Summer is fast approaching, which means people will be baring more skin and soaking in more sun. This makes for a happier population, as UV rays trigger the release of endorphins – the brain's natural painkiller – producing a more euphoric mood among sun-bathers. But it could also mean trouble for people of color who struggle with maintaining that sexy, summer glow in the hotter months. Luckily Dr. Jeanine Downie – board certified dermatologist and director of Image Dermatology P.C. in Montclair, New Jersey – has some tips for women of color to help us look our best without sacrificing our good health.
The Skinny on Skin Cancer
Dr. Downie, who frequently appears on Good Morning America, The Today Show, The View and The Dr. Oz Show, makes it a priority to stress the importance of sunscreens and sunblocks to her patients. African Americans, Latino Americans and Asian Americans have a higher amount of deaths from skin cancer. “The pre-disposed notion that a lot of ethnic minorities have is that they couldn’t possibly have a skin cancer, when many times they do possibly have a skin cancer,” Dr. Downie says. “And then unfortunately with many doctors they think, ‘Oh, well this is an ethnic minority so they probably don’t have a skin cancer’…So it’s on the doctor’s side and it’s on the patients side.”
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US, as more than 3.5 million people are diagnosed with the disease each year. But Caucasians survive melanoma cancer at a better rate than African Americans do because they’re diagnosed and offered treatment more quickly. For this reason Dr. Downie says, “…with skin cancers in particular, everybody every day should wear an SPF 30 rain or shine, January through December, regardless of their ethnicity.”
People should also be examining their bodies for red flags. To do this, Dr. Downie likes to use a method called the ABCD’s of melanoma. A: an asymmetrical mold that can’t fold back on itself. B: the borders are jagged and irregular. C: the color is variegated – or contains different colors or even turns colors. D: the diameter of a mole is larger than the size of a pencil eraser.
In addition to skin cancers, Dr. Downie says people of color should also be on the look-out for melasma, which are irregular patches or pigmentation that you see mainly in skin of color patients. It can be triggered or made worse by taking hormones. Luckily the disease is treatable with a deep laser called the Fraxel as well as chemical peels.
The Doc’s Top Picks for Day and Night Care
Part of maintaining smooth, supple skin is having a daily regimen that both protects the skin and enhances its appearance. But like most things, not all skin care products are created equal.
A lot of people are resistant to wearing sunblocks because many are oily. To this Dr. Downie says: “…it doesn’t work in the bottle.” She suggests the SkinMedica line, which carries a product called Daily Physical Defense SPF 30 +. It contains chemical and physical blockers that melt right into dark skin, won’t clog your pores or break you out. It’s great for wearing on top of make up too.
She also recommends Vivite’s Daily Facial Moisturizer with Sunscreen SPF 30. It’s a light lotion, it also won’t clog your pores or break you out and it’s hypo-allergenic. Be sure to apply it right underneath your eyes too, since many people of color age with dark circles. A similar but cheaper product is Neutrogena’s Ultra Sheer sunscreen with SPF 55 or 85.
If you’re going to use a toner, which Dr. Downie does not recommend throughout most of the year, use glycolic acids, preferably from Vivite. This is great for people in humid regions because "they help with texture, tone, acne and fine lines.”
Her favorite morning anti-wrinkle cream is a product by RevaleSkin called Intense Recovery Treatment, which she says is one of the most powerful topical antioxidant products on the market to correct and prevent sun damage. Many people also like using Retinols in the morning. Whatever you choose, don’t forget to apply your sunscreen or sunblock over the moisturizer.
Dr. Downie is a fan of oil-free makeup. For ethnic skin tones, her top choices are Bobbi Brown and MAC makeup products. She warns patients to stay within their skin tone range to avoid break-outs. And be on the look-out for ColorScience, which is introducing a powder containing an SPF 30, which you’ll be able to brush over your face in the middle of the day—instead of sunblock.
For those of us who get greasy during the day, try Clean & Clear’s Oil Absorbing Sheets. No need to go out and purchase the super expensive brands. And as always, be sure to reapply sunblock afterwards.
At night it’s best to wash with an exfoliating cleanser, like Vivete’s cleanser with microbeads. Dr. Downie recommends leaving it on while you brush your teeth so it penetrates in a little further into the skin—unless it burns. And NO buff or loofa pads on the face. “I don’t believe in them…they both track bacteria…Wash clothes are fine, bare hands are fine, circular motions if you’re using bare hands is good…but…no loofa,” she said.
And be careful with putting salicylic acid right on top of pimples. Dr. Downie says this can leave dark spots. Her top three picks for acne treatments are Aczone, Fainacea gel and Veltin, which are great for adult acne and also help treat razor bumps in male patients.
Facial asks are good to use 2-3 times a week. A lot of people also like to use Bobbi Brown’s Kaolin Creamy Face Wash as a mask. Dr. Downie highly recommends MD Forte’s Hydra Masque. It can also be used on your chest or back if you have body acne.
And if you’re having trouble removing your mascara without pulling your eyelashes out, try Neutrogena’s Oil Free Eye Makeup Remover.
The Botox Bandwagon
Botox has been on the market for years but for some time, a stigma has existed in the African-American community that black women don’t need beauty-enhancing procedures. Although black patients are still cosmetic surgery’s smallest population according to statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, more women of color are warming up to the idea of procedures like Botox.
“Botox is like breathing: you just do it,” says Dr. Downie. “Clearly the underlying message is if you can afford it…if you’re not paying your rent you should not be doing Botox.”
In such image-driven society it’s easy to see why even black women, albeit slowly but surely, are jumping on the Botox train. “The bottom line is some people never stop caring about the way they look and there’s nothing really wrong with that. Some people are living very full lives. It does make you look considerably younger than your age matched peers that don’t do Botox.” Dr. Downie admits that Botox is even part of her beauty-enhancing regimen, which also includes exercising 7 days a week and eating healthy foods. In fact she’s been using it on herself and her patients for years and has seen no short or long term health risks associated with it. Dr. Downie says the Botox procedure should be done every 3-4 months.