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Monthly Archives: September 2016

6 Reasons Sleep for Skin Health

Get your beauty sleep! The ZZZs you catch every night can have a profound impact on your skin health. Here’s how.

A good night’s sleep can mean good skin health because when you’re sleep-deprived, your body makes more of the stress hormone cortisol. Elevated levels of cortisol can lead to increased stress and inflammation in the body, hurting your skin’s quality.

But the relationship between skin health and lack of quality sleep can be a vicious cycle, especially with conditions like atopic dermatitis or eczema, which can lead to scratching even through the night, recent research published in the journal Clinics in Dermatologyshowed.

“Poor sleep can lead to increased stress hormones in the body that increase the severity of inflammatory skin conditions such as acne or psoriasis,” explains Jessica Krant, MD, MPH, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and founder of Art of Dermatology in New York. This can result in increased itching, which can disrupt sleep. As the vicious cycle continues, skin conditions and sleep quality can increasingly worsen together. In contrast, skin conditions and sleep quality can also improve together. Getting a good night’s sleep will help to clear up skin, which allows sleep to improve and, in turn, will improve skin health.”

Need more convincing? Here are six reasons why not getting enough sleep detracts from skin health and your health in general:

  1. Not enough sleep worsens existing skin conditions. Increased inflammatory response shows up as increased acne breakouts, increased skin sensitivity, increased allergic contact dermatitis reactions, and increased irritant dermatitis — and more severe conditions mean more treatment and skin care.
  2. Not enough sleep detracts from your skin’s natural beauty. Increased inflammatory cells in the body lead to an increase in the breakdown of collagen and hyaluronic acid, the molecules that give the skin its glow, bounce, and translucency.
  3. Not enough sleep makes immune-related skin problems worse. Increased inflammation in the body throws off the body’s ability to regulate the immune system, which leads not only to getting sick more often, but also to flares of immune-related skin diseases such as psoriasis and eczema. Psoriasis is not just a skin disease; it’s also an indicator of body inflammation. “Many people with severe psoriasis actually have an increased risk for heart attacks, which is even more reason to keep stress low and get good quality sleep,” Dr. Krant says.
  4. Not enough sleep results in less beauty. While you’re sleeping, the body’s hydration rebalances. Skin is able to recover moisture, while excess water in general in the body is processed for removal. Not getting enough sleep results in poor water balance, leading to puffy bags under your eyes and under-eye circles, as well as dryness and more visible wrinkles.
  5. Not enough sleep accelerates the aging process. During deep sleep, the rise in growth hormones allows damaged cells to become repaired. Without the deeper phases of sleep, this won’t occur, allowing daily small breakdowns to accumulate instead of being reversed overnight. This results in more noticeable signs of aging.
  6. Not enough sleep contributes to weight gain. Sleep also helps with weight management, which is good for your skin. Sleep makes you feel less hungry, Krant explains — recent studies have linked sleep deprivation to excess snacking and calorie consumption.

Ways to Ease Itch of Chronic Hives

1. Itch Relief Made Easier

They’re itchy, red, and raised and often appear at the worst possible times. About 20 percent of the population will get them at least once in their lives, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. They’re hives. And hives that last more than six weeks are considered chronic (persistent or recurring). For some people, these hives are a result of allergies, but for others there’s no discernible cause. Chronic hives with no known cause are called chronic idiopathic urticaria (hives).

The itching associated with these hives, which stems from the release of natural chemicals called histamines by your body’s immune system, can dramatically affect your quality of life. This is among the main findings of a study published in August 2015 in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Still, there’s a lot you can do to ease the itch of chronic hives.

2. Avoid Triggers

“Allergy testing is typically the first step when someone develops hives,” says Gary Goldenberg, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. “Even if your blood work comes back negative, meaning the cause of the hives can’t be found, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any triggers.” Keeping a diary can help you identify your potential triggers. “Pay attention to what precipitates your hives and itching,” Dr. Goldenberg says. “If you go out for Italian food and eat tomato sauce and have a flare, you may want to avoid tomato sauce.”

3. Don’t Scratch

Yes, the itch can drive you crazy, but scratching hives may cause them to spread and become even more inflamed, says Neeta Ogden, MD, an allergist in private practice in Englewood, New Jersey, and a spokesperson for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. “Cold compresses may help soothe the itch without aggravating the hives,” she says.

