A Grizzly’s Guide to a Healthier YOU: Discussing all things skincare with OUWB clinical professor Dr. Fatima Fahs


Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Abdelmessih

Campus Editor and Columnist, Gabrielle Abdelmessih.

Are you obsessed with skincare? Me too. And we’re not alone. When I mentioned I was interviewing a dermatologist about skincare for college students, it certainly sparked the interest of many of our staff!

Gen-Z is enthusiastic for all things skincare, with many buying products recommended from influencers from social media. Whether you’re watching Youtube videos, or scrolling through Instagram or TikTok, one is bound to come across skincare content. There is a seemingly endless list of varying routines, product recommendations, and (sometimes dangerous!) trends to try. With all of that scrolling, comes a lot of questions. How elaborate does my skincare routine need to be? Should I wear sunscreen? How can I take care of my skin without spending too much time or money?

It can be overwhelming and hard to decipher between fiction and fact. To help clear some of that confusion, I asked Dr. Fatima Fahs, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical professor at the Oakland William Beaumont School of Medicine (OUWB) some questions. Here’s our conversation:

Abdelmessih: Why did you decide to join social media as a dermatologist?

Dr. Fahs: I created my Instagram account, @dermy_doctor, in 2017 while I was in dermatology residency as a means for creative outlet and expression. I quickly realized that it was an awesome platform to educate the masses when it came to all things skin. I harnessed that to create posts on topics such as different types of skin cancer, risks for developing skin cancer and how to choose the right sunscreen — it just took off from there!

Abdelmessih: On social media platforms like Instagram and Tik Tok, it is — unfortunately — common to come across risky skincare trends. Where and/or whom can people get science-backed content from on these platforms or elsewhere?

Dr. Fahs: I think it’s important to take everything you see on social media with a grain of salt. This is not a peer-reviewed publication, any and everything goes when it comes to posting online! So if something sounds really outrageous, then it probably is. I think it’s exhausting to always fact check, so instead, I recommend people take these questions to their own doctor if they have doubts or concerns. Remember, you should never be seeking personal medical advice on social media, nothing replaces an in office exam and discussion with your doctor.

Abdelmessih: There are so many skincare products on the market that it can feel overwhelming when trying to figure out a skincare routine. What is a basic skincare guide morning routine and night routine that you recommend for college students?

Dr. Fahs: I remember waking up in college, splashing water in my face and heading out the door to class! I also slept in my makeup plenty of times — oops! I think it can be very overwhelming to try and make an elaborate skincare routine in college — and you really don’t need to. In the morning, aim for 3 steps: gentle cleanser, an antioxidant product (like a vitamin C serum) and a moisturizer that contains sunscreen. In the evening, make sure to cleanse your skin before heading to bed, especially if you’re wearing makeup. If you have energy for a few more steps then consider adding in a topical retinoid (this decreases oil production and acne, helps with hyperpigmentation and promotes collagen production over time) and top it all with a moisturizer. You don’t need to spend a ton of money on skincare for it to be good, there are plenty of great drugstore brands that are affordable for a college student’s budget.

Abdelmessih: Why is sunscreen so important and why should we wear it daily? What’s the difference between chemical and physical sunscreen and how should one choose which to use?

Dr. Fahs: Skin cancer is the number one cancer in the US with 1 in 5 Americans developing skin cancer in their lifetime. One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence can nearly double a person’s chance of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Wearing sunscreen daily can significantly reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. But you know what else it does too? Reduce your risk of premature aging! Heavy sun exposure over time breaks down collagen and leads to premature fine lines, wrinkles, leathery skin and more.

Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, octinoxate, etc. Mineral sunscreens contain zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. In general, we tend to find that mineral sunscreens are more suitable for those with sensitive skin as well as babies/kids. More importantly though, you should check your sunscreen label for 3 things. 1) Make sure it says “broad spectrum”, this means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. 2) Make sure it contains an SPF of 30 or higher, this will mean that it blocks out about 97% of UVB rays (no sunscreen can offer 100% protection). 3) If using it for water activities or sweating, make sure your sunscreen says “water resistant” for 40 or 80 minutes.

Abdelmessih: Besides wearing sunscreen, what are other preventative measures one can take against skin cancer?

Dr. Fahs: Sunscreen is only the first step. Remember, a tan is considered DNA damage and DNA damage over time is what leads to skin cancer. So make sure you are also seeking shade (especially between the peak hours of 10am-2pm when the sun is the strongest), wearing sun protective clothing if you can (wide brim hat, sun glasses with UV protection, long sleeved shirts/pants) and reapply your sunscreen (every 2 hours when outdoors). If you have a history of skin cancer in your family or many moles on your body, then it may be a good idea to establish with a board-certified dermatologist for a full body skin exam every year. If you use a tanning bad, please stop. Even one indoor tanning session can increase your risk of developing melanoma by 20%.

The main takeaway from this interview? Wear sunscreen!

If you have any suggestions for future column topics, please email me! My goal is to make this the most helpful it can be for the university community. Email: [email protected]