Even though it felt like the skin was melting off my face, the doctor urged me not to move. I obeyed tersely as his assistant blew blistering cold air onto my face from what looked like a make-shift hose. I had a really bad feeling about the entire situation and not just because of the pain.
Despite the airy classical music, expensive throw pillows, yummy green tea and thorough questionnaire on the history of my skin that I had just filled out, the equipment the doctor and said assistant were using to perform a “new-ground-breaking-medical-peel” was so rudimentary, it looked as if it had just been wedged out of a ’57 Chevy pick-up truck. It definitely wasn’t something you’d expect to see at a sophisticated, therapeutic spa (which the place touted itself to be.)
I gutted out the pain and bad feeling, though, mainly because the doctor, the procedure and the place had come so highly recommended. For the record, not only was it one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done, I would end up paying for the decision, or lack thereof, for a really long time.
Over the next few days, my pretty pale skin lost its luster, peeled off and gave way to a speckling of dark brown patchy spots all over my face. The worst of it was on my upper lip, scattered around my cheeks and at the very top of my forehead. The spots eventually melded together and turned into something called hyper-pigmentation.
I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of grief and sadness I felt after this botched beauty procedure. I think the worst part was, I had gone to the so-called “therapeutic spa” because I had just suffered a very traumatic personal loss and all I wanted was to feel better. A pick me up. Instead, I ended up feeling worse. Horrible, actually. What’s more, I had also ruined one of the few good things I had going for me, great skin. It was officially “The Dark Spot on Beauty.”
I immediately called my beloved dermatologist, Dr. Martin Zaiac, who advised me to come and see him as soon as possible. I’m not going to lie, it was the beginning of a complete and utter nightmare. “How was I supposed to hide this on television?,” I thought to myself. I fully admit, I was young and dumb at the time and being from a small town, I just innately trusted people. The guy who performed the peel was a doctor, so I just assumed he knew what he was doing. He didn’t, though, and I would find out just how much he didn’t know for the next eight years.
Yes, eight years. It took that long to get a grip on the damage he would do in just a matter of minutes. Before I share the rest of my story (Dr. Zaiac’s treatment plan,) I want you to know, I’m explaining everything in layman’s terms, not medical jargon. When I was fighting “The Dark Spot on Beauty” myself, I found very little information on the topic. At least, information that I could relate to and understand.
First things first: I cried. A lot. I wept, even. I looked like a completely different person. Dr. Zaiac listened patiently and then explained why my friend, who had referred me to the “therapeutic spa” in the first place, didn’t have a bad reaction to the peel. Her skin was different: tougher. I had also just suffered the devastating loss of a child, so my hormones were crazy, making me even more susceptible to dark spots and hyper-pigmentation.
Put it this way: I had no business getting that peel in the physical and emotional state that I was in, and the doctor treating me, despite knowing of the loss, had no business performing it. Unfortunately, that was all water under the bridge. Live and learn. So, I sucked it up and tried to understand what Dr Zaiac was teaching me.
He wanted to reduce the swelling of my skin. In other words, it was inflamed: irritated, if you will, and his job was to “calm it down.” After he did that, he could hopefully stop more hyper-pigmentation from forming and start fading the ones that had already set up camp all over my face. Okay, so here’s where things get dicey.
Mainly, my behavior. I think it was the reporter in me, but I needed a solution STAT! I felt the problem wasn’t being solved quick enough. So off I went, running about town like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to mend my broken skin. Nothing worked: lotions, potions, facials, advice from friends, other doctors. If anything, it made my skin worse. This is important information here: there is no FAST OR EASY way to fade severe hyper-pigmentation.
Dr. Zaiac and I reconvened and this time, I listened. We calmed down my skin with a topical steroid and started the long, hard process of fading the spots and preventing more from appearing. Obagi Nu-Derm was the first thing he recommended. The product line is aggressive, but I started to see immediate results. I say aggressive because before the peel, the strongest thing I had ever used was “Oil of Olay.” I had to be careful, though: any over-indulgence of the combination of creams (that’s Obagi’s concept) and my skin would inflame and the spots would inevitably become darker.
