How Chicago Dermatologist Dr. Caroline Robinson Crusades For Women of Color

Caroline Robinson, MD, is really excited for next spring in Chicago. Sure, the temperatures might be (slightly) warmer than, say, December, but the 34-year-old dermatologist isn’t thinking about the weather. She’s focused on her new practice, Tone Dermatology℠, which she’ll be opening in the South Loop in the new year. 

“It was very important for me to do that, so patients from the South and West side can have access to dermatologic care,” says the native Chicagoan. She earned her undergraduate degree at Cornell University® before attending the University of Louisville® School of Medicine. 

Between graduation and residency, she married her husband LaRue, with whom she just celebrated 10 years of marriage and renewed her vows. Dr. Robinson went on to complete her residency at Southern Illinois University®, where she was Chief Resident in her final year. Her family has certainly benefited from her dermatological expertise, as her skincare advice has rubbed off on her husband and their two daughters, Corinne, 7, and Elle, 4 — especially when it comes to regimens and sunscreen. 

Dr. Robinson doesn’t just teach her family about the importance of caring for their skin. She is a proud member of The Skin of Color Society℠. Its purpose is to promote awareness of and excellence in the area of skin of color within the field of dermatology. This isn’t just a cause she idly supports — she frequently speaks on panels, uses her Instagram account to help champion diversity, and inspires others to pursue a career in medicine. “When I was in medical school, and I was exposed to dermatology, I realized that I could actually help people of color as a dermatologist,” she explains, “The light bulb was turned on.”  Here, she talks about being an advocate in her community, what she’s learned about beauty (thanks to her children), and the questions she’s most frequently asked.

Dr. Caroline Robinson

PHOTO BY PRISCILLA DE CASTRO

Spotlyte: How do you advocate for diversity, specifically in dermatology and beauty?

Dr. Caroline Robinson: As our world becomes more technologically-driven, advocacy rules have shifted. We’re more able to advocate on a digital level, even with civic technology. I view my role as an advocate on social media, and even in Internet articles and skincare articles. I bring up the fact that diversity is needed in dermatology, and we need more diverse images of women in beauty. I educate others about common skin conditions that relate to that — bringing awareness to those conditions.

Spotlyte: What are the biggest skin concerns and conditions for people of color?

CR: Some of the biggest concerns relate to hyperpigmentation. After redness and inflammation leaves, there’s often a little shadow over where that rash was, or where that pimple was. A dark spot, or a dark shadow, can almost be more concerning to the patient than the initial spot.

Spotlyte: Do treatments for skin concerns vary, depending on skin color? 

CR: There are definitely a lot of treatments that are the same, but there may need to be conversations or education around it. Take, for example, a medicated shampoo for dandruff, for seborrheic dermatitis. When we’re prescribing it for someone with more ethnic hair, we have to recognize that they’re styling and washing their hair at a different frequency than someone with straighter hair. The prescription itself might not be different, but education about how to use it might be.

Dr. Caroline Robinson

PHOTO BY PRISCILLA DE CASTRO

Spotlyte: You often speak on panels about your expertise. What is an example of a topic you discuss?  

CR: I went to a social justice organization and its whole role is to bring awareness to differences in skin, and differences in hair, and they do it through photography. We had a round table where we were all sharing our stories, and there was a lot of misinformation about the role of the dermatologist in hair loss. I spoke about something as simple as, “Does a dermatologist treat hair loss, or what types of treatments do they have?”

Spotlyte: How does being visible in the community help educate audiences about dermatology?

CR: A lot of people don’t completely understand the scope of it. One of the other participants who was at a round table said to me afterwards, “This was really amazing, because I never see dermatologists in the community.” I thought that was sad and telling. People aren’t just going to come to the office and see you. They might not even think to do that, especially patients of color. We’re still trying to understand the barriers to access surrounding that; why they don’t see dermatologists at the same rate as other groups. Part of changing that narrative is to just be available, and visible, and talk to people in the community. 

Spotlyte: What advice do you give at every appearance?

CR: “You should be wearing sunscreen.” I say that at every single panel. I recommend Elta MD®, either the UV ClearTM or the UV ElementsTM, and sometimes both to the same person — because your skin changes with the seasons. One is more matte and one is hydrating. I recommend that because it’s very hard to find some screens that are blendable, physical sunscreens, and don’t leave a cast.

Spotlyte: When you’re approached by people in public, what are the most frequently asked skin questions? 

CR: It is different outside of the office. Topics include general education, acne, and sunscreen. We’re talking about why hyperpigmentation is happening, and how to prevent it.

Dr. Caroline Robinson

PHOTO BY PRISCILLA DE CASTRO

Spotlyte: What are the most common questions you’re asked in the office?

CR: I started my career at Northwestern University℠, and developed a subspecialty interest in scarring alopecia. A lot of my patients are there specifically for hair loss. For many of them, I’m probably the second, or third, or fourth dermatologist they’ve seen. The conversation is different. It’s a little more in depth of a conversation than general skin- or haircare.

Spotlyte: Did you always want to be a dermatologist, or was that a passion that came later in life?

