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Monthly Archives: October 2016

Ways Beat Dry Skin

Put a stop to dull, flaky skin with these simple rules for keeping your skin hydrated.

Dry, itchy skin is no joke. Because skin is the body’s largest organ (weighing about nine pounds), the frustration and discomfort that go along with dehydration can affect your daily existence, from your wardrobe to your social life. And if you happen to have a skin condition like eczema, you know from experience that flaky skin is no laughing matter.

However, you can fight flakiness and itchiness with a few important tips. Here, skin experts share their best advice for keeping your skin soft and supple.

Find the Right Exfoliator

Exfoliating can be beneficial for those who have dry skin because it helps the dead surface layers of skin cells to be shed, layers that can prevent moisturizers from being absorbed, says Doris Day, MD, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center.

The key is to find the exfoliator that works best for your skin. Scrubs and alpha-hydroxy and beta-hydroxy acids are best for those who don’t have sensitive skin. Those with sensitive skin can exfoliate with a home remedy that consists of a paste made from baking soda and water. “It’s great for your face or for rough patches like your heels, and nobody breaks out from it,” says Mona Gohara, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University.

Note that if you have any skin conditions, it’s best to check with a dermatologist before trying anything new. And beware of exfoliating too often because it can cause irritation.

Don’t Wash Too Often

Like exfoliating too much, washing too often can lead to dryness. “I usually tell people to use soap only where they need it — underarms, groin, hands and feet,” says Rebecca Baxt, MD, a dermatologist in Paramus, New Jersey.

Take a Lukewarm Shower

“Hot showers can strip the skin of oil and leave skin dry,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Although hot showers are relaxing, fight the urge to parboil yourself and use lukewarm water instead. Also, limit the length of your showers to 10 minutes or less.

Moisturize Every Day

Using a moisturizer daily is crucial to combating dry, flaky skin. “When the skin is dry, it needs to be hydrated from the outside in — drinking eight glasses of water is not enough,” says Dr. Day.

For the most effective moisturizer, look for ingredients, including ceramides, that help support and replenish lipids in the skin. Hyaluronic acid and glycerin, both humectants, help the skin attract water and hold in moisture. Additionally, Dr. Zeichner recommends that, to help seal in moisture, you apply moisturizer to damp skin after showering.

Ways Find the right Skin Moisturizer

Feel overwhelmed when you want to buy skin moisturizer for your dry skin? That’s no surprise, as there are dozens to choose from at the drugstore and hundreds more at high-end cosmetics and department stores — creams, lotions, ointments, some with sunscreen, others with an exfoliant. Choices range from the basic $1.50 jar of petroleum jelly to a $500 five-ounce tub of designer skin moisturizer. And all the options in between can make your head spin.

While choosing the right skin moisturizer may seem confusing, it’s actually very simple if you follow a few guidelines, says dermatologist Monica Halem, MD, of ColumbiaDoctors Eastside in New York City. Dr. Halem’s first rule of thumb? Don’t spend too much money.

How a Skin Moisturizer Works

Cleansers and moisturizers are the most important skin products, particularly for softening dry skin. A skin moisturizer works by sealing moisture into the outer layer of the skin and by pulling moisture from the inner layers of skin to the outer layer.

Key ingredients that seal in moisture are petrolatum, mineral oil, lanolin, and dimethicone. Glycerin, propylene glycol, proteins, urea, and vitamins help attract water into the outer layer of the skin.

Some skin moisturizers also contain an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), which exfoliates dead skin, says Francesca Fusco, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and a spokeswoman for the Skin Cancer Foundation. AHAs are a good choice if you have very dry skin.

Finding the Skin Moisturizer For You

It may take some trial and error, Halem says, so be patient. Follow these guidelines as you shop and, if you’re not getting the results you want, try a new one the next time:

  • Note the first five ingredients. Look for common active ingredients, such as lanolin, glycerin, or petrolatum, Dr. Fusco says. Glycerin is less likely than lanolin to cause an allergic reaction, she says. She also recommends picking a moisturizer that’s made by a reputable company.
  • Go for added sunscreen. Protecting your skin from harmful sun damage is one of the best things you can do to keep your skin looking young, so buy a moisturizer with a sun protection factor of at least 30. You’ll have to do some searching, but more companies are offering face and body moisturizers with sunscreen, Halem says.
  • Make it skin-type appropriate. The skin on your face is thinner and more sensitive, so it’s a good idea to use a different moisturizer on your face than you do on your body, Fusco says and recommends buying one that’s labeled “non-comedogenic” because it won’t clog your pores. Of course, choose one that’s right for your skin type. If you know you have sensitive skin, it’s always a good idea to look for a moisturizer labeled hypoallergenic. If you have oily skin, go with a light, oil-free moisturizer. If you have dry skin, get something richer. And if you have combination skin, go with a lighter moisturizer for your whole face and dot drier areas with a heavier cream, Fusco says. Keep in mind that you may need a lighter lotion in the summer, and a cream or ointment in the winter.
  • Consider using a moisturizer with retinol before bed. Retinol is vitamin A for your skin, Halem says. It works by increasing the speed at which your skin cells turn over. You can find it over the counter or by prescription, but use it carefully as it may cause a skin irritation, red skin, or dry skin.

