Attitudes towards facial disfigurements and skin conditions within the Somali community are being explored in a study to help more black and ethnic minority people access the healthcare they need.
Somalis often face health inequalities and facial differences could be a factor stopping them from seeking help, the University of West of England said.
Researchers in Bristol are now carrying out a five-year study into the topic.
Campaigner, Nura Aabe, said the study could help those who feel stigmatised.
Ms Aabe, the founder of Autism Independence and who has raised awareness of autism within her community, added: “There is nothing in between being normal and not normal in the Somali community.
“Difference means you don’t want the rest of your community to be aware of it, because of that you are left with hiding and being ashamed and therefore not coming forward to access services.
“The whole concept of understanding, from a community perspective, is something that health professionals need to take into account.”
The study aims to find at least 10 people from within the Somali community who are willing to talk confidentially about any facial differences they have, ranging from eczema to physical conditions such as a cleft lip and palate.
Researchers want to know how it affects their life and whether this may have prevented them seeking professional help.
Lead researcher Bruna Costa said: “We know very well how white Western groups deal with these physical differences, but we know much less how other groups cope.”
Ms Costa said some of the charities she has been working with are aware they are not reaching black and ethnic minority communities and want to address this issue.