CR: It definitely came later, and I think that it does for a lot of underrepresented minorities in medicine. A lot of the subspecialties aren’t at the forefront of our minds. There are a lot of factors, including that our community is telling us, “We need primary care, gynecologists, and pediatricians.” I knew I wanted to be a doctor, but I thought I would probably be one of those three. 

Spotlyte: Are you constantly testing new skincare items, or do you stick with what’s tried and true? 

CR: I’m always trying different products, because I want to be able to accurately recommend them to a patient. Like, “Oh, this is how that cleanser feels,” or, “This is how that lotion feels.” It’s always changing, but I use some staples, too.

Dr. Caroline Robinson

PHOTO BY PRISCILLA DE CASTRO

Spotlyte: What is your morning skincare routine? 

CR: I like to use a gentler face wash — I like the Elta MD gentle foaming face wash. I usually start out the morning with that, and then I do a couple of serums. I’ll do the PCA [Skin®] b3 Brightening Serum, which is really light, and it’s for pigment fractions. Then, I’ll do the Revision Skincare® C+ Correcting Complex, which is a very, very potent vitamin C, but it’s a lotion, so it’s heavier. I put it on after my lighter serum, and then I’ll put on sunscreen, which is typically Elta MD. I also will say that I use Revision Skincare D-E-J Eye CreamTM. I love that. And, I use Revision Skincare Nectifirm® neck cream.

Spotlyte: And, what kind of makeup brands do you love? What are you wearing?

CR: I love Lancome® Teint Idole Ultra Wear® Foundation. They have a wide range of colors, and it doesn’t flashback when you’re taking pictures, so that’s why I use it. 

Spotlyte: What is your evening skincare routine?

CR: In brief: Gentle cleanse, again. A retinoid, [prescription] tazarotene 0.1% gel, Revision D-E-J Eye Cream, and Epionce® Intensive Nourishing Night Cream. 

EDITOR’S NOTE

Retinol shouldn’t be used by women who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or nursing. Please consult with your doctor before use.

Dr. Caroline Robinson

PHOTO BY PRISCILLA DE CASTRO

Spotlyte: Do you get injectable wrinkle reducers?

CR: I do. I have two kids. I think that once you have kids, you have to have a stern face sometimes. That’s when I started to see the wrinkles set in. I started when I was 28, in the glabella area.

Spotlyte: Do you get filler?

CR: I have filler in [my] cheeks.

Spotlyte: What do you teach your daughters about dermatology in their day-to-day lives?

CR: I don’t know if it’s as much teaching as absorbing. I taught them about sun protection and they’re always like, “Wait, where’s my sunscreen?” They’re very conscious of if their skin feels dry, and they always ask about moisturizers if that’s the case. Like any kids, they model after their parents, so my youngest is always asking for something to be put on her lips. She was like, “I need lip gloss,” but she’s really talking about Vaseline®, the jelly. 

Spotlyte: Have your children taught you anything about beauty?

CR: I stopped wearing as much makeup after I became a mother. Now I’m like, “Okay, I need to make sure that they understand that they don’t have to do all of these things to be beautiful.

Spotlyte: Speaking of family: You recently renewed your vows. Was there any difference in preparing for your wedding versus now? Was there less prep going on?

CR: There was definitely more prep — I think because I know more. I got married a week before I started medical school, so I didn’t really know anything about skin. I was wearing sunscreen and that’s about it. I did the whole makeup plan and everything for the wedding, but for the anniversary, it was, “We’re two months out. Let’s start the chemical peels. Let’s make sure we’re really photo protecting.”

Spotlyte: How has your husband’s skincare routine been influenced by your job? 

CR: He’s probably been the most impacted by my career. His friends will comment to him, “Oh my God, every time I see you, you look younger,” and his running response is, “Well, my wife is a dermatologist.” He’s definitely really good about his sunscreen. I’m not sure that he completely understands all of what he’s using, because I kind of just sit it by his side of the sink and he’ll just use it. I know that he, somehow, in whatever order, uses whatever is there.

EDITOR’S NOTE

Injectable wrinkle reducers are used to temporarily smooth the look of moderate to severe wrinkles in certain areas of the face such as the forehead, frown lines, and crow’s feet. They should not be used more frequently than every three months. Like any medical treatment, they have potential risks and side effects. Be sure to talk to a licensed provider to see if they’re right for you. 

EDITOR’S NOTE

Injectable filler is a temporary treatment that adds volume to areas of the face such as the lips, cheeks, and laugh lines. Like any medical treatment, it has potential risks and side effects. Be sure to talk to a licensed provider to see if they’re right for you. 

Dr. Caroline Robinson

PHOTO BY PRISCILLA DE CASTRO

Spotlyte: Beyond work and family, how do you enjoy spending your time? 

CR: My husband and I are members of Orangetheory® Fitness. We try to stay active. A couple of times a year, we’ll do 5Ks for charitable causes. My husband is really involved in the community as well. He’s on several boards, and very involved in educating youth, and giving back, and so, we stay busy supporting those causes.

Spotlyte: What excites you most about being a dermatologist?

CR: I believe in learning from experiences, and I think that’s the most exciting thing. If I could do it again, I would definitely choose dermatology and probably do the exact same path to get to the point that I am now.