Dr George from Nigeria, conducted a controlled study showing that this clinical sign is not specific of benign prostatic hypertrophy. The works of Professor Faye from Mali and Professor Atadokpede from Benin revealed the difficulties of pruritus diagnosis in Africa due to poor semantic descriptions by patients. They also underline the major interest in xerosis diagnosis for early detection of HIV infection.

Dr Traore from Burkina Faso also showed that achromia can be induced by temporary henna tattoos in darker skin population.

As in previous workshops, we could not avoid the mainstay public health concerns of skin bleaching. Dr Dlova presented a pharmacological finding in South Africa. Top selling lightening creams were found to contain banned or illegal compounds like mercury, corticosteroids or hydroquinone.

The motivations for bleaching have also been previously investigated by Dr Ly from Senegal. In a more recent study, she tried to identify the main motivations for refusal of skin bleaching. The ambivalent speech of maintenance of natural skin along with the attraction of fairer skin and the related social pressure were also thoroughly investigated.

The final discussions of this workshop emphasized the need for adequate prevention measures in darker skin population and the need for constant training and education to avoid use of illegal and toxic banned substances.

Conflicts of interest

Michèle Verschoore is a full-time employee at L'Oréal.