When I wasn’t doing Obagi, I made bi-monthly visits to my facialist, Zohe Canas, for light glycolic peels paired with minimal microdermabrasion. She is, by far, along with Dr. Zaiac, one of the best things that has ever happened to my skin. She also believed when fighting “The Dark Spot on Beauty,” less was definitely more.
In the meantime, although I had never been a sun-worshipper, I was advised by both skin experts to always, always, always avoid the sun. So, I shunned it like it was my full-time job. If I had to walk to my car or was assigned a story outside for Deco Drive, I always wore an SPF protective hat and clothes. I never once, during that time period, went without protecting myself. EVER. What’s more, I never laid in the sun. EVER.
Slowly, over the years, my skin started to heal and the spots started to fade, but they were not, by any stretch of the imagination, gone. Frankly, I was convinced they’d never disappear. Finally, when I hit what seemed to be a fading plateau, I begged Dr. Zaiac to write me a prescription for a skin-lighting compound. I had read about them on the internet.
A compound is used when someone is fighting severe pigmentation problems and well, at the time, I was. Compounds are controversial because they’re aggressive and, some say, dangerous because of the chemicals they contain. I didn’t care, I wanted to try it. I saw a lot of results with the use of a compound and I used it very, very carefully and under Dr. Zaiac’s watchful eye.
This is NOT something you use because you have normal skin discoloration. It can be extremely dangerous and should only be used under the supervision of a very knowledgable doctor. After the spots got even lighter, I stopped the compound and Dr. Zaiac attacked “The Dark Spot on Beauty” from a different angle: laser.
He wanted to stair-step laser treatments. Meaning, first I would undergo IPL (Intense Pulsed Light Therapy,) then, after six to eight weeks, he would perform Fraxel (Fractionated Light Therapy.) This was by far the most difficult part of my treatment. Although none of the lasers were ever used at full capacity, because they were always set to accommodate my overly sensitive, hyper-pigmented prone skin, it was still traumatizing.
The Fraxel was especially painful and after each laser treatment, the hyper-pigmentation would become much more pronounced. Then, it would slowly fade, but it always freaked me out. I even suffered the opposite of dark spots: some of my skin lost its color. Its called hypo-pigmentation. In those areas, Dr. Zaiac used another laser to restore/deposit back my original skin color. When everything was said and done, I did four IPL treatments and four Fraxel sessions. Man, it was long suffering.
Over the next few years, I would dabble in different topical treatments here and there, but with everything combined, I reached an acceptable place with my skin. A fair and honest assessment would be that it almost returned to normal. Just as I started to accept the skin I was in, life dealt me something different. I contracted a terrible virus that manifested itself into Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome and suddenly, “The Dark Spot on Beauty” just didn’t seem so important anymore.
During my illness, Dr. Zaiac became more than my dermatologist. He became a trusted friend and one of my main health advocates. He was familiar with my condition and helped me deal with the traumatizing side effects of my IVIG treatments (Intravenous Globulin) used to help GBS patients recover. Talk about bad skin, it was bad everything. Not only did my dark spots return with a vengeance, but I lost my hair, my nails fell out and my body became ravaged with illness.
I’ve always said that getting sick and almost dying cured me of a lot of things and being obsessed with my skin was one of them. It is nice, however, to be well enough again to worry about my dark spots. Since my illness, skin care has taken a back seat. I’m extremely sensitive and vulnerable to almost anything I put on my face. Instead, I just let nature take its course.
When I finally did get a clean bill of health (just this year,) I started dabbling in creams again, but for the most part, I’ve remained non-committal. What I am committed to doing, though, is spreading my knowledge and experience on fighting “The Dark Spot on Beauty.” That’s why I asked Dr. Zaiac to help me with this blog.
Shireen Sandoval: What exactly is a dark spot and what causes them?
Dr. Martin Zaiac: There are a few reasons for dark spots. Sun damage accumulated over the years and pigmentation caused by hormonal stimulation, whether it be secondary to genetics, after pregnancy (the most common) or when using oral contraceptives (birth control pills.)
SS: Are dark spots preventable? If so, how?
Dr. Z: The best prevention is to use sunscreen SPF 30 on a daily basis. As you know, once the spots develop it’s a nightmare.
SS: What is the top product you recommend to fade dark spots?
