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Monthly Archives: November 2016

Dry Skin Care Essentials

Your body is wrapped in a blanket of skin — about two square yards of it. We all want hydrated and healthy skin, but that blanket can become dry, flaky, and rough. Learn what causes dry skin and how using a skin moisturizer and other treatments will help.

Understanding Dry Skin

The outer layers of your skin are put together in a type of brick-and-mortar system. Healthy skin cells are stacked with oils and other substances that keep skin moist. When those substances are lost, skin cells can crumble away, which leads to dry skin.

Itching is the No. 1 symptom of dry skin, says Francesca Fusco, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and a spokeswoman for the Skin Cancer Foundation. Your skin may look dull, flaky, or ashy (if you have dark skin), which can progress to skin being scaly or cracked. In the worst-case scenario, skin becomes thick and leathery, Dr. Fusco says.

Conditions Causing Dry Skin

Dry skin can affect anyone whose skin loses water or oil, particularly in climates with low humidity, or during winter months when low humidity and indoor heat affect the natural balance of healthy skin, Fusco says. However, some people are more prone to dry skin than others because of certain medical conditions:

  • Keratosis pilaris. As many as 40 percent of people in the United States have an inherited dry skin condition called keratosis pilaris. More common in children and adolescents, the condition causes tiny red or flesh-colored bumps on the skin, particularly on their upper arms and thighs or on the cheeks in children. The bumps are dead skin cells and make skin feel rough, like sandpaper. Skin may also itch during the winter or in low humidity.
  • Atopic dermatitis. Up to 20 percent of people around the world have atopic dermatitis, a common type of eczema in which itchy patches of skin form. When the skin is scratched, it may become red and swollen and could crack, weep fluid, or scale. This type of eczema often occurs in people who also have asthma or hay fever.
  • Hormonal changes. When your body is going through hormonal changes, you may notice dry or flaky skin cropping up. It’s something that happens even in babies. Newborns commonly develop cradle cap — flaky, scaly skin on the scalp — as a result of being exposed to mother’s hormones in the uterus, Fusco says. Women may notice a change in their skin’s oil production when they begin (or stop) using hormonal contraceptives. And hormonal changes after menopause can also lead to dry skin, she says.
  • Thyroid disease. One of the early symptoms of hypothyroidism (when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone) is dry skin.
  • Diabetes or kidney disease. People with diabetes or kidney disease may notice dry, itchy skin on their legs due to poor circulation, Fusco says. It’s a result of the skin not getting the proper amount of blood flow.

From Dry Skin to Healthy Skin

Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Apply a skin moisturizer to your body and face at least once a day, when the skin is still damp from the shower, Fusco says. In the summer, a thinner lotion will do the job, but in the winter when skin becomes drier, use a thicker cream or ointment.

If over-the-counter moisturizers aren’t doing enough for your skin, your doctor can suggest a prescription-strength moisturizer. Products that contain lactic acid soften the top, hard layer of the skin, Fusco says. She recommends applying it at night so it can work while you sleep, and then buffing it off in the shower in the morning. The only downside: It can cause an allergic reaction in some people, leading to red, bumpy, itchy skin.

Another prescription option is a barrier cream. Barrier creams penetrate a little deeper than standard moisturizers and contain humectants, which hold onto moisture better and longer.

For those with keratosis pilaris, moisturizing with creams that have urea or lactic acid helps the itch, but doesn’t necessarily smooth the skin. However, mild chemical peels or topical retinoids may soften the skin.

People who have eczema may find relief with a skin moisturizer and can also use cold compresses on itchy skin. Over-the-counter or prescription corticosteroid creams may also be needed, but prolonged use can thin your skin, so carefully follow your doctor’s directions about using them. Your doctor may also prescribe oral corticosteroids, but they’re not intended for long-term use.

Other dry skin treatments include:

  • Taking short, warm (instead of hot) showers
  • Using a moisturizing body wash
  • Placing a humidifier in your home to add moisture to the air

Fusco also advocates adding healthy oils into your diet through foods like olive oil, nuts, and avocados.

With the right tender, loving care (and a good skin moisturizer), you can restore a healthy luster to dry skin.

Finding Skin Creams That Work

Walk through any drugstore or department store aisle, and you’ll see dozens of skin cream options that promise to erase wrinkles, eliminate dryness, and bring back that youthful glow. Some creams are highly specialized, while others focus on treating a specific issue.

Most skin creams with a rich texture will soothe dryness, but there are many that say they can reverse the signs of aging — and that’s where you need to be careful. Fortunately, some skin creams do what they promise and deliver that healthy, youthful glow everyone wants.

But with so many to choose from, how do you know that you’re picking the best cream for your needs? Before you start shopping, learn more about the ingredients that you should be looking for on the labels.

