Background Recent studies have shown ethnic differences concerning cardio-vascular disease, diabetes and mental health. Little is known about ethnic differences in skin morbidity. The purpose of this study was to describe possible ethnic differences in self-reported skin morbidity in a Western urban community. Methods The design was cross sectional. 40 888 adults in Oslo, Norway, received a postal questionnaire providing information on socio-demographic factors and self-reported health, including items on skin complaints. Results 18770 individuals answered the questionnaire. In the sample 84% were from Norway. The largest immigrant group was from Western countries (5%) and the Indian Subcontinent (3%). Itch was the most prevalent reported skin symptom (7%), and was significantly more reported by men from East Asia (18%) and Middle East/North Africa (13%). The same observations were seen for reported dry and sore skin. Hair loss was a dominating complaint for men from the Indian Subcontinent and the Middle East/North Africa (23% and 25%) and for women from the same ethnic groups. Women from Sub-Saharan Africa reported significantly more pimples than in the other groups (17%). Conclusion The study showed that there were significant differences in self-reported skin complaints among ethnic groups. Issues concerning the cultural value of some skin symptoms should be examined further.