Dr. Z: Sunscreen and bleaching creams. The top product is the triple threat Triluma, which has hydroquinone, retinoids and topical steroids.
SS: What type of laser is most effective in removing dark spots?
Dr. Z: Different lasers work, but most of the time a combination gives the best result. The IPL or Intense Pulsed Light and the Fraxel at low doses. That in combination with peels and a topical regiment.
SS: You’ve been helping me fight my dark spots for years and we’ve tried everything! Products, peels and lasers. In your professional opinion, which is most effective?
Dr. Z: I think the combination. First, topical to reduce the production and activity of the melanocytes which produce the pigment. Then lasers to reverse the pigment that is already there. Finally, sunscreen and education of avoiding the sun.
SS: Sometimes, less is more when fighting dark spots. Why?
Dr. Z: The melanocytes are very sensitive and sometimes “too much” irritates them or causes inflammation which stimulates more production of pigment.
SS: If you had to give every woman just one piece of THE MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE IN HER LIFE about taking care of their skin, what would it be and why?
Dr. Z: Sunscreen, Retin A and be happy. Happiness makes for great skin.
SS: What do you think is the most revolutionary anti-aging product ever invented?
Dr. Z: 100% Botox neurotoxins.
SS: I’ve been a big fan of Obagi products for years, especially for its abliity to fade dark spots. Recently, Dr. Zein Obagi created another line. Is it built around the same concept and do you think it’s more effective?
Dr. Z: Both lines are based and originally made by the same Dr. Obagi. The effect of the products on the skin is similar. The new line has the latest technology and products, which have been developed in the last few years.
SS: What do you say to women who tan their body, but not their face?
Dr. Z: Save your face; it’s what everyone sees first. If you do develop skin cancer, better on the body than the face. Avoiding the sun, though, is the best prevention against skin cancer, wrinkles, premature aging and hyper-pigmentation.
SS: What’s the next big thing in Dermatology?
Dr. Z: There are some new botulinum toxins in the pipeline. They promise to be faster acting and longer lasting. Also, some new fillers that can be used in large volumes for real augmentation, like breasts, butts etc. and lasers with more advanced radio frequency and ultrasound that can create changes in most patients as compared to the ones we have now that are more subtle.
SS: This is a fashion blog. So, I have to ask you something about fashion. What’s the one thing in your closet you can’t live without?
Dr. Z: What do you mean?
Yes, Dr. Zaiac answered a question with a question and that’s part of the reason I love him. The other reason; he not only helped save my skin, but more importantly, my life. Through the years, the good doctor has always been compassionate, caring and smart. You need someone smart on your side when you’re dealing with a life threatening virus/illness/neurological disorder.
When styling the blog, Tod (my fashion photographer) and I wanted the doctor in his natural environment. We also wanted the pictures to have a cheeky feel to them. Not to make light of skin problems, but to make light of all we had been through; all we had survived, together. As doctor and patient and as friends.
We asked Dr. Zaiac to wear a trusted blue. The color represents strength and compassion. It’s also associated with depth, stability, wisdom and healing. As for me, I wanted something that said safety and protection. That’s why I chose my favorite tried-and-true (Banana Republic) trench coat. It always photographs black, but it’s actually a gorgeous deep purple. I paired it with my favorite shootie (shoe and bootie) of the season, by Alexander McQueen. I added some fun jewelry by Koko & Palenki.
For the record, I still have hyper-pigmentation. The only difference now is, I’m able to look past those spots and see my inner beauty. When I look in the mirror, I see a strong woman who survived a traumatic loss and a life-threatening illness and you know what? I’m a better, more beautiful person because of it and that’s why “The Dark Spot on Beauty” will always be one of my favorite things.
Styled by: Shireen & Tod
blog wardrobe: www.bananarepublic.com
blog shoes & jewelry: www.kokopalenki.com
Greater Miami Skin & Laser Center
Mount Sinai Medical Center
4308 Alton Road, Suite 750
Miami Beach, FL. 33140
FB: Martin Zaiac
IG: coming soon…
Zohe Canas/Skin Specialist
photography by tod p/t4twophotography
Hair & Make-up by Odette Hernandez
Editor: Matthew Auerbach