Hanan Taha (or rather Dr. Hanan Taha!) and I go back a long time. We used to go to school together, and although we haven’t met since high-school we still keep abreast on each other’s lives via Facebook (thank goodness for social media!).
Hanan is based in Houston, Texas and is a qualified dermatologist. With a friend who works wonders on skincare for a living, I had to steal some beauty tips off her!
What made you choose dermatology as a profession?
Up until my sixth year in med school I was wading aimlessly in a haze induced by an overload of medical jargon that made little sense most of the time! Then I met Dermatology, and we just clicked!
I love that you can SEE the problem with your own bare eyes and SEE the improvement when you start treating it. It is a very visually satisfying field! The skin’s ability to heal fascinates me.
Not many people know this about me, but when I get a paper cut, I get excited! I once took a picture every single day of a paper cut from the day it happened until it healed completely. Weird, I know, but oh so magical! I am fascinated by how a wound changes as it heals and then completely disappears as if it never happened. Beautiful!
What does an average day at work involve?
That depends on where I was working. For instance, I previously worked in multiple medical centers that only had two or three basic, small dermatologic equipments, and patients came in with complex skin diseases that needed long-term treatment.
But the last practice I worked in was mid-sized with sophisticated equipment such as lasers and sculpting devices, and most patients came in for skin care, with actual skin diseases being a side-dish. It was a fantastic experience in both places.
But my days are now quite different, as I have chosen to take a hiatus from practicing to pursue a career in Public Health. I’ve found my passion in patient education and disease prevention rather than treatment.
How does our skin change over time?
For skin, age and the sun are the enemy.
You see, the skin is bombarded all the time by harmful rays, harmful pollutants, and the actual effects of aging, all of which lessen its ability to heal itself.
With time, these harmful effects accumulate. Skin loses its ability to produce new, healthy collagen and elastin, two very important components that keep our cheeks full and our skin smooth and clear.
The result is thinner, wrinkled skin with various levels of discolorations. In certain situations, this unfortunately can also progress to skin cancer.
What would you say are ‘must do’ skincare regimes for people in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s?
SUN PROTECTION! All caps, all the way! Sun protection is our number one defense against skin damage, no matter what our age is. The sooner you start the better.
You might be using multiple fancy skin care products to pamper your skin, but these take months to work, while one harmful exposure to the sun can set you back months.
Wear sunscreen! It’s safe starting 6 months of age onwards.
In your 20’s, you’re mostly worried about acne (zits). There is still a misconception that zits are caused by lack of cleanliness, and that excessively washing the face is the answer. This doesn’t help and can actually aggravate acne. Wash your face in the morning and the evening with a gentle, unscented facial cleanser. At night apply a retinol cream, and if the skin is dry in some areas, apply a moisturizer half an hour later .
In your 30s, think exfoliation and antioxidants. When it comes to exfoliation, I always prefer creams. I advise against facial scrubs because they can cause minor abrasions and cuts in the skin if used a bit too roughly, and the results of creams are a lot more consistent. Creams containing glycolic acid are the best, as they are gentle yet effective. Glycolic acid not only exfoliates the skin revealing healthy, smoother skin. It also stimulates the skin to produce newer, healthier skin cells. Use nightly and start with the lowest concentration, around 10 percent.
Antioxidants are important in your fight against the effects of aging, and they can also correct sun damage which your sunscreen couldn’t quite prevent. Look for something that contains both vitamin C and E.
In your 40’s, in addition to sunscreen, antioxidants and exfoliants, you might also need to start battling skin dryness, as your skin becomes less capable of keeping in the moisture. Moisturizing the skin is crucial because dryness actually promotes increased wrinkling, scarring and discoloration, and overall hastens skin aging. Use a moisturizer that contains hyaluronic acid or ceramides.
For hardcore skin care enthusiasts, consider simple dermatological procedures such as the various kinds of fillers, peels and laser skin rejuvenation methods that will all help keep the skin young and fight off the first signs of aging such as fine lines.
