Embrace your appearance!
Medical student Casey Paul Schukow helps teach local summer camp kids how to appreciate their skin.
"I learned about the dermis today," one of the campers stated after a lesson about the layers of the skin. When asked about what another camper learned during the plants and bugs presentation, she shouted, "Leaves of three, leave them be!"
Recently, I led a group of 9-12 year old attendees from the Saline Recreation Center Summer Kids Camp in Saline, Michigan through the American Academy of Dermatology’s Good Skin Knowledge project. Alongside the help of onsite camp counselors, we were able to help spread the word about important skin health topics to nearly 30 campers over the course of two days. Even though I had to teach the lessons virtually, the impact of this experience for the campers, counselors, and myself was still beyond measure.
Around the time I was the age of the older campers, I began feeling self-conscious about my personal appearance as I started going through puberty. During middle and high school, pimples on my skin became accompanied by stretch marks throughout my armpits and groin region as I put on significant weight to play American football. My battle with hair loss, which began around age 16, reached a point of no return by the time I was 19. As a 26-year-old in my final year of medical school, I have been shaving my head for the past 7 years.
The emotional impact of how many people, including myself, may look at their skin and appearance seemed to be a sensitive topic not previously considered by nearly all of the campers. For example, the campers learned about different skin colors, which is important as they live in a diverse community. The different skin colors were depicted by various shades of pink to yellow to brown to black painted on the uppermost (epidermal) layers on Styrofoam blocks they decorated. "Melanin is responsible for everyone’s skin color," one of the campers explained back to me after this block activity.
They also learned about how acne is formed. I instructed the lead counselor to make a 'pimple' using a recipe consisting of a drain cleaner, petroleum jelly, and sand, while trying to run water through the ‘clogged pore’ in front of all the campers. “Acne affects a lot of people, and can make them feel less confident,” a camper stated after this demonstration. Finally, the campers learned that not only does sunscreen and sun protection help prevent sunburns and skin cancer, but that it helps slow down how fast wrinkles are formed, which often cause adults anxiety with the realization that they are getting older.
"We are all beautiful," the counselors and campers concluded after these sessions were complete, "no matter the color, bumps, or wrinkles on our skin." From someone who has struggled with his own appearance for many years, I know this project helped the campers to embrace, not make fun of, the intricacies of their and others’ skin!
Support Good Skin Knowledge
The Good Skin Knowledge youth education campaign provides free resources to educators to teach children about acne, skin health, and sun protection. Learn more about how you can get involved.Get involved