Role model's beauty more than skin deep

Compassionate, confident and easy-going. These words best describe Ncoza Dlova, a dermatologist, researcher and a senior lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Compassionate, confident and easy-going. These words best describe Ncoza Dlova, a dermatologist, researcher and a senior lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Dlova, who started practising dermatology in 1998, has always been fascinated by skin disorders and problems, particularly among black people.

After seeing many patients with irreversible damaged skin caused by illegal skin-lightening creams, she started researching the ingredients in these products.

Dlova has published articles and gives lectures on the dangers of skin lightening creams. Her passion is not limited to clinical empowerment, she also organises monthly workshops for professional women where topics of interest are tackled.

Her commitment, dedication and achievements in dermatology have earned her many accolades. They include an award from the University of KwaZulu-Natal for research into clay as a sunscreen by black rural women. A member of the international editorial board of SkinMed and Global Image, she was nominated a public health achiever. Her students and colleagues also nominated her the best lecturer.

The Skin of Color Society in New York appointed Dlova to represent Africa to look into the "new classification of skin colour in ethnic groups".

The doctor has also written a book on skin conditions associated with HIV.

A true role model with her feet firmly on the ground, Dlova wants to see women empowered and to make informed decisions about their health and all other areas of their lives.

Q: You have done research on products that have proved to be harmful to the black skin. What were the results?

A: I've done work with my chemist colleagues where we analysed the chemical composition and origin of about 40 commonly used over-the-counter skin lightening creams. We found that 70percent of them were produced locally while others were imported illegally from Europe and India. Of these, about 60percent contained banned ingredients. Dermatologists need to be educated about skin lightening products that are masquerading and sold as harmless moisturisers and also to be able to identify the cutaneous manifestations of such products.

Q: What prompted this research?

A: Seeing a potpourri of cutaneous side effects such as pimples, pigmentation problems, damaged skin and depressed patients because of irreversible skin damage prompted me to dig further to find out precisely what was contained in these creams.

Q: What are the common mistakes most women make when trying to achieve a beautiful skin? How can that be corrected?

A: Most women buy expensive cosmetics with no proven scientific impact on the skin. They also use dodgy products without proper ingredient labelling.

Q: Tell us more about the use of clay by rural women. Does this practice damage the skin?

A: I was quite intrigued by this and the curiosity culminated in further research with Professor Dulcie Mulholland and Elizabeth Mwangi, both chemists. We found that red and white clay were quite harmless and that they do have protective qualities against ultraviolet rays so are actually safe to use.

Q: Are you doing any research at the moment?

A: I'm doing a profile of skin and hair disorders in Africans and an analysis of plants used by African women.

Q: What are your other areas of interest?

A: Tele-dermatology, where we use telecommunication and information technology to deliver dermatologic health-care services to remote areas.

I also do continuous analysis of cosmetic dermatology.

Q: Have you always wanted to be a dermatologist?

A: As a medical student I enjoyed dermatology and also, at that time, there was a paucity of African dermatologists.

Q: What is the participation of black women like currently? Are more women specialising in dermatology?

A: Dermatology appeals to women because of its flexibility and good working hours.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?

A: I enjoyteaching students and dermatology registrars. I also enjoy playing detective with complex skin conditions, which can masquerade as anything.

Q: What motivates you?

A: Seeing the positive results of one's effort

Q: How do you balance professional and home life?

A: It is very difficult to strike a balance and it is an ongoing effort. I try not to bring work home and I always make time for family outings.

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