Any quick-fix tips for nasty zits?
DON’T use toothpaste on your acne! I know this is still a common practice, but toothpaste can actually make matters worse, as it irritates the skin.
The best thing to do is to use a spot treatment containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.
Also, remember to stay away from the sun, always apply sunscreen, and resist touching or picking those zits.
What does your personal skincare regime involve?
I try to keep it simple because honestly, the more complex it gets, the less likely I am to stay the course! But there are some daily rituals I stick to:
I wash my face morning and night with a gentle face wash.
I never leave the house without sunscreen. I am currently using La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-In Milk.
Midday I apply my antioxidant – currently using StriVicten.
At night, I apply an exfoliating cream, and I alternate between glycolic acid and retinol. I am currently using Glytone Exfoliating Lotion Step 3.
Throughout the day I apply face and eye moisturizing creams when needed.
Oh, and my lips are always in need of moisturizing. A staple in life are EOS lip balms, but in really dire dryness, Carmex is my pal!
What is the ideal SPF needed in sunscreens? Do we need it at all?
SPF should not be any less than 15.
And every single person on this earth who is 6 months and older needs it every single time we step out, summer or winter, whether you’re going swimming or skiing.
What’s your take on organic beauty products?
The idea of products geared towards sensitive skin that are also environmentally friendly is very appealing. But in practice, I am peeved by manufacturers who abuse this need to market their products, and buyers have to become more knowledge to avoid being drawn in by false advertising.
The fact is, “organic” and “natural” are loosely used by the cosmetic and skin care industry. In addition, not everything that is organic is good for your skin, and not everything that is good for your skin is organic.
I’ve also come across a ridiculous notion stating that if you cannot eat it, don’t put it on your skin. Really? Well, retinoids do wonders for your skin, would you eat them? I should hope not! Similarly, Lemons are yummy and healthy, but you’d never catch a dermatologist recommending using them directly on your skin.
I advise skin care lovers like me to look towards trusted brands recommended by their dermatologist or a trusted source. If these brands have an organic line that appeals to you, go for it! I am not against organic products at all, just the tremendous misconceptions surrounding them.
Would you recommend going under the knife?
It truly depends. There have been impressive advances in dermatological procedures that have a very noticeable and satisfactory impact on skin health and body sculpting.
You can achieve beauty with very little downtime. For instance, you can go in for a Cool Sculpting procedure in your lunch break, then go back to work as if nothing happened. Two months later you will have arms that are about 2 cm slimmer.
But even the best procedures still have limitations, and in those cases yes, plastic surgery can be a viable option. Notice however that if you start taking care of your skin early, you might significantly delay, or eliminate, the need for plastic surgery.
Dermatology has advanced greatly with technology, and the market is loaded with DIY devices. What is new in the market? What would you recommend, and what should be wary of?
I’ve been excited these last few years about at home hair removal devices. Especially in our part of the world, many women (and men) like the idea of not having to visit their dermatologist to take care of excessive hair. Granted, those devices are slower in showing an effect, but they are also much cheaper and can be done in the convenience of one’s own home.
What I strongly advise being wary of is having dermatological procedures done in any spa-like facility. Lasers are safe, but only when used skillfully, and some inexperienced users have caused great, irreparable damage. I feel it is important to include a warning picture here of just what might happen, read more about it here. Only get these treatments at your dermatologist’s office.
What skincare brands would you recommend and why?
This is a tough one! There are many brands that I use personally and advise patients to buy, because they work.
Off the top of my head, I can name Derma Doctor and CeraVe, but there are many that I like, it’s hard to list them all!
Here is the main point: a good skin care product is not necessarily one that has fancy ingredients like caviar or gold. Nor does it have to cost upwards of 200 bucks. Look for products with ingredients scientifically proven to work, and ask your dermatologist for suggestions.
Thank-you for your great skincare advice Hanan, always good to learn from the pros!