4. Take an Antihistamine

Non-drowsy, over-the-counter antihistamines can combat itching and help break the hive cycle by blocking the symptom-producing release of histamine. “The key is to take the antihistamine every day at the exact same time,” Goldenberg says. “Antihistamines don’t treat the hives you have, but they can help prevent new ones from occurring in the next 24 hours.” Antihistamine creams can also stop the itch in its tracks, he says. Ask your doctor about what type of antihistamine is most likely to help relieve your itching.

5. Chill Out

Stress makes everything worse. “Everything is amplified when you’re feeling stressed out,” Goldenberg says. “If you have hives, they can get worse with stress.” The best thing to do is to find ways to de-stress. Meditation, deep breathing, or just taking a walk can help. The key is consistency. “Find something that relaxes you and do it often,” he says.

6. Consider Acupuncture

Acupuncture may play a role in relieving the itch associated with chronic hives, according to a study published in September 2015 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Locate a practitioner near you with the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture’s acupuncturist finder.

7. Take a Cold Shower

Hot showers or baths can make hives worse. “Heat can cause vasodilation, which essentially gives your hives more blood supply and a chance to spread,” Dr. Ogden says. Instead, take a cold shower or a cool bath to calm the itch. Always use soap and other products that are unscented and made for sensitive skin. “Products aren’t causing your hives, but you want whatever you use to be gentle enough not to make them worse,” she says.

8. Moisturize

“Hives aren’t drying like other skin conditions, but if a moisturizer is soothing or cooling, it can be useful,” Ogden says. Some products also have an anti-itch component such as oatmeal that can help relieve the itch and soothe your skin. “But always do a patch test when trying something new,” she says. Wait 48 hours to see if there’s a reaction to the new ingredient. “If oatmeal proves helpful, consider a cool oatmeal bath when the itch of hives flares,” Ogden says.

9. Talk With Your Doctor

“Check with your doctor to make sure you’re doing all you can to prevent and stop the itch,” says Goldenberg. If antihistamines aren’t helping, your doctor may prescribe another treatment. These may include corticosteroids, antidepressants, leukotriene modifiers, immunosuppressants, and omalizumab, an asthma drug now approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat chronic hives. Light therapy may also provide some relief, Goldenberg says.

Ways use a Skin Exfoliant

Dead skin cells often need a little help to slough off. A skin exfoliant with ingredients like an alpha hydroxy acid or a beta hydroxy acid can leave you looking fresh and feeling smooth again.

Our skin is constantly renewing itself, growing new skin cells to replace the surface skin cells that grow old, die, and fall, or slough, off. Every minute of every day, between 30,000 and 40,000 dead skin cells flake away.

Factors like age and dry skin can mean that dead skin cells don’t fall away as easily as they should. When these cells build up, they can make the complexion look rough and pasty and can also contribute to the clogged pores that lead to adult acne. The regular yet careful use of a skin exfoliant can help slough off dead skin cells and uncover fresh, more youthful skin.

There are two main types of skin exfoliants: mechanical exfoliants and chemical exfoliants. Both are commonly available, and both have pros and cons regarding their use and the types of skin conditions for which they are most appropriate.

Mechanical Skin Exfoliants

Mechanical exfoliants work by sanding off dead skin cells using mildly abrasive substances. These skin exfoliants typically are facial scrubs, creamy cleansers with tiny, rough particles. As you gently massage the exfoliant over the surface of your face and skin, the friction works to loosen the old skin cells.

Mechanical skin exfoliants are readily available in drugstores and easy to use. They are particularly good for people with oily skin or acne, as they remove skin cells and debris that clog pores, but only if you don’t scrub too hard as this can cause further irritation.

However, mechanical exfoliants can be harsh. When you use them, you’re literally sanding away the outer layer of your skin. Some contain particles so jagged and rough that they could actually cut the skin. Because of this, dermatologists recommend using a gentle motion when using a skin exfoliant, and skipping them altogether if you have sensitive skin.

Chemical Skin Exfoliants

A chemical skin exfoliant uses gentle acids to dissolve whatever bonds are preventing the outer layer of dead skin cells from falling off your face and body. There are two main types of chemical skin exfoliants, those that include an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and those that include a beta hydroxy acid (BHA):

  • Alpha hydroxy acids are derived from different foods, from fruits, such as apples and grapes, to milk. Some of the most common AHAs to look for on product labels are glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, alpha-hydroxyoctanoic acid, and triple fruit acid. An alpha hydroxy acid is best for people with dry or thickened skin.
  • Beta hydroxy acids are the chemical cousins of alpha hydroxy acids, but are more oil-soluble and therefore better at exfoliating oily skin or acne-prone skin. The best known beta hydroxy acid is salicylic acid. On product labels, look for salicylate, sodium salicylate, beta hydroxybutanoic acid, or tropic acid.

