“Love Black skin. Support Black skin. Protect Black skin.”
These are but a few of the statements that African Americans have attempted to convey not only within their own community but also to the masses, going back to the days where Black skin was in constant danger of being dismembered, burned, hanged, or shot in cold blood.
Looking around at today’s state of affairs, there’s still a sense of danger when it comes to those blessed with an abundance of melanin, leading some to think that not much has changed.
However, the previous statements regarding Black skin have expanded past mere political or sociological rhetoric but offering a bit more practical meaning. Conversations have shifted to not just survival but preservation, highlighting how to take care of Black skin, hair, and bodies.
“Skin health is very important. It’s the largest organ of your body,” said Dr. Natasha Welch, an Atlanta-based skincare expert and owner of Abraza Skin Studio, a medical skin spa located in Peachtree Hills of south Buckhead. “We all get our hair and our nails done, but we forget that those are not live organs. Skin is a live organ. Everything you put on your skin, within 10 minutes is totally absorbed into your system.”
With two locations—one in Atlanta and the other in Silver Springs, Maryland—Welch’s Abraza Skin Studio specializes in protecting, repairing, and restoring skin, especially for African Americans.
“The basis here is skincare and skin health, doing it the safe way,” Welch said. “A lot of people work and they have HFS and FSA that go to waste. It’s not just for braces or dental care, but it can be used in a medical-grade spa to get your skin well protected.”
With most of her clients opting to get hydra-facials and dermaplaning, Welch’s medical skin spa also offers vampire facials, hair restoration, and laser treatments.
Finding Skin Care
A nurse practitioner of 21 years, Welch went from working in cardiology to skincare after suffering from a near-fatal car accident where she received extensive body trauma and facial trauma, resulting in multiple scars and the loss of her left eyebrow.
Welch said that while recovering from her accident, and receiving extensive plastic surgery, she said she became intrigued with the world of skincare and aesthetics.
“Each time I had a procedure done to improve my own scars, and heal, I kept saying, ‘I think I can do this,’” Welch said.
Through a good friend who’s a licensed esthetician and registered nurse, who also became her business partner, Welch was able to explore the world of skincare before diving into the business.
“The heart pumps all the nutrients around the body, so in my career, I’ve always taught people to eat right and do the right things,” Welch said. “I tell them to worry about what they’re taking into the body whether it orally or topically, but by my own experience it made me exam all of the products that the plastic surgeon told me to take and learning about what’s safe and what’s effective.”
Since moving into Welch said she’s been able to help her clients make major improvements in not only their skincare but also their overall health.
“I’ve talked clients off of steroids that traditional physicians may have put them on for their skin conditions and educate them on the dangers of our foods,” Welch said. “There’s a lot of hormones in the beef, there’s a lot of hormones in cow’s milk. And if you back away from it I promise your acne will get better, your eczema will get better, and your psoriasis may improve where you won’t rely on heavy steroid use.”
Giving them face
With hydra-facials and dermaplaning as her most popular treatments, Welch stressed the importance of regular maintenance to ensure that the healthiest layer of skin is exposed.
“Monthly facials are a must,” Welch said. “You build dead skin, it’s inevitable. That’s why a lot of us get pedicures at least once or twice a month because we get dead skin on our feet.”
“Just imagine your face being exposed to the environment,” she added. “When people get monthly facials they’re having the best skin. The best skin is that skin that’s being maintained on a routine basis.”
Welch’s hydra-facial treatment cleans, hydrates, extracts, and exfoliates the skin in one treatment, leaving the skin feeling smooth and tight.
The dermaplaning treatment removes unwanted hair using a scalpel. Most women opt for this treatment to remove hair on their chin and other areas.
Welch said that unwanted facial hair is a common problem among women of color, which a lot of women solve with dermaplaning or laser hair removal.
“We’re blessed with great skin,” Welch said. “But monthly facials with hydration or dermaplaning will lead to just beautiful skin.”
“Why? Because we’re going to always exfoliate the skin with the hyrdofacial,” she explained. “We’re using peels that go and break up the imperfections in the bottom layer of the skin. And we’re going to protect the skin with antioxidants and we’re going to hydrate the skin.”
Secrets to sunkissed skin
While melanin is now thoroughly celebrated within the African American community, it is important to talk about what exactly melanin is and how it works.
Melanin refers to natural pigments found in the skin of living organisms and obviously, African Americans have a lot of it. Its main function is to protect against sun radiation and certain types of skin cancers.
However, that doesn’t mean that African Americans are completely safe from the sun.
According to Welch, African Americans have a sun protection factor (SPF) rating of about a 13, where Caucasians normally have an SPF of three. For additional protection, she recommends that African Americans utilize sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or 50.
“Make sure that you’re using mineral-based skin protection, something with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide,” Welch said. “But not the oxybenzone or the other sunblocks because they can actually worsen your hyperpigmentation.”
Zinc oxide is commonly used in topical treatments to help with burns, itching, rashes, and other minor skin irritations. And titanium oxide is usually found in a lot of cosmetic products.
Welch also said that daily antioxidants will also help protect the skin. While vitamin C is the most popular among dermatologists, vitamin A, vitamin E, resveratrol, coenzymeq10, niacinamide, polyphenols, and flavonoids are also acceptable.
However, most people can find antioxidants in common whole foods like artichokes, blueberries, dark chocolate, kale, pecans, red cabbage, strawberries, and spinach.
Aside from preventing conditions associated with sun radiation, increasing the skin’s protection from the sun decreases damage to the skin which normally presents itself as hyperpigmentation.
As melanin-producing agents, African Americans are most affected by hyperpigmentation and it doesn’t always come from sun damage, it can also occur from injuries, inflammation, or is a symptom of other medical conditions.
“The biggest need or concern is hyperpigmentation,” Welch said. “Our skin darkens when it scars.”
“Our skin does not act the same as Caucasian skin at all,” she added. “I get a lot of clients with hyperpigmentation and I get get a lot of clients who went to facilities that have no clue how to treat African American skin, and what happens is they either burn it with lasers or they damage it further because they’re doing procedures that are not safe for our skin type.”
Healing after breast cancer
One of the unique aspects of Welch’s profession is that she is able to enhance the lives of her clients simply by improving their skin or its appearance.
While that may seem like a small or vain ability, for some of her clients, it means the world, especially the ones who come to Welch after battling breast cancer.
To treat them, Welch became a licensed tattoo artist so that she could provide them with areola tattooing after losing their breasts to cancer.
“One thing that I’m very proud of is areola tattooing,” Welch said. “I like that it’s a very intimate procedure where the lady is allowing me to be a part of her healing journey.”
“I had one client who said to her physician, ‘I don’t feel like these newly reconstructed breasts are complete,’” Welch continued. “This is after being treated for breast cancer she said, ‘I feel like I need areolas or nipples.’ And he said, ‘whats’ the big deal.’ That started my journey with her and I respected her feelings of wanting to feel whole.”
Welch said that the end of a woman’s breast cancer journey takes place approximately six months after she has healed and is cleared by her plastic surgeon.
“Usually for an areola tattoo, the skin has to be completely healed. (Doctors) use skin graphs for a flap to make a new prosthetic breast,” Welch said. “The lady comes in and I talk to her about what were her nipples like before. What size were they? And so, I design it and then we color match.”
Nipple and areola micro-pigmentation has become very popular among breast cancer survivors within the last 10 years.
With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Welch encouraged everyone, especially women of color to get regular check-ups for early detection and prevention.