Common Skin Cream Ingredients

  • Retin-A and Renova. Some of the more popular beauty-counter skin creams include an ingredient called retinol, a form of Vitamin A. However, the only form of Vitamin A that has been proven to be effective as an anti-wrinkle agent is called tretinoin, and it’s only available as a prescription. It comes in two formulas: Retin-A and Renova.Scott Gerrish, MD, founder and CEO of Gerrish & Associates, PC, describes collagen as “the skin fibers that give your skin support and its plump, youthful look.” Retin-A and its sister formula Renova actually stimulate collagen growth, plus increase the thickness of your skin, skin-cell turnover, and the flow of blood to your skin.

    First used to treat acne more than 30 years ago, Retin-A was created by dermatologist Albert M. Kligman, MD, professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Dr. Kligman’s older acne patients reported that their skin was not only clear, but more youthful after using it — an amazing side effect of the formula.

    Because Retin-A was aimed at people with oily skin and breakouts, it was drying to older complexions. Renova was developed in the 1990s to deliver the same anti-aging effects in a cream base without the side effect of dryness.

    A physician has to prescribe the right formula for your skin type and give you careful instructions for proper use. Either version can costs over $100 for a tube, but because only a pea-sized amount is used at a time, it lasts for months and, unlike some skin creams that cost hundreds more, it’s a skin care treatment that works. Dr. Gerrish adds this caution when using either Retin-A or Renova, “Make sure you use a sunscreen daily as it will make your skin more sensitive to the sun.”

  • Vitamin C. Skin creams treat and affect the epidermis, which is the thin, outer layer of the skin that protects the underlying dermis, where your body makes collagen. “Skin creams with a high level of vitamin C help your skin produce collagen and can make your skin look brighter,” says Gerrish. “But in order to penetrate the epidermis and affect the dermis, the vitamin C has to be formulated as magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, or MAP.” Look for products with MAP on the label, such as Isomers Vitamin C Serum MAP + E.
  • Hydroxy acid formulas. Skin creams that contain one of the alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), or poly hydroxy acids (PHAs) offer exfoliation and moisturizing benefits. Says Gerrish, “The glycolic acid family, one of the AHAs, has been further studied and aside from its beneficial effects on the epidermis, with a high concentration of 25 percent, glycolic acids improve the quality of collagen and elastic fibers, improving the dermis and brightening your skin, too.” Over-the-counter concentrations are not quite that strong, but Glytone Rejuvenate Facial Cream 3 and Neostrata Face Cream Plus – AHA 15 are two to consider.
  • Peptides. The latest skin cream on the horizon packs peptides inside. “Collagen cannot penetrate the epidermis; however, peptides are small pieces of collagen that can penetrate it and reach the dermis, the layer where collagen is actually produced.” Peptide creams now available on the market contain Matrixyl or the Argireline molecule. “Another positive of Argireline is its relaxing effect on facial muscles, which reduces wrinkles,” states Gerrish. Faitox-25 contains both Matrixyl and Argireline, and Peptide 6 Wrinkle Cream has Argireline.

“All people can benefit from a good skin cream,” says Gerrish. To help you choose between over-the-counter options, he sums it up this way: “Those with dry skinbenefit from the moisture-preserving Vitamin C creams. If your skin is oily, look toward the retinol and glycolic acid creams, which have a beneficial exfoliating and acne-preventing effect. Young people can also benefit from the Vitamin C creams, which preserve moisture in the skin. And everyone should wear a good sunscreen daily.”

A number of skin creams have been proven to help keep your skin looking younger. While none can totally eliminate the aging process, the most effective ones can slow it down and help you look your best.

Tips for Acne Treatment

If you have acne, you’re among more than 70 million people in the United States who have suffered from this skin condition at some time in their lives. It is so common that acne affects about 80 percent of Americans 20 to 30 years old. During the teenage years, acne is more common in boys than in girls, but in adults it’s more common in women.

Despite the fact that it’s so commonplace, there are many misconceptions about acne, says Guy Webster, MD, PhD, a clinical professor of dermatology at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and founder of the American Acne and Rosacea Society.

Getting to the Root of Acne

Whether you call it acne, pimples, or zits, in order to treat the condition, it’s important to understand the causes:

  • Clogged pores and bacteria: In your teens, the glands in the skin begin secreting sebum, an oily substance. This normally comes out through the pores, but in some people, sebum clogs up in the pores, allowing a bacterium, called P. acnes, to begin to grow.
  • Hormones: In your teen years, hormones start changing and affecting your body, including causing acne. This also happens during pregnancy, which explains why pregnant women or women having their periods often have acne breakouts. Hormones released during stressful times can also cause acne.
  • Genetics: You may be more likely to develop acne if your parents had acne when they were younger.

