A Recap on Skincare and Culture

This month on The Skin Report podcast, Dr. Sethi takes listeners on a journey to discover the many ways culture influences skin care practices and the beauty industry today. As humans, our cultural background, ethnicity, and history relate to every part of our lives, including how we care for our skin. So, how exactly are these cultural nuances related to our current methods, and why is culture such an essential facet of skincare?

The Skin Report is a podcast created to educate listeners on methods to improve skin health for people of all ethnicities and ages. On this episode, host Dr. Sethi continues the conversation on skincare and culture by tying the theme to relevant examples previously covered on the podcast. She discusses how different cultures have utilized popular organic ingredients throughout generations and how these traditional components can be safely implemented in skincare routines today. She shares her insights on the rising popularity of medical-grade skincare and how some companies safely utilize cultural elements alongside medical-grade ingredients in their formulations. This episode also provides information on culture as it relates to skin of color and the impact that racism and colorism have had on skincare for brown skin and people with darker skin shades. Finally, Dr. Sethi explains the importance of considering our culture and background when we practice skincare.

As the founder of RenewMD Beauty Medical Spas and a woman of color, Dr. Sethi is dedicated to spreading skincare information that ties into science and culture on The Skin Report. Tune in to learn more about the significant influence that cultural ingredients, nuances, and history have on modern-day skincare practices.

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This transcript was exported on October 3, 2023 -view latest version here.

Skincare can sometimes feel overwhelming, whether it’s finding the right products, ingredients, or treatments. There’s a lot out there, but not always for people of African, Hispanic, middle Eastern, and Eastern South Asian descent. That’s why I set out to educate myself and others so that we could all feel beautiful in our skin. Hello and welcome back to The Skin Report. I’m Dr. Simran Sethi, an internal medicine doctor, mom of three, and CEO and founder of ReNewMD Medical Spas and Skin by Dr. Sethi.

We are exploring topics on skincare and culture. This means considering how different cultural beliefs, practices, and ingredients influence how people care for their skin. So let’s get started. Our culture influences the practices that we partake in to achieve a specific goal. For instance, the actions that people across civilizations have taken to support the health of their skin. Cultural practices are partly determined by the environment in which the people who practice and reside. People have utilized the organic resources at their disposal in their care practices.

In our last episode, I shared a bit about coconut oil, an ingredient that has been incorporated within cultural skincare practices across the globe. If you haven’t listened, I highly recommend you check it out. For many cultures, coconut oil has been a long time staple in skincare, making it a popular organic ingredient even today. But the science behind skincare and coconut oil’s metabolic weight teaches us how we can and can’t safely use this ingredient for our skin. Take a listen to this episode from season one where I discuss it further.

The popularity of coconut oil as a skincare component is due to its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties and its reputation as a moisturizing agent.But if you’re hoping that there are certain skin types and tones that can use coconut oil in its plain form, this is unfortunately not the case. Being that coconut oil is a ketogenic substance that can promote breakouts and clogged pores, I absolutely do not recommend using plain coconut oil directly on the skin. Doing this can cause further skin issues regardless of your skin type or concern.

For people with dry skin, applying coconut oil directly as a moisturizer can still promote clogged pores and breakouts. Dry skin has more debris from dead skin cells on its surface, so a high molecular oil like coconut oil will not seep into the deepest layers of skin. Instead, the oil would remain on the surface and trap the excess dead skin leading to clogged pores.In acne prone skin that is already oily, applying plain coconut oil with its high molecular weight would combine with the oil already on its surface to clog pores even further.

So how can someone enjoy the great benefits of coconut oil while avoiding its pore clogging side effects? The best way for users to avoid these adverse effects is by choosing to use products that contain coconut oil as an ingredient rather than applying it directly to the skin. Coconut oil can be safely used as a part of a skincare product formulation that will transport it to the deeper skin layers, reducing the likelihood of clogged pores. While it should never be applied directly, coconut oil can have great qualities for safely nourishing the skin when used in moderation as an ingredient within a skincare product.

So we have established that traditional skincare methods that once relied on organic ingredients like coconut oil can still be incorporated into modern day skincare practices through safe methods. But today with so many skincare ingredients at their disposal, some companies are turning to medical-grade skincare ingredients over organic ones. Culture and tradition are important to our identities, but this doesn’t mean people should always shut down new practices in favor of traditional ones. In fact, medical grade ingredients and treatments can be highly effective for addressing skin issues and improving skin health. Listen to this clip from season one where I go more in depth to the advantage offered by medical grade skincare.

First, let’s define what medical grade skincare actually is. How does it differ from drugstore brands and why? Medical grade skincare products can reach the dermis, which is the deepest layer of our skin and where we build essential skin proteins such as collagen and elastin. Over-the-counter brands, for example, typically only work in the epidermis or the outermost layer of our skin.

Medical grade skincare also has higher potency and quality ingredients. Medical grade products will use more stabilized ingredients compared to over-the-counter, which lasts longer and take longer to degrade. Even widely available ingredients such as vitamin C will pack a more powerful punch at the medical grade level because of the concentration of vitamin C in it, and most importantly, due to the fact that the product has been subject to more rigorous clinical studies. Over-the-counter brands do not have to conduct trials or undergo the testing standards that medical grade products do. Other than SPF how over-the-counter brands label their products is not regulated.

