Category Archives: Health and Beauty

Find Shower Gel or Bar Soap

Standing in the skin and beauty aisle at the drugstore store can seem overwhelming. Bar soaps, body washes, and shower gels all compete for your attention and your dollars. How can you find the best soap for your skin?

What you buy is largely a matter of which type of product you like best — with a few exceptions, says Jami Miller, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the department of dermatology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

Dr. Miller cautions against falling for the advertising that surrounds body washes, bar soaps, and shower gels. Most of the messages in these ads are misleading. Instead, you should consider your skin type, specifically whether your skin tends to be sensitive and dry, or oily. Your bathing habits may actually be more important than the product that you choose: it’s best to use warm instead of hot water when taking a bath and to moisturize immediately after toweling off.

Related: Try These 10 Foods to Enhance Your Skin and Hair

Whether you choose a bar or a bottle, many body cleansers may all have the same effect. These products remove dirt, bacteria, and — unfortunately — some or all of your natural body oils.

“Most soaps and body washes remove the oils that keep skin soft and naturally moisturized. Removing that oil makes your skin dryer,” says Miller. One solution is to look for products that state that they are moisturizing. “Many body washes leave a layer of moisturizer on the skin that helps to replenish the oils removed.”

In a Lather Over Lather

Despite what many bath product commercials may suggest, you do not need a lot of foam to get clean. In fact, avoiding lather might be your best bet, especially if you are worried about dry skin.

“The non-soap cleansers that also do not foam tend to leave more of your natural oils behind and thus are less drying,” explains Miller. “Most people can avoid over-drying their skin by selecting a soap for sensitive skin such as Dove, Aveeno, Cetaphil, or CeraVe, and applying a body lotion to still-damp skin after bathing. This seals the moisture back into your skin and replenishes the oils you removed.”

A Conversation About Film

Miller explains the term “film” can have several different meanings, but we usually think of it as a thin layer of oil deposited by bar soap or body wash. It forms a barrier to seal in moisture and, as long as this doesn’t lead to a breakout or make you feel greasy, it’s perfectly fine. Both soap and body wash can leave a film, she says, adding to beware of soaps that leave no film. Soaps that strip off all your oil, making you feel squeaky clean but leaving no moisture barrier, are harsher than those that leave a film.

Related: Are You Using the Right Moisturizer?

If a film bothers you, Miller suggests trying newer formulations of soap, shower gel, body wash, and moisturizers. These “more closely approximate the skin’s natural lipids and still leave moisture in the skin, but feel less greasy, so you do not feel a film left behind,” she says.

The Facts About Bar Soap

Many people believe that a simple bar soap is the best body cleanser. However, bar soaps may be unpleasantly drying, says Miller. The most important step you can take is to check the ingredients for lye.

“Deodorant soaps and lye soaps tend to strip the skin’s oils and do not replace them. If your skin is really oily, then that is not a problem,” says Miller. “If you use these relatively harsh soaps and your skin becomes dry, you will need to moisturize afterwards.”

If you like using a bar soap, it’s better to choose a beauty bar, which tends to be more moisturizing that regular bar soaps.

How to Take Care for Winter Dry Skin

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.

How to Find Skin Care Products

You can’t hide your skin, so you want to take care of it. You want to put your best face forward — with clear, glowing, smooth, natural skin. You may even be willing to spend more for skin care products that boast better results because contain natural ingredients or are labeled “organic.”

But what do those terms really mean? Is the “natural” or “organic” label worth the extra weight of the price tag — is it really any better for your skin and for the environment?

It all comes down to what you want from your skin products and what your particular skin type needs.

Is Natural Better?

“When choosing between a natural or organic product and one that’s not, it’s helpful to think about what is important to you,” says Kelly C. Nelson, MD, a dermatologist and assistant professor at Duke University School of Medicine in North Carolina.

Decide what you want to get out of your skin care products. Are you looking for something that won’t irritate your skin, gives you better results and healthier skin, or has less impact on the environment? Do you want a combination of all those elements?

“If you’re in the market for a product that’s fragrance- or preservative-free, or presented with minimal or recycled packaging, it may be easier to meet those criteria with a natural or organic product,” says Dr. Nelson.

But don’t read too much into the labels or make assumptions that may not be true. Natural doesn’t always mean better, and natural ingredients aren’t necessarily safer or more likely to provide better results.