Relief by Prescription

If your skin is very dry, consider a prescription moisturizer. Prescription moisturizers contain the AHA lactic acid, which softens the top layer of your skin and can do a better job if over-the-counter moisturizers aren’t working for you, Fusco says. AHAs such as lactic acid and glycolic acid can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Tell your doctor if you experience burning, irritation, red skin, itching, or a rash.

Another prescription option is a barrier cream, which contains humectants that hold on to moisture longer, Fusco says. Barrier creams penetrate a little deeper than standard moisturizers, she adds.

When to Moisturize

Once you find the right product, moisturize every day and you’ll go a long way toward preventing dry skin and even camouflaging wrinkles. While a skin moisturizer can’t get rid of wrinkles — because wrinkles begin much deeper in the skin due to collagen loss — it can plump up the skin and minimize their appearance, Halem says.

Whichever moisturizer you choose, it will work better if you apply it to damp skin. Think about a sponge that’s dried out, Fusco says. If you put moisturizer on it, it won’t go anywhere. But if you soak the sponge in water and coat it with moisturizer, the sponge will absorb it. Your skin works the same way, happily lapping it up.

Tips to Help You Manage Chronic Hives

Whether it’s applying a soothing lotion or trying a vitamin D supplement, there are steps you can take to manage chronic hives. Start here.

Chronic hives, also known as chronic urticaria, is an uncomfortable skin condition marked by itchy red welts that can appear anywhere on your body. “About 85 percent of the time, we don’t know what causes it,” says Miriam Anand, MD, an allergist with Allergy Associates and Asthma in Tempe, Arizona. When the cause of hives can’t be determined, the condition is known as chronic idiopathic urticaria. This poses a challenge when it comes to treating chronic hives, which by definition last longer than six weeks, and can sometimes come and go for years.

Besides causing discomfort, chronic hives can interfere with daily activities, but there are many ways to manage the condition — even if you don’t know its cause. Start with these steps to soothe or prevent the symptoms associated with chronic hives:

1. Avoid known triggers

One of the best ways to control hives is to avoid known triggers, according to a report published in the June 2015 issue of the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology.  To determine which triggers may be affecting you, the first step is to see your allergist. “We do allergy testing to see if your body is reacting to one of the many allergens that can cause hives,” says Dr. Anand. Some of these allergens are:

  • Some foods, especially peanuts, eggs, nuts, shellfish, and some food additives
  • Certain pain medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen
  • Physical stimuli such as pressure, temperature, exercise, and sun exposure
  • Bacterial infections, including urinary tract infections
  • Viral infections, such as the common cold and hepatitis
  • Pet dander
  • Pollen

If one or more of these allergens is found to be the cause of your hives, says Anand, your doctor will work with you to figure out ways to avoid exposure. “If a trigger isn’t found after testing, your doctor will look for other causes of chronic hives,” she adds. One of those could be an autoimmune condition — almost half of all cases of chronic hives are due to an overactive immune system, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.  Treating an underlying medical condition, says Anand, can help rid you of thesymptoms of chronic hives.

2. Take your medications

Antihistamines are usually the first line of treatment for chronic hives. “I usually prescribe a long-acting antihistamine once a day first,” says Anand, “and if that doesn’t work, I’ll add a second one.” If antihistamines don’t help, your doctor may prescribe another medication. According to a study published in March 2013 in the New England Journal of Medicine, omalizumab, an injectable medication commonly used to treat asthma, was found to be effective in treating most people who did not respond to antihistamines.  Other treatments your doctor might prescribe include corticosteroids (for short-term use only) or epinephrine injections (if you experience swelling in your lips or throat). To help boost the effectiveness of your treatment, always follow your doctor’s instructions when it comes to taking your medications, and don’t skip any doses. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your medication.

3. Soothe your skin

The drier your skin is, the itchier it feels, tempting you to scratch. But scratching is one of the worst things you can do, says Anand, because it can aggravate your hives. To calm the itching, keep your skin moisturized, she says. Taking frequent baths can also help reduce itching and scratching, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).

In addition, cooling the affected area can feel soothing to your skin (as long as cold temperature isn’t one of your hive triggers). There are many ways to cool your skin, including:

  • Applying an anti-inflammatory medication or cream, as prescribed by your doctor
  • Positioning yourself in front of a fan
  • Applying a cold compress

4. Wear loose, light clothing

Constant friction and pressure on your skin can worsen your hives, according to the ACAAI. Avoid wearing constricting clothing, tight belts, and even ill-fitting shoes — hives can also appear on the soles of your feet. Choose loosely fitting clothing in soft fabrics instead.

