The story of how I became an Aesthetician began when I was a little girl. I was fascinated by makeup and creams. I would watch, in awe, infomercials about various creams that would make wrinkles and imperfections disappear in front of my eyes; or makeup that would cover port wine stain by just one light application. Every year, I would ask Santa Claus to bring me REAL make up, not the Tinkerbell stuff my friends had. From a very young age, I knew the difference between "cheap" (Tinkerbell brand for girls) and the "expensive" (real makeup) stuff. I also knew I wanted to be a "beautician" - as it was called back then - and make people look beautiful and make them happy. And, in my childhood imagination, I thought one could only become a "beautician" - the kind that would make these miracles happen - in France. I studied French in high school and college and through the local Alliance Francaise because my goal was to study Aesthetics in France after finishing my college degree.
While in college, I developed acne - perhaps a late-blooming teen or stress - nonetheless a very stressful situation in and of itself. Long story short, my treatment included Retin-A cream which required the daily use of sunblock. From the age of 18 until today, I have been using sunblock every day of my life! That's 26 years using sun protection.
As my college graduation neared, I discovered that an Aesthetics academy was actually very close to my home and upon my graduation, I signed up for a 1,100 hours Aesthetics program in my home island of Puerto Rico. I didn't have to go to France after all... And besides learning that I had been a good girl all along by using sunblock on a daily basis, I also learned how to properly take care of my skin.
Fast forward 20 years later. Twenty years observing, analyzing, studying, touching, working with the skin, I can't count the times I have referred people to dermatologists and other specialists to get treatment for what I have "diagnosed" unmistakably - from PCOS to skin cancer and everything in between. I never thought the day would come where I would actually "diagnose" myself.
Being an aesthetician, I keep a magnifying mirror in my bathroom which I use on a regular (ahem, obsessive) basis. On this particular day, I felt a little bump which I thought was a comedone (a black head or under skin congestion) and began picking on it. Nothing came out. I decided to leave it alone and wait for it to come out on its own; however, I began noticing that it was pink, looked like an open sore, didn't hurt and wasn't healing. Two months later, I noticed a dark freckle next to this lesion and the general area dramatically darkened, and then it hit me like a soccer ball on my face! SKIN CANCER!!!! I referred myself to a dermatologist who said casually, as if it was just a simple pimple, "oh yeah, that's actinic keratosis." I understood clearly the medical lingo. Luckily it wasn't skin cancer, but to me, it was something almost equally as bad: actinic keratosis or in layman's term, a pre-cancerous lesion.
Why me? I exfoliate. I use high-end clinical-grade treatment creams and lotions. Most importantly, I use SPF 100!!! Every day!!!! Where did I go wrong?
Then something, again, hit me like a ball on my face: the location of the lesion. It is right under the eye area where the edge of my sunglasses touches the skin. Then I began remembering the dozens of faces I have seen throughout the years where they displayed similar lesions or freckle-looking darkened skin - right under the eye area. This observation has caused me to come up with a theory and I invite all Aestheticians to pay closer attention to this: eye wear, be it prescription glasses or sunglasses, may very well increase the intensity of UV rays and cause discoloration and pre-cancerous/cancerous lesions. So I did a little research.
Perhaps it's time to re-think sun care and sunglasses. According to a study performed in the UK, the use of sunglasses can actually increase the risk of skin cancer! "The glasses reduce the amount of ultra-violet light reaching key areas of the eye, tricking the brain into believing less harmful rays have penetrated the body. The result, doctors believe, is that the body produces less of a natural substance it needs to defend itself against harmful ultraviolet light." You can read more about this study here:
Sunglasses are important in preventing cataract, eye cancer and macular degeneration, among other diseases. But it may increase the chances of acquiring skin cancer. Sunblock is not enough, considering that the protective effects of a sunblock or sunscreen is not an accurate measure of protection because it varies per person, time of day and the type of protection being used. In other words, if it takes 10 minutes of sun exposure for a person to burn, by using a sunblock with an SPF 15, the same person will burn after 150 minutes. There are also different kinds of rays that affect our skin and health. Sunblock and sunscreens are not the same and the ingredients used in them are not the same either. You can read more about this here, here and here.
So what can we do? When outside, use a cap or umbrella to cover yourself from the extremely damaging UV rays. While driving, use white gloves to keep your hands from becoming freckle-y. If you are using short sleeves or sleeveless shirt while driving, buy a cheap long sleeve shirt and wear it backwards just so that you can cover your arms. I would even go as far as using a white cloth or scarf to cover my face, or over my head covering the sides of the face,while driving. Why white? Because white repels sun rays, hence UV rays, and keeps you cooler. Stay out of the sun during peak hours (usually 10am to 2pm) and use broad spectrum sunblock containing titanium dioxide or zinc dioxide which repels UV rays. Read the labels! Just because a product says it contains sunscreen doesn't mean it contains effective ingredients. And last but not least, perhaps we will need to reconsider our use of sunglasses...