“People with sensitive skin may opt for natural or organic products in an attempt to avoid skin allergic reactions, which may work, but sometimes doesn’t,” Nelson says.

If you’re going to try a natural or organic product, allow some time to see if it really is compatible with your skin and if it’s worth the additional price.

“Give any product at least a month to determine if it meets your needs, or less if your skin complains,” says Nelson.

Specific Skin Products for Specific Skin Types

If you’re curious about whether a particular natural ingredient is better for your skin, Nelson also suggests just figuring out what your skin needs. It’s also important to understand that you don’t have to choose natural (or more expensive) to get a good skin care product that works well with your skin.

“While oatmeal-containing products do help moisturize the skin, there are many products that don’t contain oatmeal that do a wonderful job, too,” says Nelson. Soy has been found in studies to improve elasticity and firmness of skin. “Soy-containing products can help improve pigment irregularities that are associated with an aged appearance, but there are several prescription and over-the-counter products that can do an even better job,” she says.

Easy 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.

Take Care for Your Skin Type

Makeup experts and skin care specialists refer often to various skin types — dry, oily, combination — assuming you know which category you fall under. Your skin care regimen depends on your skin type, but not everyone has a good understanding of their skin. As a result, their skin care plan is more of the hit-or-miss variety.

Know Your Skin Type

Unsure of what skin type you have? See which description fits you best:

  • Dry skin. “Dry skin can be flaky and easily irritated. It’s more sensitive,” says Linda Franks, MD, director of Gramercy Park Dermatology and clinical assistant professor in the department of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine in New York. She says if your skin has these qualities and also tends to react to some (or all) of the skin products you have tried, you have dry skin. The extreme version of dry skin is sensitive skin.
  • Oily skin. The primary test for determining if you have oily skin is when you start to feel some oil on your face. Most people can feel a little oil by late afternoon, but if you feel oil around midday, you have oily skin. Oily skin rarely reacts negatively to skin products like dry, sensitive skin types do. It has slightly better natural sun protection, but is also prone to acne.
  • Combination skin. If the description of dry skin matches your cheeks, but the description of oily skin matches your “T-zone” (nose and brow area primarily), you have combination skin.

Matching skin care to skin type is important. Dr. Franks notes that there are two commonly used skin care products that just about everyone can steer clear of: toner and too-frequent exfoliation, both of which can strip away the protective layers of your skin. If you have a good skin care regimen, you don’t need either one, although you could plan for a semi-annual exfoliation as seasons change.

How to Loving Care for Dry Skin

Itchy, dry skin, also known as xerosis, is a distraction we can all do without. It’s uncomfortable and the cracked, flaky, red skin can be unattractive. If you scratch a lot, bacteria can invade those cracks and then you might even develop an infection.

The good news: You can manage dry skin even if you can’t control the environmental conditions that cause it, such as cold weather or central heating.

Skin Care for Dry Skin

First, cut back on washing. “Overwashing, particularly long, hot showers, is the number one reason for dry skin,” says Bruce Robinson, MD, Manhattan-based dermatologist and spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

His recommendations for people with dry skin? “Decrease their frequency of bathing, use a mild soap, and don’t soap the whole body every day. And, moisturize, moisturize, moisturize.”

With so many different types of moisturizers available, finding the right one for your needs can be a challenge — should you choose a lotion, a cream, or an ointment?

Dermatologist Susan C. Taylor, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University in New York, recommends moisturizers that contain ceramides, natural lipid molecules that contain fatty acids. “Ceramides have a natural moisturizing factor. If you add ceramide to lotions and cleansers, you replace them in the skin. That’s the newest twist on moisturizers,” she explains.

Besides looking for a moisturizer that contains ceramides, Dr. Taylor, who is also a spokesperson for the AAD, says it’s wise to choose an ointment or cream over lotion. In fact, good old-fashioned petrolatum (petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline and similar store brands) can be the most effective choice.

“The oils in petrolatum trap moisture in the skin and provide a barrier from the outside environment,” Taylor says. “As long as you’re not acne-prone, I don’t have a problem with using petrolatum.”

Know Your Skin Type

Skin is generally classified into one of four categories: normal, oily, dry, and combination, says Susan Van Dyke, MD, a dermatologist with Van Dyke Laser and Skin Care in Paradise Valley, Ariz. However, your skin type can change as you age, and other factors like genetics and even illness can play a part. “It’s multi-factorial,” Dr. Van Dyke says.

