Skin to Skin: Getting to know UM’s new dermatology club

UM's newest student organization, Skin to Skin, helps students prioritize skin health. Photo credit: Roberta Macedo

Despite the allure of year-long summers and poolside views, ‘Canes often overlook the harmful effects of the damaging rays they soak up. Even more concerning, late-night junk food and unremoved makeup after a long night out contribute to the skin damage that comes with a typical college lifestyle.

Yet Skin to Skin, one of the newest clubs at the University of Miami, focuses on creating a space for students to gain a deeper understanding of their skins’ needs.

Through speaker events and workshops, the organization focuses on educating its members on the importance of daily rituals and updated skin care practices, as well as educating the future generation of dermatologists on how to develop a successful career path.

Julia Sarama, the president of Skin to Skin, started the club as early as January of this year as a result of her own skin concerns as a college student.

“My journey with my skin has been one of the largest influences on the person I’ve become,” said Sarama. “Growing up I was really insecure, and now it’s what has given me purpose to create Skin to Skin.”

Sarama also emphasized the importance of bringing attention to skin care, especially living in Florida, where sun exposure is constant.

“Experiencing a year-round summer at the University of Miami is easily one of the most loved aspects of being a student here,” Sarama said. “And while every person experiences UV rays regardless of the season or their location on the map, living in Florida does put you at an increased risk for developing skin cancer. Florida’s low latitude contributes to us getting more UV radiation than the rest of the US, and therefore, without proper protection, it is easy to put yourself in harm’s way.”

Many students are known for focusing on aesthetics and beauty standards, whether online or in their daily habits, and tanning is a particularly important part of this culture.

However, according to the City of Hope Cancer Center, about one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. The increased melanin produced by the skin when tanning is often the body’s protective response to UVA radiation, and too much exposure to these UV rays put many at a greater risk of the deadly disease.

“From my understanding, there are two major reasons why skin cancer is an issue: lack of education and societal beauty standards,” Sarama said. “And some refuse to take it seriously because they feel more confident with a tan. I have felt the latter before and once I became more educated on the matter, I understood that serious health concerns outweighed any sort of aesthetic pressures I felt.”

In order to bring awareness to topics such as skin cancer prevention and overall skin health, local dermatologists are often invited by the new student organization to speak on these issues.

For instance, during a club meeting on Nov. 6, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Barry Resnik spoke with Skin to Skin members and debunked common skin care myths, specifically in regards to sunscreen, skin cancer and aging. Having completed his residency at UM and serving as the medical director for the Resnik Skin Institute in Aventura, Resnik also gave some general advice to prospective dermatology students as to how to proceed in their career.

“My dad was a dermatologist and I would go around and do his rounds with him. I learned how to take warts off of him in high school and I read lots of articles about dermatology. Dermatology is a wonderful profession, I get to deal with very sick people and I get to help people and make a difference. But, if you’re gonna be a physician you are gonna have to work for a really long time and have to work even more to get into residency, the idea of work-life balance isn’t realistic if you want to be a doctor,” said Resnik.

Skin to Skin also hopes to get the UM community at large more involved in the practice of protecting their skin. According to Sarama, one of the ways the new club hopes to promote better skin care practices among students is with their latest fundraiser to implement sunscreen dispensers on campus.

“On campus would be the place to start in order for more students to gain awareness of the daily exposure we face,” said Sarama. “It may not seem like you are affected now, but skin damage sneaks up on us and shows with time.”

With successful fundraising, this new program will target a major point for most dermatologists: reapplying sunscreen. Not only would the implementation of these dispensers put skin care at the forefront of most students’ minds, according to Sarama, but it would also begin to help students start thinking about how to better take care of their skin in additional ways.

Skin to Skin is especially dedicated to disproving other common myths and harmful stereotypes that sometimes come with certain skin concerns and practices. For instance, according to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, the lack of skin cancer education has disproportionately impacted many people of color, with the estimated five-year melanoma survival rate being 70% for Black patients and 94% for white patients.

“There is a misconception that exists that people of color are immune to skin cancer,” said Sarama. “Because of a lack of skin cancer education, more minorities die of skin cancer than white people as a result of the delays in detection. Stigma and lack of education kills people and it’s our responsibility to make sure people are aware of this.”

As seen with Skin to Skin’s mission, students like Sarama hope to go far beyond the superficial allure of skincare trends and aesthetically-pleasing products. It’s a dedicated pursuit of a greater cause—one that confronts harmful stigmas, educates others on cancer-preventing practices and prioritizes holistic skin health for the student community.