I can’t truly talk about medical-grade skincare without acknowledging that it is more expensive than over-the-counter brands. However, depending on the brand, there are still plenty of accessible options, and as we said, these products will be more powerful and lost longer, making them the more sensible option in the long run. After all, if you’re spending $25 on an over-the-counter moisturizer that’s not doing its job, you’re essentially wasting your money.

By spending a little more money on medical grade products, you will deliver more active ingredients into the deepest layer of your skin to allow the skin to repair and get healthier. Over-the-counter products don’t have as high a concentration of active ingredients and stay in the most superficial layer of the skin, which means that they do not help with any collagen regeneration and are so superficial that they literally just get washed off your skin within a few hours of application.

Next, let’s talk about the role of the FDA in skincare, especially medical skincare products available in the United States. As someone with a medical background and years of experience, I want to talk about why I believe medical grade skincare is worth it before we go on. Your skin protects you all day and night, which means it is subject to damage from the environment such as light, wind, heat, and cold. This means that you need to repair it continually so that it is not only looking its best, but also remains an effective barrier.

In order to do this, you need ingredients that reach the dermis and are active enough to promote the skin repair and protection process. Studies and my experience working with thousands of patients has shown that people who invest in medical grade skincare have healthier, younger looking skin no matter when they start that investment.

Whether you choose products with organic ingredients like coconut oil or medical grade skincare formulations, your skincare should reflect you. An effective skincare routine should include products that treat your skin’s unique need and support its natural beauty. Fortunately, many companies safely harness the power of organic ingredients and medical grade ingredients often in the same formulations.

For example, my line, Skin by Dr. Simran Sethi, offers a green tea calming complex. This serum based product uses medical-grade hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin and support its moisture barrier, but it also includes green tea leaf, an ingredient used within many cultures for its calming and anti-inflammatory properties. Together these elements work in the formulation to effectively rebalance the skin’s hydration and minimize redness and irritation.

Before we wrap up this episode, I wanted to discuss culture as it relates to skin of color. If you are a longtime dedicated listener to the Skin Report, I first want to thank you. We wouldn’t be launching our third season without the support of listeners like you. But also you likely are familiar with our podcast dedication to educating listeners on skincare for people of color and sharing science backed information on skin of all different races and ethnicities.

Now, culture is not necessarily determined by race or ethnicity. But culture is tied to shared beliefs and values. That said, beauty standards are also a significant aspect of culture. Unfortunately, colonialism throughout history has had numerous negative impacts on the cultures it has impacted. This includes the spread of harmful beliefs, values, and beauty standards for people of color. I go further in depth on this topic in season two, episode four.

Most countries only gained independence from the British relatively recently, like India, for example, in 1947 or Fiji in 1970. But the effects of colonization are still felt today in racism and colorism. These are complex topics and many history podcasts do a great job picking apart their intricacies. For the purpose of our podcast discussing skin lightning, I want to point out that colonization is pervasive and is closely tied tothe beauty industry and social standards.

As a result, lighter skin, typically skin type one through three on the Fitzpatrick scale, are more socially desirable. The lighter someone was compared to their peers, the closer to white they were and given more respect and opportunities, and the more beautiful they were deemed. Thus, those with darker skin tones face prejudice from both outside and within their own ethnicities.

This phenomenon known as colorism has led to harmful and dangerous practices for achieving lighter skin in people of color. Colorism, and racism, and cultural beauty standards have contributed to the beauty industry’s lack of inclusivity for people of color by failing to provide products designed for melanated skin. We still have a long way to go to undo the damage of these harmful ideals.

However, culture is forever transforming as it is shaped by the values, beliefs, and practices that we uphold now and onward. This is why I create content that recognizes how culture has impacted skincare and focuses on spreading science-backed information for treating skin of color. The ways we approach race and ethnicity today can help us break down the barriers of the past and support a more inclusive tomorrow.

Now that we know more about how our background, ethnicity, and skin are related, we can understand why culture is an important facet of skincare. So what can we do with this information? Well, everybody’s skincare journey is personal to them. But I believe we should consider our culture and background when we practice skincare. Like any other form of science or medicine, skincare relies on many factors that impact how your skin or mind may react to certain care practices. This is why the Skin Report is dedicated to spreading skincare information that ties into science and culture.

By considering the diverse facets that influence our reaction to specific products, ingredients, and care practices, we can determine how to care for our skin in the best way possible while honoring the uniqueness that makes us, us. Thanks for listening, and until next time, love your skin, love yourself, and celebrate your beauty.

If you’d like to learn more about science-backed skincare or medical aesthetic treatments, please subscribe to and turn on notifications for theSkin Report so you always know when a new episode is up. We have a newsletter that you can sign up for on skinbydrsethi.com so that you can stay up to date on all our latest products and more. Additionally, if you have a skincare question or want to make an episode topic recommendation, please message me at theskinreportbydrsethi.com, which is linked in my show notes and I’ll be sure to answer your question in an episode soon.

Transcript by Rev.com