Normal skin, which has a good balance of moisture, small pores and an even tone, is the goal of most skin care regimens. Most people have normal skin, Van Dyke says, but to maintain its good condition, it’s important to minimize its exposure to the sun. A facial sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is ideal for preventing wrinkles and other sun damage.

“Put it by your toothpaste and use it,” Van Dyke says. “It doesn’t matter if it is snowing or raining — get in that habit so you always have it on. Incidental sun exposure is what gets you.”

Skin Care: Quieting Oily Skin

Oily skin is identified by an excess of oil (the technical term is sebum) on the face. Some people with oily skin begin to feel greasy only a few hours after washing. “A very oily person would feel the need to wash their face between noon and 5 p.m., because oil has built up during the day,” Van Dyke says. Oily skin can be an inherited trait, but it can also be caused by puberty, which causes oil glands to go into overdrive. You may also notice more oil on your “T-zone” because of all the oil glands in the forehead, nose, and chin.

People with oily skin generally don’t need a regular moisturizer, but sunscreen is still necessary to reduce exposure to UV rays. Choose an oil-free sunscreen, suggests Van Dyke says, one that’s specifically formulated for the face and are less likely to create blackheads and clog pores. “There are plenty of oil-free sunscreens available,” Van Dyke says. “Go to the drugstore, read labels, and try samples of different ones. There’s no excuse not to use sunscreen anymore.”

Skin Care: Soothing Dry Skin

Dry skin, on the other hand, suffers from a lack of natural moisture — there’s little oil to act as a surface barrier and lock in moisture. People with dry skin feel a tightness about their face, and their skin is often irritated. Flaking is another symptom, but it’s not always a sure sign of dry skin. “You can have flaky skin and not be dry,” Van Dyke says. Sometimes, severely dry skin can become itchy and painful, leading to a condition called eczema.

All About Beauty Resources

The AAD is an association of practicing dermatologists that provides medical information and skin care education to the public. The AAD’s main Web site contains information on:

A related Web site, SkinCarePhysicians.com was created by the AAD to help patients find out more information about skin cancer and other skin conditions, as well as information about cosmetic procedures and treatments.

American Society for Dermatologic Surgery

847-956-0900

The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery membership consists of dermatologic surgeons who diagnose and treat skin cancer and revitalize aging, environmentally damaged skin. Its Web site contains a variety of consumer information, including:

American Society of Plastic Surgeons

847-228-9900

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons is the society of board-certified plastic surgeons. Its Web site contains a large database of public education information on plastic surgery, including details on:

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)

877-226-4267

Part of the National Institutes of Health, NIAMS supports research initiatives looking into the causes, treatment, and prevention of skin diseases, as well as arthritis and musculoskeletal diseases. The NIAMS Information Clearinghouse provides a wealth of health information, including information on various skin diseases and their treatments.

Skin and Beauty Books

The Beauty Bible: The Ultimate Guide to Smart Beauty by Paula Begoun (Beginning Press; 2002). A comprehensive resource for people looking for straight answers about beauty and cosmetic products, treatments, and procedures. Begoun provides easy-to-read information that will help you make more informed skin care and beauty decisions.

Secrets of Great Skin: The Definitive Guide to Anti-Aging Skin Care by David J. Goldberg, MD and Eva M. Herriott, PhD (Innova Publishing, 2005). This book covers strategies for preventing and reducing signs of aging on your skin. Tips include how to reduce stress and other factors that lead to premature aging, the best nutrition for healthy skin, optimal skin care for younger-looking skin, and treatments that can revitalize aging skin. Dr. Goldberg is a board-certified dermatologist and director of laser research at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

Skin Sense! A Dermatologist’s Guide to Skin and Facial Care by Stephen M. Schleicher, MD (iUniverse, Inc., 2004). Written by a leading dermatologist with more than 20 years of clinical experience, this book contains information on the importance of nutrition in skin care; early detection of skin cancer; management of psoriasis, eczema, and other skin conditions; tips on achieving a healthy complexion; and the latest anti-aging treatments. This is a valuable resource for people who are concerned about the health of their skin.

Skin Creams That Really 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.

Treatment your acne as well

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.