Dry. Humid. Chapped. Sunburned.
As Minnesotans, we’re all aware the changing seasons can wreak havoc on our skin. There are endless recommendations and remedies to treat skin woes. But how can you tell which ones are right for you?
It’s not easy to tell skin care fact from fiction. That’s why we’ve reached out to local medical experts to help you dive beneath the surface and learn about the (sometimes overwhelming) abundance of options.
What’s in a name? Dermatologists, skin clinics and medical spas
Does your skin require a visit to a dermatology clinic or just a relaxing day at a spa? And what makes a spa a “medical spa”? Start by looking at the name of the business or clinic. A dermatologist (a medical doctor who specializes in the skin) “will advertise their clinic as such,” says Rehana Ahmed-Saucedo, M.D., dermatologist and owner of Lakes Dermatology. “A dermatology clinic is a medical office; we see patients of all ages and we treat all conditions related to the skin, whether they’re medical, surgical or cosmetic.”
A dermatology clinic might also include a spa or offer spa treatments, even if they don’t use that signifier in their name.
In contrast, “skin clinics” might be staffed by physicians who aren’t necessarily trained in dermatology but have an interest in skin treatments.
Offices like Wayzata Cosmetic Surgery offer treatments like Botox and other injections, facials and peels.
“Everything that we offer involves working with the skin, but we don’t offer dermatology treatments for moles or melanoma diagnoses,” says Lisa Erhard, M.D., co-owner of Wayzata Cosmetic Surgery. Her formal training is in obstetrics/gynecology and cosmetic surgery.
A spa generally offers more superficial treatments, like facials and peels. A medical spa (or “medispa” or “medspa”) might involve more intense procedures using lasers or, sometimes, injectable fillers. Often, medical spas employ physicians to oversee the operations, but they might not be involved in the day-to-day work. In addition, staff at medical spas don’t always have medical degrees or the expertise to fully evaluate patients at a medical level. Just remember: “It’s important to know who’s doing the treatments and who is overseeing them,” says Ahmed-Saucedo.
What’s out there?
Treatments du jour
You’ve likely heard of Botox, a procedure that’s become a household name due to its preponderance in pop culture. But there is a wide variety of skin treatments available. Here are some of today’s most common procedures.
Injection treatments come in many forms and functions. Injectables (products like Botox) work by softening the movement of muscles that lead to wrinkle development. Injections might also be used as fillers, which fill in wrinkles or areas that have lost fat and started to sag. Injections can also be used to treat blood vessels or remove fat.
The latest trends in skin care revolve around resurfacing, both through skin pens and lasering.
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) is a rising star treatment involving using a patient’s own plasma.
“I’m especially excited about the introduction of PRP,” says Erhard. “It uses your own body’s healing mechanisms to produce collagen and to stimulate greater responses to treatment. We’re seeing phenomenal results. I can see PRP being expanded in a lot of ways to regenerate healing, from topical things like fine lines and wrinkles to scar regeneration.”
“People are saying they see a lot of improvement from it, but currently research is still in progress,” says Ahmed-Saucedo.
Chemical peels penetrate deeper into the skin than facials. Depending on the type, this procedure can penetrate to different depths of the skin. Chemical peels are commonly used to treat acne, brown spots and fine lines. (Our experts say deep chemical peels should always be performed by a physician.)
Facials involve deep cleansing of the skin and often include exfoliation. Variations on facials include mild peels, microdermabrasions (skin rejuvenation to treat scarring and discoloration) or emptying pores.
Laser and light therapies
Most laser treatments are used to treat dark spots or blood vessels, and are great for reducing the effects of sun damage. “Lasers work to reduce wrinkles by stimulating collagen production, but they can also work for hair removal and scar treatment,” says Ahmed-Saucedo. “There’s also a treatment called a skin pen that’s a superficial laser treatment for fine lines and scars.”
Who’s Who? From physicians to aestheticians
The formal training and experience of skin care pros can run the gamut. A dermatologist has the most intensive and specific training, which averages out to a whopping 12,000 to 16,000 hours of training. Any board-certified dermatology physician will have completed college, four years of medical school, plus a residency in dermatology.
These residencies involve studying one year of general medicine and three more years focused on dermatology. After completing their residencies, dermatologists need to be credentialed through the American Board of Dermatology.
“This is the only training that’s completely comprehensive in all aspects of the skin,” says Ahmed-Saucedo. “All dermatologists have studied skin from a medical and surgical perspective, so we’re trained to treat adults and children and to perform surgeries. We understand the pathology of the skin that we biopsy, and we’re also trained in cosmetics.”
A dermatology clinic might also be staffed by physician assistants (PAs) or nurse practitioners (NPs), who have two-year, post-college degrees. These degrees cover general medicine, so any dermatology training comes from on-the-job experience.
Ideally, advanced practitioners like PAs and NPs “should function under the direction of a physician,” says Ahmed-Saucedo.
In other settings, you might receive skin care treatment from an aesthetician. Aestheticians can perform treatments for the epidermis, the top layer of the skin. (Think facials and chemical peels.) Aestheticians must complete a state training program and have a high school diploma. They might also go through additional training depending on the treatments they perform.
“All of our aestheticians have gone through all of the qualifying education and are formally certified in each and every different machine or procedure,” says Erhard.
What should I be doing? The golden rules of skin care
Individual needs vary, but there are a few tried and true rules of skin care everyone can follow at home.
“The golden rule of skin care starts with sunscreen and ends with moisturizer,” says Erhard. “If you only do those two things, you will protect your skin from so many of the environment’s harmful UV rays.”
Most people mistakenly assume by putting sunscreen on in the morning, you’re protected all day long. Experts recommend reapplying sunscreen before any direct exposure to the sun. “Life happens, and your skin is the largest organ of your body,” says Erhard. “It’s a comprehensive reflection of years of our lifestyle.”
“The biggest thing that ages our skin is the sun,” says Ahmed-Saucedo. “Everyone should use sunscreen every day.”
“A good skin care regimen consists of preventative measures, such as a daily quality sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, and an antioxidant serum, with retinoid to stimulate new collagen production over time,” says Gehrig. “And whenever possible, try to use products that have data to support their claims.”
Ultimately, skin care is about finding a solution that’s right for the individual, and taking care of your skin so you can feel your best—even when the weather acts up.
What’s right for me? Finding the right treatment
With all of the skin care information at our fingertips, it can be hard to know where to start when thinking about undergoing treatments.
“I would typically recommend using the Internet for an initial search, but it’s important to find the right clinic for you,” says Kathryn Gehrig, M.D., of Lakes Dermatology. “Knowing your provider’s credentials and making sure you are seeing someone who is trained in dermatology is really important.”
No matter what treatment you’re seeking, experts recommend you consult with a physician before jumping into procedures.
“Even before cosmetic procedures, it helps to consult with a dermatologist to make sure it’s the right treatment for you,” says Gehrig.
“The absolute best thing is always going to be consulting a physician,” says Erhard, who cautions about the dangers of looking up symptoms on the Internet and trying to self-diagnose. “There’s nothing that replaces the human interaction and being able to see and examine a patient and understanding their individual history.”