5. Talk to your doctor about a vitamin D supplement

Adding a vitamin D supplement to your treatment plan may help reduce the symptoms of chronic hives, according to a small study published in January 2014 in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. In the two-year study, people with chronic hives who took a daily supplement of vitamin D3 along with their regular allergy medications experienced a decrease of 33 percent in their symptoms within the first week. More research is needed to confirm the benefits of vitamin D supplementation for chronic hives. Talk to your doctor about possibly adding a supplement to your treatment. 

6. Consider alternative therapies

Stress has been found to worsen hives, and techniques that promote relaxation, such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga, can be good ways to reduce stress, says Anand.  Some studies point to a potential link between acupuncture and a decrease in the symptoms of chronic hives, but more research is needed to confirm these findings.

7. Manage your emotions

When you have chronic hives, most of your efforts may naturally be directed toward managing visible symptoms. But don’t forget to address the condition’s invisible symptoms: Anxiety and depression often accompany chronic hives. “This stands to reason,” says Anand, “since living with a chronic condition can be challenging and uncomfortable.” Chronic hives has specifically been found to increase emotional distress, feelings of isolation, and fatigue. If these symptoms sound familiar, talking to a therapist may help you relieve some emotional pressure.

How To Protect Children From Sun

Making sure your kids avoid sunburn and reduce their future skin cancer can be easy and inexpensive. Here’s how.

If you’re a parent, sun protection for your kids should be high on your priority list. Preventing sunburn with sunscreen and protective clothing are important when activities take you outdoors.

But a recent study released by the Colorado School of Public Health shows that many parents could be doing more to protect their children from sunburns — and skin cancer. Here, the dangers of sunburn and how to protect your family better.

UV Protection for Kids: Why It’s Important

Ahmet Altiner, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist, says that getting this message out to parents is critical as there’s more risk associated with a child’s sunburn than most people realize. “There is very good biological evidence that exposure to harmful UVA rays early on in life can lead to an increase in chances of melanoma in the future,” he says. “Therefore, sun protection is particularly important in children. For example, when I screen my patients for risk factors for melanoma, one of the questions I ask is, ‘Did you have a blistering sunburn when you were a child?’ This is an important gauge for me as to how much UVA damage they may have had as a child.”

Simple, Affordable Ways to Provide UV Protection

Providing sun protection to reduce the risk for melanoma and skin cancer in your kids as they grow up can be a simple matter and also one that doesn’t have to break your budget. There are a number of easy, cost-effective ways to reduce your kids’ risk for sunburn.

The first step is sunscreen, says Richard Bezozo, MD, president of MoleSafe, a melanoma screening company with clinics nationwide. Dr. Bezozo stresses that the sunscreen’s SPF — the number that indicates its sun protection factor — and the way you apply it is more critical than buying the most expensive one on the shelf. “Parents should use a sunscreen with at least a 30 SPF because anything less is not very useful,” he says. “The most important things to remember are to put the sunscreen on at least 30 minutes before going outside or going into the sun and to always reapply sunscreen after swimming, sweating, and rubbing with a towel. Even without swimming or sweating, reapply the sunscreen every couple of hours during a day in the sun. Apply enough sunscreen to the child’s body and be sure to cover the child’s entire body.”

If your kids are swimming, a waterproof sunscreen is a good choice, says Laura Speck, MD, of Westlake Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery in Austin, Texas. “A few of the sunscreen brands I generally recommend are Neutrogena, Aveeno, and EltaMD,” she adds. “Products such as Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Spray are conveniently able to go directly onto wet skin, making reapplication quick and easy at the pool.”

In terms of protective clothing, a good rule of thumb is to choose long-sleeve shirts and wide-brimmed hats for outdoor outings. When swimming, invest in a long-sleeve swim shirt that your child can leave on while in the water. There are children’s clothes available with an added UV coating, but these can be expensive and might not be needed. “Unless a child is particularly sensitive to the sun, I do not believe any special type of UV clothing is necessary,” says Dr. Altiner. “Wearing long-sleeve shirts while in the water is a great way to promote sun protection.”

Finally, the best (and cheapest) way to protect your children from sunburn is to simply avoid the sun when it’s the strongest, generally from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on sunny days. Of course, sun exposure is still dangerous at other times and even on cloudy days, so the rules about sunscreen and clothing still apply. “One useful tip I give my patients is to check the UV index on Weather.com,” says Altiner. “This is a much better way to gauge how much sun they are getting than actually keeping to a specific time frame. It is important to remember that there can be cloudy days when the index is still high. So to avoid a false sense of security, don’t go by only what you see in the sky.”