Healthy Summer Skin
From embarrassing acne to sun damage and everything in between—including brand-new FDA sunscreen guidelines—area experts weigh in on dermatology and skin safety.
Starting in her teen years and continuing through early adulthood, Michelle Niesen endured mortifying cystic acne cloaking her face, neck, chest, back and shoulders, along with a host of painful and dangerous side effects from tanning and drug-based treatments. Today Niesen’s skin sustains a healthy, clear glow. But that hasn’t erased her years of personal struggle, and it’s that empathy and hard-won insight she shares with her patients today at Rejuvenation Clinic of Sauk Prairie.
“When I see patients with skin conditions I can easily put myself in their shoes,” says Niesen, a physician’s assistant who worked in primary care before opening her own dermatology clinic. “It’s a passion. I spend at least an hour with each patient just listening and determining a treatment plan.”
Niesen implements minimally invasive procedures using laser therapy or injectables to treat a host of dermatological conditions including rosacea, acne and acne scars, eczema, spider veins, excessive hair growth, moles, growths, skin tags, wrinkles, sun damage, age spots and more. Those without obvious conditions can benefit from two checkups every year, one to assess summertime damage and one to help skin adjust to the dramatic wintertime shift. But most importantly, Niesen stresses low-pressure, flexible patient relationships based on unique needs and budgets.
“I think the number one thing for me is I just felt so out of control,” says Niesen. “I help my patients feel a little bit more in control of their skin.”
The most obvious skin safety and dermatological concern this time of year is the impact of the sun, although it works its harmful magic year-round. According to doctors, it’s also the threat that should be taken most seriously. The dermatology team at Meriter Medical Group specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of more than 3,000 different diseases and conditions affecting skin, hair, nails and mucous membranes. But between premature aging and skin cancer—the most common form of cancer in the U.S., affecting one in five Americans—sun damage impacts more dermatological patients than anything else.
“I tell all my friends, all my patients, that the best thing you can do for your skin is use sunscreen,” says Dr. Dominic Ricci of Meriter’s brand-new Middleton clinic. “If you’re not willing to use sunscreen, then all the anti-wrinkle cream you can buy will just be a waste of hundreds of dollars and loads of time.”
Sunscreen should be worn daily by people of all ages, regardless of whether it’s summertime or even sunny out. It also must be reapplied regularly—at least every one to two hours, depending on activity.
“One misconception a lot of people still have is once you put it on you’re protected all day long if you’re not jumping in water or sweating a lot, and that’s just not true,” says Ricci. “I think there can be a lot of misinformation put out there by the sunscreen producers.”
That’s why for the first time in three decades, the FDA finally cracked down this year on sunscreen labeling. Sunscreen manufacturers can no longer say they are “full spectrum” without proof, nor can they make claims about sunburn, wrinkles or skin cancer protection on bottles lower than 15 SPF. Most notably, the FDA will no longer allow use of the terms “sunblock,” “sweatproof” or “waterproof” because they are inaccurate.
“There isn’t a sunscreen in the world that’s waterproof,” says Anne Hill of Radiance Skin Therapy and Laser Center. “Or they’ll try and tell you they’re UVA/UVB protected, but it’s only partial, not the whole spectrum. The new labeling will also help people start to understand that the number, like SPF 90, does not give you protection—it only gives you the amount of time you can be in the sun.” (Multiply the minutes it takes you to burn without sunscreen by the SPF number, and that total equals your maximum sun exposure time.)
The new labeling may lead to better-informed shoppers at the drugstore, but Hill’s inventory won’t change. She already stocks a line of medical-grade sunscreen based on higher percentages of zinc without the cheap chemical fillers that are so often irritating to people with sensitive skin. And for those who can’t stand the feel of sunscreen, particularly beneath makeup, Hill personally swears by Jane Iredale powder SPF.
“It’s an all zinc and titanium mixture that you brush on and it’s considered very water resistant,” says Hill. “If I’m biking or boating or something like that, I’ll bring this. I’ll wipe my face, put my powder on and I don’t worry about it running in my eyes and creating irritation. Men, women and children all love this type of SPF.”
The team at RENEW Skin Health & Laser Center also stresses that sunscreen is the first and foremost priority when it comes to anti-aging and preventive health care. “To us, that’s a given,” says Jessie Pasquarello, medical aesthetician and certified laser technician. “Eighty percent of premature aging is caused by UV exposure, so sunscreen is key.”
In addition to medical-grade sunscreen formulated to suit individual clients, the RENEW team says its benefits can be greatly enhanced by the use of vitamin C serum, a topical antioxidant.
“It’s probably one of the most powerful antioxidants on the market, so we use it on 99 percent of our clients,” says Kimberly Bertrang, an aesthetic nurse. “It helps increase the protection and efficacy of your sunscreen, adding another layer of defense from pollution and UV exposure. It also creates a reservoir effect that stays on and protects your skin long after application.”
RENEW’s physician-grade vitamin C products are available in formulations that provide higher concentrations, greater stability, greater penetration and, in the end, significantly enhanced efficacy than over-the-counter vitamin C products. Vitamin C also serves as a daytime protective as well as a nighttime corrective, packing a dermatological one-two punch.
“Vitamin C gives you prevention and protection, but you also get some mild correction with it as well,” says Roxanne Peterson, aesthetic nurse. “It can help improve discoloration on the skin, stimulate collagen, hydrate the skin and brighten the complexion.”
“If someone comes in and asks me, what one or two products should I be using,” adds Kristi Campos, an aesthetic nurse, “one of them is definitely going to be vitamin C.”
Repairing Sun Damage and a Word of Caution
If you’ve already sustained sun damage resulting in premature aging, there are options for cosmetic improvement. Dr. Richard Parfitt of AestheticA Skin Health Center suggests that the most effective way to deal with hyper-pigmentation such as age spots, freckles or mottled skin is with a combination of a good exfoliant such as tretinoin (sold as Retin A, among other brand names) and a medical-grade lightening cream containing hydroquinone. He also recommends periodic chemical peels, but cautions that extra care should be taken in the summer months.
“In general, the more aggressive the skin treatment, whether it’s a resurfacing procedure with deeper chemical peel, laser peel or using an aggressive skin cream—essentially anything that will make your skin temporarily red or irritated—the more sensitive you are to the sun,” says Parfitt. “If you have these treatments during the summer then you really need to be cautious with UV exposure.”
He advises that these patients avoid the sun completely if possible, and wear protective clothing and gear when exposure is unavoidable. Use a sunscreen containing at least 7.5 percent octinoxate and 5 percent zinc oxide, and reapply frequently and liberally.
Parfitt, a facial plastic surgeon specializing in facelifts, rhinoplasty, eyelid rejuvenation, Botox and fillers, also cautions that a conversation about skin safety is incomplete without addressing the safety of the service or procedure itself. He encourages people to be cautious consumers and conduct thorough research on any potential provider.
“It’s an increasingly competitive market and many claims can be exaggerated,” says Parfitt.