Today I want to share with you all a very personal story now that we're just past the summer's smoldering heat. This time every year, I notice a lot of bronzed bodies, rosy cheeks and peeling shoulder-tops and it reminds me of a time not-so-long-ago when my skin was a complete wreck and I hid out under a veil of makeup. Although I'm wearing makeup, you can still see the brown and red blotchiness in the photo above from back in 2008.
Let's first talk science. In this day and age it's common knowledge that any sort of tanning of the skin is damaging, right? Wait, you didn't know that? Tanning, via sun or tanning-bed exposure is harmful and leads to premature aging, ugly skin barnacles (aka seborrheic keratosis, liver spots), melasma and other pigment changes and the most feared; skin cancer. This exposure also suppresses the body's immune system and impairs it's ability to fight off cancers and other illnesses. The sun's harmful UV rays penetrate our body's largest organ and cause changes at the cellular level damaging our elastin, a substance that plays the role of keeping our skin nice and tight. Have you ever found an old rubber band that elongated or even crumbled when you stretched it? That's what happens to your elastin when you expose it to UV light.
Did I mention heat? Simple science shows us that if you take a balloon filled with room temperature air into a cold room it will shrivel up. Apply it to a heated room and it will expand. I won't get into the nitty gritty details here, but a similar concept occurs with our blood vessels and their ability to contract and expand when exposed to hot and cold temperatures. Constant heat and cold exposure via say tanning beds, sun, saunas, skiing causes a tug and pull effect on your capillaries. Over time this exposure wreaks havoc on their ability to remain a normal size and they become more apparent on the skin's surface as broken capillaries and even rosacea, another symptom of my skin condition.
UV exposure also causes "oxidative stress" a process that paves the way for free radicals or oxidizers to scavenge about your cells stealing their valuable information and inhibiting their ability to function properly. A free radical is a molecule that is missing an electron in it's outer-most electron rim causing it to have an affinity or hunger for that of another. Once this free radical steals an electron from another molecule it often becomes dysfunctional within the cell and turns on a domino effect leading to even more free radicals. Do you see where I'm going with this? While our research on the subject is always being updated, this is the general consensus. I'll let you google more on free radicals and UV damage if you don't catch my drift.
Now back to my story. In my late teens, I remember being a tanning bed frequenter. Yes, this skin type II ,freckled, easy-to-burn skin care specialist has some skeletons in her closet. I had one of those monthly memberships to a place that still exists somewhere in the middle of my hometown Cleveland, Ohio. All my friends were doing it! It was all the rave to be tan and I was in my carefree teens, who worries about aging, sun damage and skin cancer then? To this day, I see some of my old hometown friends post to their facebook pages about their day, "Tanning, pedicure, shopping! It was a good day," followed up by several other facebook user's thumbs up. Maybe it's not so common knowledge after all and I need to do my good diligence to society. Fess up and educate!
Somewhere around the age of 21 I began noticing some major changes in my skin's texture, tone and color. I became quite the makeup artist and discovered many tricks to cover it up. In earlier years I never wore makeup, in fact my two high-school best friends use to poke fun at me for it. I remember my boyfriend's mom asking me once, "why do you bother to wear it?" I likely rattled off something along the lines of, "because it's fun," too embarrassed to admit the true reasons. I never liked the feeling of it, but with these pigment changes and unrelenting blemishes I would apply layer after layer to mask my insecurities.
While in PA school I became very aware of what my skin issue was during a lecture on dermatology and the structure and function of the skin. Images of women just like me flashed across the projector screen with the same brown and red blotchy skin that I worked so hard to mask. As many medical school students often do, I self-diagnosed with melasma and rosacea and paid close attention to the lecture that day. It'll take you a few google clicks to realize that these conditions are very frustrating, multi-factorial and not 100% understood. I was a birth control user, tanning bed frequenter, lived in South Florida, and a woman. I became very interested in proper skin care and when it came time to do clinical rotations, dermatology was at the top of the list.
It was during my clinicals that I found out that medical providers have varying opinions and data on the best treatment protocol to treat these conditions. Although as discouraging as I found this to be, this girl wasn't ready to give up on her skin. I began to change the way I treated my skin by adopting a protection above all else rule. I never leave the house without mineral sunblock of at least factor 50. I may not have that sun-kissed glow, but at least I can rest assured knowing that no free radicals are going to steal my electrons! Hop on board the "Pale is the new Pretty," train and lather up, cover up and be proud of your natural skin. Stay tuned to see more specifically how I managed to reverse my melasma and have given my skin a new lease on life with my blog entitled; "Correction, Prevention & Maintenance, Simple Rules to Live By."