When it comes to caring for the rest of my body, I’m quick to go to the doctor. In my life I’ve seen quite a few doctors and quite a few specialists, even. But when it comes to caring for my skin — the body’s largest organ, dontcha know — my ways of dealing with issues have been way less informed. I’m more likely to buy some fancy mask (or masque, if you will) or go to a day spa for a facial, than to deal with my skin issues medically.

I’ve been a fool for far too long, bellas. Don’t be like me! I only went to the dermatologist for the very time in May, because it was skin cancer awareness month and I wanted to experience a screening. I met with one of the best dermatologists in the business, Chicago’s own Dr. Brooke Jackson — click here to read her VERY impressive bio. In addition to being an expert in the use of lasers and cosmetic procedures in ethnic skin, she also is an expert in the prevention and treatment of skin cancer. And she’s a very tell it like it is kind of bella so I REALLY enjoyed interviewing her. Expect to see her featured her again in the future!

Dr. Jackson runs the Skin Wellness Center of Chicago, and in addition to medical examinations, they perform cosmetic procedures under the best of care. A dermatologist is an expert in skin, hair, and nails. If you’re experiencing hair loss, hyperpigmentation, nail issues, skin irritation or issues of any kind from head to toe, you should go. If you’ve never been to a derm before, I’m telling you, go. A visit to the dermatologist can help you to know about significant health issues surprisingly early. “You see, dermatologists just look at you and they get it. They can look at you and tell. I can see who has diabetes, who might have lung cancer. Skin can indicate a thyroid condition. It can indicate other kinds of cancers. It is the largest organ in the body. And there’s a direct link between skin and psychology. It’s so much more than just the surface,” says Dr. Jackson.

My first visit to a dermatologist was for a skin cancer screening, which is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed in the black community. There’s a disturbing belief that the melanin in our skin somehow prevents skin cancer for us. That simply isn’t true. “The message has come across to the Gwyneth Paltrows of the world, that they need to protect their skin from sun damage. When I look at the demographic of patient complaints, my darker skinned patients come in for issues like hair loss and even skin tone. My first question always is, are you wearing a sunscreen? We take high blood pressure medications that make you more subsceptible to the sun. Black people can absolutely get sunburns, and we can get skin cancer. WE are not getting the same attention. Suncreen is necessary for everyone.”

When I arrived I was ushered into a room and told to remove all clothing except for my undergarments. This included my shoes, because dermatologists should check between the toes for signs of skin strangeness as well. Dr. Jackson examined my skin all over, lifting my arms and looking at my armpits as well as between my fingers and toes. When she looked at my back — the official HQ of my hyperpigmentation issues — she told me she can see every breakout I’ve ever had in life. I’m going to dedicate myself to a recommended backne prevention campaign, and soon!

In a perfect world, patients would be proactive about skin care. But in real life, it isn’t like that. “People tend to go to a doctor when there’s a problem. I love it when patients come in for something preventative, it makes me so happy. People need to think about prevention. And not just for skin issues, for things like high blood pressure, diabetes, issues related to obesity.” Agreed completely with Dr. Jackson there.

We discussed the phrase “black don’t crack,” which seems to me like a phrase that can keep people away from a dermatologist, because we assume we aren’t prone to skin issues as a people. Dr. Jackson thinks the phrase is both a blessing and a curse, and in general people with deeper skin tones don’t think of skin issues in the medical sense. “You know what I hate? I hate it when a patient comes in and takes off her wig and tells me she’s been dealing with hair loss and she comes to me when it’s so far gone. Be preventative instead of reactive. As a people, there’s too much complacance,” Dr. Jackson says. Let me be the first to admit that this is a struggle for me. I’m much more likely to buy a product or get a facial than make a doctor’s appointment. I’m one of the people Dr. Jackson was talking about. “I see people buying all these products and I say, what is your insurance? You could have come to me and got a prescribed medical solution. I see facials as a treat. A facial isn’t theraputic, it won’t truly fix anything. It is relaxing. And your face looks great right then, but three days later? Why pay $100 for a facial and not my $20 co-pay?” GOOD QUESTION.

