Lupita, Lupita, Lupita, it seems as though everything has been coming up Miss Lupita Nyong’o for the past few months. Why are we so in love with her? Well like most of you when I think about this woman I think about authenticity, humility and sophistication all bundled up in a swath of vibrant energy that seems to radiate off the small and large screen. As if this all weren’t enough she is clever, with a Yale-minted theatrical degree, and absolutely stunning.
As a plastic and reconstructive surgeon I have the opportunity to see and celebrate so many different types of beauty, and as an African woman it is gratifying to celebrate that of a fellow African woman. One feature, which many of us have noticed about Miss Nyong’o, are the beautiful rich tones in her flawless skin. Interestingly Nyong’o herself has shared her early experiences of being “teased and taunted about her night-shaded skin”. During an acceptance speech at Essence’s Black Women in Hollywood luncheon she shared a letter from a young girl who stated that she was about to purchase skin lightening cream before “saved” by Nyong’os “[arrival] on the world map. Lupita then relayed the following about her own journey of self-acceptance:
“I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin. I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin…and every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I was the day before. I tried to negotiate with God. I told him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted, I would listen to my mother’s every word and never lose my school sweater again if he just made me a little lighter. But I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips, because He never listened.”
And thank goodness for that. I am so glad that Lupita chose this platform to bring forward this issue.
Step 1. Avoid non-prescription skin-bleaching products. The use of skin lightening creams is very common in many communities. Beyond the problematic social issues this practice presents many are unaware of the significant medical dangers associated with the chronic use of these products. The first challenge is that many of these products are not controlled; some are unlabeled and may contain products that are dangerous especially when applied to large areas for a long time. For example the active ingredient in some of these products is mercury, which can cause mercury poisoning. As a result patients may have kidney damage, depression, anxiety, decreased sensation in the in hands or feet, skin rashes and more. Some of these products contain high concentrations of steroids that can result in thinning of the skin and significant stretch marks, skin infections and acne.
Hydroquinone is another additive, when used chronically, in high concentrations, and in combination with caustic and dangerous ingredients can actually result in the unintended side effect of a dark rash called ochronosis that is incredibly difficult to treat once it occurs.
Some of these products even cause a very unpleasant rotten fishy odor due to a chemical (trimethylamine), which is excreted in bodily fluids.
So what CAN you do to get beautiful, glowing and healthy skin?
Step 2. Drink lots of water. Since about 55-65% of your body is composed of water, hydration is very important. Staying well hydrated will allow your cells to remain plump, function more optimally, and will also help your body to flush out all those toxins and waste products. You need to drink at least 64 ounces a day, more if you are perspiring a lot during your daily activities (ex: outdoor work or exercise).
Step 3. Stop smoking. If you are a smoker, please stop. Besides all the many dangers to your health smoking damages and ages your skin prematurely.
Step 4. Exfoliate daily. Exfoliate using either an exfoliating brush, sponge or facial wash to remove dead skin and expose new healthy cells.
Step 5. Get a superficial skin peel 1 – 2 times yearly. Talk to a dermatologist about superficial skin peels for a refreshed look and regular maintenance. Under the care of your dermatologist treatment with hydroquinone can be safely used to help smoothen your skin tone by targeting specific areas, not for overall lightening.
Step 6. For more significant aging use Retin-A or a deep skin peel. For more significant skin aging changes such as deeper wrinkles and sun related damage, Retin-A and/or a deeper skin peel by your plastic surgeon or dermatologist can help.
Step 7. Wear sunscreen. I know that all of you are doing this one already. Make sure that your daily facial moisturizer contains at least 15 SPF (more if you are fairer skinned). This is especially important if you have had a peel or are using Retin-A as the delicate new skin is more susceptible to sunburns.