Dr. Pearl Grimes Is Changing Dermatology, One Vitiligo Patient at a Time

Mother Science

There are so many aspects of health that disproportionately affect the Black community, and yet less than six percent of US doctors are Black – a deficit that only further harms public health. Many of the Black folks who work in healthcare have dedicated their careers to combat inequities. That’s why, this Black History Month, PS is crowning our Black Health Heroes: physicians, sexologists, doulas, and more who are advocating for the Black community in their respective fields. Meet them all here.

Pearl E. Grimes, MD, FAAD, wears many hats. She serves as the director of the Grimes Center For Medical and Aesthetic Dermatology, the director of the Vitiligo and Pigmentation Institute of Southern California, and the president of the Global Vitiligo Foundation – just to name a few.

Since deciding to enter the dermatology field, Dr. Grimes’s focus has always been on vitiligo and pigmentation disorders, and she’s become well-known globally as an expert on both. Vitiligo, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a disease that affects melanin in the skin, which results in certain patches of the skin losing color and turning white. Pigmentation disorders, on the other hand, can span everything from hyperpigmentation to melasma.

Dr. Grimes recently teamed up with Mother Science, a skin-care brand credited with discovering the benefits of a novel ingredient, malassezin, which helps fade dark spots. In her free time, she enjoys fashion, cooking, and makeup, and she also founded and runs a nonprofit, CARRY (Coalition For At-Risk-Restoring Youth), which focuses on helping at-risk and foster-care youth.

We spoke with Dr. Grimes about her work, how she manages a busy schedule, and a health hero of her own.

POPSUGAR: As someone who has their hands in a lot of jars, so to speak, can you describe what a typical day looks like for you?
Pearl Grimes: A typical day in the life of Pearl Grimes involves arriving at the practice, trying to get emails done, returning as many phone calls as I can, and then I start seeing patients. I have patients in the morning and the afternoon, including clinical-trial patients. I may have meetings scheduled during lunch. It’s not uncommon for me to have multiple conference calls, given the leadership roles that I am in and the leadership hats that I wear nationally. For instance, I have a conference call every evening this week, and I am also preparing for a lecture next week. If I break it up, I would break it up into the regular clinical practice, research, and my national responsibilities, along with my other pet projects.

“[O]ur leadership now recognizes the importance of all dermatologists having expertise in treating skin of color.”

PS: Can you give us some insight into the other pet projects you’re working on?
PG: I have a nonprofit of my own, it’s called CARRY; I’ve done it since 2006. The mission is to make a difference in the lives of foster and at-risk kids through programs that build self-esteem, self-worth, and long-term success. I also do pro bono dermatology for those kids. I’m also the president of the Global Vitiligo Foundation this year, so I am spending an enormous amount of time on the various aspects of vitiligo and pigmentation disorders because we’re on a mission to elevate the organization to a whole new level.

PS: How does dermatology, specifically these projects, intersect with and impact the Black community?
PG: Dermatology impacts the Black community at multiple levels. There is a push now for dermatology to be much more inclusive: inclusive in our publications, inclusive in terms of clinical images, because diseases may present one way in lighter skin and they have a slightly different presentation in darker skin types. There’s a major DEI push in dermatology at multiple levels, from training physicians of color to diagnosis and treatment of diseases in Black individuals.

Pigmentary disorders are very common in African Americans. Given the fact that we have more melanin, when the skin is injured, very often, some pigmentary disorders may be more common. I think you have to have a comfort zone in addressing this in darker skin types, and that’s one of my areas of expertise. Our specialty, our leadership now recognizes the importance of all dermatologists having expertise in treating skin of color. I’ve also worked with the American Academy of Dermatology in this area. Much work is being done, and there’s much work to be done in the future.

“That’s what it’s all about. That’s why I do what I do every day.”

PS: With so many things going on at all times, how are you able to balance your personal life with your numerous professional commitments?
PG: I’ll own being a workaholic, but I think that work-life balance is important. The balance for you, the balance for other people, it’s all going to differ because we work in different spaces. What works for one person may be different for someone else. I take time for my personal life. I have hobbies, I love fashion. I figured out the little things that I have to do for me, beyond work, to have a balance. It allows me to continue to be productive in the work realm.

PS: Can you share a specific memory related to your work that has stuck with you over the years?
PG: I have many, but I’m going to share one – a vitiligo memory. I had a little girl who had vitiligo and her father would bring her in, and for almost two years, she would not talk to me. I always wondered what I was doing wrong, because I’m pretty good at connecting with people. Eventually, she got better, she improved, and she wouldn’t let me hug her. None of that. Then, one day, she comes into the office and just runs straight to me and throws her arms around my legs. She gives me the biggest hug. I will never, ever forget that day because it was like the lightbulb went on and she realized she was getting better and the fear dissipated. From that day on, whenever she saw me, she ran straight to me. That’s what it’s all about. That’s why I do what I do every day.

PS: It sounds like you may have been her health hero. Do you have a personal health hero?
PG: My health hero was the gentleman who trained me, the late Dr. John Kenney. He was a mentor, he was a father figure, and I would not be here today having this conversation with you had it not been for the impact of this gentleman in my life. He opened the doors, he gave me guidance and support, and I got that same thing from amazing parents who were educators, but certainly from the dermatologic perspective, it was Dr. John Kenney. He is recognized today in dermatology for his pioneering work.

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