We've got it all, here in Miami: the beach, incredible pools, and endless sunshine. But, along with those glorious rays come some not-so-glorious side effects…ones that Latina ladies know all too well. Sunspots, melasma, premature wrinkles — every MIA mama (especially those with olive-toned skin) is familiar with these signs of sun overdose. What's a girl to do? Clearly, we can't hide indoors, especially when there is so much boating/lounging/ living to be done. Well, for the answer, we decided to go straight to the top, right to Miami's most sought-after dermatologist, Dr. Alicia Barba. Besides being a Harvard (!!) Med School grad and a member of more dermatological societies than we can count, Dr. Barba is a Miami lady who feels our pain. The skin-care guru lined up some game-changing tips — tailored to women of all ages — on how to put your best face forward. From what to do to what you must avoid, we've got her list of secrets sun-loving gals ought to know. But, there is no solution quite like prevention, says the good doc. Meaning you've already started clicking through, right?
The Sun Challenge
For the most part, women of Latin descent — be they from South America, Cuba, or Spain — have pretty familiar skin woes that sound mighty familiar to all skin types: acne, wrinkles, pigmentation. Though Dr. Alicia Barba points out that, occasionally, as Latina women get older, they can be slightly more resistant to signs of aging, but this isn't always the case. Everyone (and she emphasizes this very carefully) needs to be rigorous about sun protection. "The steps you take when you are 20 will help you look like a great 40," Dr. Barba believes.
However one challenge, she says, that olive-skin tones (or Miami dwellers of any hue, for that matter) specifically must face is hyperpigmentation. If you haven't noticed, the sun plus the prevalence of olive-toned skin, makes Miami's set of skin challenges particularly unique. "We are bombarded by the sun year-long in a city with a huge Latin population, and we [Latinas] are more predisposed to it." She specifically warns about melasma — the most common form of hyperpigmentation. "For reasons we don't actually know yet," she says, "Latina skin has higher incidents of hyperpigmentation, like melasma or acne spots. We produce more melanin."
For Dr. Barba, the key to beautiful skin throughout your life isn't just about chemicals or serums, but lifestyle choices. For treating melasma and hyperpigmentation, she doesn't believe in one-stop cures like lasers. "We never have a break from the sun in Miami, so if you want to have good skin, you must think about how good you want to be about staying out of the sun." The best start, she says, is to begin with an antioxidant under sunscreen, and to combat already-there sun damage, choose a hydroquinone or non-hydroquinone-based treatment (more on that, later). Interestingly, she refuses to use the term "sunblock" because there is no true way to "block" out the rays. The best protection, she says, is a hat or staying in the shade.
Photo: Courtesy of The Royal Carron Company
What To Do In Your 20s:
Young ladies who come into Dr. Barba's office usually arrive with a specific problem, like acne or irregularities. "People think I am crazy," says Dr. Barba, "But I like to start the conversation about sun early." Because young Miamians like to be tanned and bronzed (too true), lots of gals think they can stray into the sun with no worries, but this is the time to start paying attention to what you are doing to your skin. "As a derm, I say don't ever get sun on your face. But that isn't always realistic, so put an antioxidant under your sunblock." If you can't give up the sun, find a sunscreen with antioxidants. Also, skip inflammatory ingredients like alcohol.
She also recommends an acne product that is not overly drying, like one with glycolic acid (since olive-toned skin can have dry patches). A great tip, she explains, is putting on a rich moisturizer at night, focusing around the eyes. Since it is the thinnest skin on your body, it is often the first spot to show signs of age.
Helen Kaminski Mita Raffia Visor, $110, available at Nordstrom; Neocutis Lumiere Riche Bio Restorative Eye Balm, $68.99, available at Amazon; Skinceuticals C E Ferulic- 1oz, $142, available at SkinCeuticals; Avène Rétrinal Eyes, $44, available at Lovely Skin.
What To Do In Your 30s:
With the hormonal changes of your life — having babies, changing lifestyle habits, signs of aging, Dr. Barba suggests that "things start to just pop up!" Things like sunspots and hyperpigmentation can be exacerbated by hormones. Hyperpigmentation, she emphasizes, isn't curable, but it is treatable. "The treatments are only as good as we are at treating it." She asks her clients to honestly decide what sort of lifestyle they have, and whether or not they are willing to stay out of the sun.
This also allows you to decide whether you want treatments with hydroquinone or if you'll go hydroquinone-free. Hydroquinones are a skin-lightening agent that work best, says Barba, when you stay out of the sun. She recommends only using hydroquinone products for six weeks.
For getting the jump on wrinkle prevention, Dr. Barba suggests looking into products that contain retinoids. "We repair with retinoids. It is the only FDA-approved anti-wrinkle [ingredient]. But you can't have a retinoid if you are in the sun." If skipping the sun is no can-do, then she suggests dropping the retinoids, and going straight to a growth system. "A helpful acronym is GAS and GRASS. If you want to go outside a lot, then remember: Growth factors, Antioxidants, Sunscreen. If you are sun-free, then try Growth systems, Retinol, Antioxidants, Alphahydroxy, and Sunscreen.
Lastly, Dr. Barba recommends getting more aggressive with a repair regimen. If you are more comfortable with Botox or fillers, this might be the time to consider using them because the skin is more flexible and change is less noticeable.
SkinMedica Tri-Retinol Complex ES, $75, available at Skinmedica; Juice Beauty Antioxidant Serum, $45, available at juice beauty; Neocutis Bio Serum, $158, available at Skinmedix; SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum, $260, available at SkinMedica.
What To Do In Your 40s:
"This is where you are going to get serious," Dr. Barba says. "We are going to break out all the tools available to us." Her reasoning is that, during your 40s, all of the mistakes of your earlier years are now coming to light (no pun intended). Thankfully, there are plenty of options to repair or reverse the damage. Some options she suggests are microdermabrasion, revitalizing peels with a retinoid, dermaplaning, and, if you are into home treatment, she says there are some great devices on the market.
"At 40, we aren't so oily anymore," Dr. Barba explains. So, in the morning, she recommends a very gentle cleanser that minimizes redness. For the evening, she recommends something foamy and deep-cleansing — keep an eye out for anything that contains glycolic acid.
Of course, she still recommends the same skin treatments as before, with similar regimented sun practices for anyone experiencing hyperpigmentation. Just don't expect an overnight solution. "It is a chronic disease. I feel like no one tells you that straight up. People will come and want it off immediately, but it is something you can't cure. But you can treat it." Lastly, she suggests going to someone that understands melasma, Latina skin, and Miami. Sun protection might be particularly tricky in our neck of the woods, but as Dr. Barba says, your skin will thank you later.
To chat with Alicia Barba yourself (or pick up some great products and devices), check out her incredible clinic and in-house shop. Barba Dermatology, 4770 Biscayne Boulevard #120. 305-576-1133.
Skinceuticals Purifying Cleanser, $32, available at Skinceuticals; ZO Medical Normacleanse, contact a physician to purchase; Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, $8, available at Walgreens; Palo Via Skin Renewing Laser, $499, available at Nordstrom.