Another issue that prevents people from coming in to a dermatologist when they probably should, is the prevalence of false information. “If you need to research a skincare issue, go to a reputable site with reputable info. Go to Web MD. Go to Mayo Clinic, or Johns Hopkins. Don’t go to patient blogs or forums. Dr. Google did not go to medical school. A search engine is no substitute for what we do.”

So we’re sliding into summer, when sun damage and skin cancer are on the rise. What are Dr. Jackson’s top tips for saving your skin and avoiding skin cancer?

1 — Be aware of your body. Get to know it. You’re the first one who’ll know if something is different, if a wound isn’t healing.

2 — Moles grow up to age 25 or so. If you’re 40 and get a mole, you should go check it out ASAP. If a mole you were born with shows signs of change, get it checked out. Moles need to be monitored.

3 — The FDA is changing the way sunscreen will be labeled, but right now the label SPF on most bottles usually indicates UVB protctin only. UVA rays penetrate more deeply. You should really look for broad spectrum or UVA/UVB protection. Dr. Jackson recommends SPF 30.

4 — Most people tend to not use enough sunscreen. An adult needs about a shotglass worth of sunscreen for all over use, and you need to reapply every two hours. “A bottle of sunscreen should be GONE if you go on vacation. You shouldn’t be returning with a half full or almost full bottle.” Dr. Jackson is fine with the sunscreen sprays and says those who are acne prone should look to gels or spray sunscreens.

5 — Ultimately, a tan is sun damage. “The idea of a base tan is nonsense. It makes. No. Sense. I always say to parents who come in, do you allow your child to smoke? But you allow them to go to a tanning salon? Why?” Dr. Jackson is fine with a spray tan. “If you need to be something you’re not, go ahead. Just do it wisely…When you do things to your body that it wasn’t designed to do, be prepared for the possible consequences.”

AND one more question for Dr. Brooke Jackson!
What are the three (or five) most important things to expect on a trip to the dermatologist?

“Depends what the visit is about – Initially this started as a skin cancer screening and we ended up touching on a whole host of other topics which generally patients would list as their complaint so the expectations for the appointments would be different based on the complaint of the patient.

1. Be prepared to get in a gown (Dermatology is very visual , we need to see it)

2. Know your family history: Ethnic background, medical history, history of skin cancer , atypical moles, etc., is very important and will tell us something about your personal risk . Even if you have dark complexion you may have a relative who is Northern European and that will play a role in how your skin responds with certain treatments .

3. Full disclosure: Don’t withhold information – if you have tried other medications, had other procedures, are using topical products, on a cleanse, etc., we need to know these things as they may affect what we are seeing on your skin. It is also helpful to understand why a patient feels a treatment did not “work” and discuss expectations/goals of treatment for best results.”

And that’s the word.

You can visit Dr. Jackson’s Skin Wellness of Chicago right here, or you can like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter. She’s amazing!

Look out for future posts on hyperpigmentation, and other skincare issues related to women all shades of beautiful! And you should Visit AAD.org to find a board certified dermatologist near you!