The Right Acne Treatment

There are many ways to take care of acne, depending on what causes it and how bad it is. Moderate and severe acne usually needs acne treatment recommended by a doctor, but mild acne, blackheads, whiteheads, and a few pimples can usually be treated at home.

Dr. Webster says one big misconception is that acne is caused by dirty skin. “The goal is not to scrub acne away,” he says. “If you scrub, you’re taking off skin, and there’s a reason for the skin being there.” Skin is a protective barrier.

Here are some tips that Webster shares with people who have acne:

  • Wash gently; don’t scrub.
  • Use a gentle soap to wash your face.
  • Wash with your hands, not a washcloth or “scrubby.”
  • Use a 5 percent benzoyl peroxide product.
  • Treat your whole face — don’t “spot treat.” This way, you’re treating pimples still under the skin but not yet visible.

And what should you stay away from?

  • Facial scrubs of any kind.
  • “Face puffs” or abrasive pads.
  • Expensive cosmetic regimens that people try to sell you.

Acne Treatment: Other Tips

Other tips to keep acne from getting worse:

  • If you’re a male, be careful shaving.
  • Don’t pick or scratch at pimples.
  • Avoid the sun. While many people feel that sun exposure makes their acne better, this is not always so. The rays can also cause other unwanted issues, such as premature aging and skin cancer.

When Should I See a Doctor for Acne Treatment?

According to Webster, if the pimples are leaving scars or if your treatment isn’t working, then it’s time to see a family doctor or dermatologist.

And while acne is a bummer, it doesn’t have to take over your life; take action and take control of your skin.

5 Ways to Protect Your Skin

You need to protect your skin because of the vital role it has protecting your body. Skin care doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming, and can quickly become second nature, like brushing your teeth.

These five skin protection tips can keep your skin looking and feeling great, by guarding against a slew of skin woes, from chapped skin to prematurely aging to skin cancer.

1. Limit Sun Exposure

You’ve heard the message a zillion times, and there’s good reason for that unrelenting repetition. Ultraviolet rays emitted by the sun cause many types of skin damage:

  • Skin cancer
  • Wrinkles
  • Freckles
  • Age spots
  • Discolorations
  • Benign growths

Using skin care products that offer ultraviolet protection is one of the best ways to help keep your skin looking fresh and youthful:

  • Use sunscreen every day and reapply regularly whenever you’re outdoors for extended periods.
  • Cover skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants, and wide-brimmed hats.
  • Stay indoors when the sun is at its most intense, usually between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Keep in mind that tanning beds are just as harmful as direct sunlight, as they also emit ultraviolet rays.

2. Stay Hydrated

Keeping your skin moist is essential to skin protection. Skin that is properly hydrated retains pliability and prevents chapped skin or scaly, flaky skin:

  • Drink lots of water. This is key to hydrating your skin.
  • Use the right moisturizing cream or lotion for your skin type and apply it right after drying off from your bath or shower. Avoid products that contain sodium lauryl sulfate, as this ingredient removes natural oils needed by your skin.
  • Take warm (not hot) showers or baths, and limit them to between 5 and 10 minutes. It seems counterintuitive, but exposure to water actually dries out your skin. If dry skin persists, consider cutting back on the number of baths you take.

3. Take Health Precautions

Cold sores are caused by a viral infection of the skin bordering the lips, while bacteria can contribute to acne and other skin conditions. Practicing skin protection means paying close attention to what touches your skin, to lower your chances of exposure to germs:

  • Don’t share any personal items, such as lip balms or toothbrushes.
  • Don’t share drinks with other people.
  • Avoid touching your face with your fingers or with objects like telephone receivers that have been used by others.

4. Use Gentle Skin Care

Washing your face is important to remove dirt, oils, germs, and dead cells. However, scrubbing your face causes irritation that can lead to chapped skin that, in turn, can leave skin vulnerable. For best results, you should:

  • Wash your face twice daily with warm water and a mild cleanser.
  • Gently massage your face with a washcloth, using a circular motion.
  • Rinse thoroughly after washing to remove all soap and debris.
  • Pat your skin dry — don’t rub — then apply your facial moisturizer.

5. Know Your Skin

Pay attention to odd freckles, moles, and growths on your skin, and consult your doctor if you notice any changes. For example, a change in a mole can indicate potential skin cancer. Be sure to treat any cuts that may occur to prevent infection. Other skin conditions that merit a dermatologist visit include frequent acne, inflamed or irritated dry skin, and skin rashes and irritations that don’t go away, as these could be signs of one of the many types of dermatitis, or skin inflammation.

With proper skin care to pamper skin from the outside and with a good diet to nourish from within, skin protection comes down to a few simple steps. But should you ever notice any problems, get medical attention to resolve them quickly and avoid putting your skin at risk.