Alpha hydroxy acid and beta hydroxy acid skin care products tend to be less harsh on the skin than mechanical exfoliants. They also help refresh the skin in ways a facial scrub can’t: They lower the skin’s pH level and help smooth small, shallow wrinkles, improving the look of skin that is dry or sun damaged.

Finding the right formulation for your skin involves some trial and error. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, you should choose alpha hydroxy acid-based chemical exfoliants with an alpha hydroxy acid concentration of 10 percent or less and a pH of 3.5 or more. Beta hydroxy acid-based exfoliants containing salicylic acid are effective at levels of 1.5 to 2 percent. Using stronger solutions can cause skin irritation.

Another caveat: These types of exfoliants increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun for as long as a week after each use. Before going out, always apply sunscreen — a skin-saving recommendation for everyone.

How and When to Use Exfoliants

You should not use an exfoliant every day. Your skin needs time to regenerate its topmost layer, which exfoliation strips away. People with dry skin should only exfoliate once or twice a week, while those with oily skin can exfoliate two to four times a week. Stop using an exfoliant if you find your skin becoming irritated or developing a rash. Remember to moisturize your skin after exfoliating, to soothe it and keep it from drying out.

Ways to Treat Winter-Dry Skin

In the winter, skin can lose moisture to cold, dry air. But the right skin products, lots of fluids, and shorter, cooler showers, can help keep moisture where it belongs.

A scratchy wool sweater may make your skin itchy and sensitive during the cold months, but winter weather itself poses a special threat to your skin. There’s little humidity in the air and revving up the heat indoors makes it even worse. The result:Dry skin in need of moisture, 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.

When you have dry, sensitive skin, it itches, appears dull, and may be flaky. Darker skin tones may look ashy, Dr. Fusco says. Dry skin can become cracked and even split. In an extreme case, dry skin can look thickened and leathery, she says.

Before you decide to relocate to a warmer, more humid climate, take these steps to sea in the moisture and repair winter skin.

Your Moisturizer: Go From Thin to Thick

While you might only need a thin lotion on your body during summer months, Fusco suggests switching to a thicker skin moisturizer, such as an ointment or cream, in the winter. Apply it when your skin is still damp from a shower.

An ointment such as petroleum jelly is the thickest skin moisturizer you can buy and will work well for treating dry skin, Fusco says. Although it can be greasy, if you put it on when your skin is damp, the greasiness will go away. “But don’t put it on the bottom of your feet because you could slip and fall,” Fusco cautions.

Creams are also thicker than lotion and are great for winter skin. If your skin is very, very dry, you may want to try one that contains alpha hydroxy acid, or AHA, to exfoliate dead skin, Fusco says.

Winter Complexion Protection

Be sure to use a separate moisturizer specifically designed for your face, Fusco says. The skin on your face is thinner and more sensitive, so always choose a moisturizer that’s labeled “non-comedogenic” because it won’t clog your pores or lead to pimples. If you have sensitive skin, it’s a good idea to look for a hypoallergenic moisturizer, adds Fusco.

Go with a lighter moisturizer such as a lotion if you have oily skin and a heavier formula if you have dry skin. If you have a combination of oily and dry skin on your face, use a lighter lotion overall and dab the areas of dry skin with the thicker cream, Fusco says.

The sun’s damaging rays can still reach your skin in the winter. Fusco recommends using a face moisturizer with an SPF, or sun protection factor. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology suggests using a sunscreen all year round, with an SPF of 30 or higher that protects against ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays.

Switch Up Your Shower Strategy

It may be hard to resist a long soak in a hot bath when it’s cold outside, but it doesn’t do your skin any favors. “Sitting in hot baths has a drying effect on the skin,” Fusco says. A better idea: Take a short, warm shower.

Keep showers under 10 minutes and apply your skin moisturizer within three minutes of stepping out. Also, avoid soaps with deodorants, fragrance, or alcohol because they can strip your skin of its natural oils.

Other Ways to Add Moisture

Using a humidifier in your home will help put moisture back into the air and keep your skin from getting dry, Fusco says. No humidifier? Fill a bowl with water and put it near the source of your heat, suggests Fusco.

Getting good-for-you fats into your diet from unsaturated sources like oils and nuts will also help skin look healthy and stay supple during the winter, Fusco says. Drinking plenty of water helps to moisturize your skin from the inside out.

Winter doesn’t have to mean itchy, flaky dry skin. Choosing the right skin moisturizer and taking some simple steps can help you look your best all season long.