Margaret says:
June 6, 2012, 6:55 am
Thanks for this post. My 11 yo daughter is a golfer and I know it's very important that she wears sunscreen when she's on the course, she's had an allergic reaction to every kind that I've tried on her. I never thought to contact a Dermatologist for her, but I will now.
felicia yvette says:
June 6, 2012, 7:16 am
This makes me want to drive all the way to Chicago to see YOUR dermatologist! Even though I have been to several here and I think I may have just found the answer to my big problem, she seems like she knows her stuff even more than the others. Thanks for the info. I didn't know about moles and I'm not sure that my sunscreen has UVA/UVB protection. Still thinking about a spray tan to even some of this out. :)
Maven says:
June 6, 2012, 9:35 pm
This is a great, and important post. Dr. Jackson's candor is definitely needed for this type of topic. I have been considering a dermatologist and fortunately I'm in Chicago. I will definitely look into her. Thanks much.
Doctor Cris says:
June 7, 2012, 7:48 am
A very informative post. Skin cancer screening is very important for everyone especially when you grow older. Skin can change and leave us open to a host of skin issues. Thanks for reminding us that we need to take care of our skin---as our skin helps take care of us.
2bnatural says:
June 7, 2012, 8:29 am
That is my biggest concern, finding a Derm that is reputable and knowledgeable about darker skin. I want to see one but am nervous about mistreatment. It's not like you can cover your face if there is a mishap. It's your face! Once I do more research on Derms in the area, it should calm my fears. Anyone know any good ones in NC :)
Michelle says:
June 7, 2012, 9:54 am
Wow, this was so helpful. A little lightbulb went off. I have used a facial moisturizer(purpose or cetaphil) with spf since I was an adolescent up until recently because my skin changed and it is combination/oily now. I kept switching up moisturizer's to find one that felt less greasy and I should have been looking for a moisturizer with suncreen that is a gel like consistency instead of creamy all this time. Thank you!
Pets says:
June 7, 2012, 2:25 pm
Good that you are being proactive about skin and any underlining health issues it may reveal. Thanks for this important post.
glamazini says:
June 11, 2012, 12:01 am
Great post. I've been meaning to find a dermatologist for some time now, even got recs last year and never went. All the women in my family get moles that grow as we age and I want to get mine removed {they've gone crazy with pregnancy} and just establish a relationship so I look as good as my mom and her sisters when I get to their age. :)
Bridgette says:
June 11, 2012, 2:25 pm
Thanks for posting this! I've been thinking about going to a dermatologist because of an increase of moles. Now I know that I have to.
Anthony says:
September 16, 2012, 11:31 am
It’s a common misconception that sunscreen is not required in winters. Although summers are an absolute no-no without sunscreens, it is equally important in winters, when the sun is closer to the Earth and rays are stronger. Exposing your skin to UV rays at any point of time is not a very logical. In countries with higher altitude, the UV rays even reflect off the snow causing the same damage. This can make you more vulnerable to developing brown spots, fine lines and wrinkles. It is therefore essential to be protected at all times and dermatologists recommend a year-round sunscreen use.
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Ridley Fitzgerald says:
October 11, 2016, 5:01 pm
I had no idea that going to the dermatologist would be so thorough. It's a good thing though, because what if you had signs of cancer in between your toes? It's funny to hear that getting tan is pretty much just getting hurt by the sun. It's a good thing I am so pale!
Penelope Smith says:
March 25, 2019, 7:54 pm
My sister is having a hard time with her skin lately. I think she should go see a dermatologist soon. So, I liked your suggestion about bring her family history with her tot he first appointment.
Shayla Cademis says:
June 21, 2019, 8:10 am
Thanks for your suggestion to get a broad spectrum or UVA/UVB sunscreen that as at least SPF 30. My husband works all day out on the ranch, and I've been worried about him developing skin cancer even though they're fairly covered in their long shirts and cowboy hats, especially since there are some strange moles on his neck. I will have to look for a good broad spectrum sunscreen and have him re-apply it every two hours, as you also mentioned. We'll also look for a good dermatologist in our area to get those moles checked out.
Faylinn Byrne says:
August 20, 2019, 3:16 pm
My sister recently found a mole on her shoulder that looked bigger than she remembered it being a few years ago. We are both over 45 years old, so I recommended her that she should see a dermatologist in her area so she can get a diagnosis. I am glad I found this article that confirms my advice about see a dermatologist as soon as possible if you get a more when you are older.
Tori Raddison says:
December 30, 2019, 10:04 am
I had no idea that a tan was just sun damage. That changes my perspective on it a lot. I used to be really worried about how pale I am but maybe I should just be grateful that my skin is safe.