Answers to Your 16 Top Skin Questions

Beauty face. Woman model with natural makeup behind green leaf

Q: With every change of seasons, the skin on my hands and around my nails gets really dry and cracks. It’s so painful. What can I do to prevent this?

“Changes of season can bring about a lot of skin changes,” says Dr. Caroline A. Chang of Dermatology Professionals in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Temperatures rise or drop, and the air’s moisture content may change drastically. Irritants in the air can also cause skin dryness. Research published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, for instance, shows that pollen may provoke both contact and atopic dermatitis.

If you know which seasons or times of year you get dry and cracked skin, then be proactive with prevention, Chang suggests. “Moisturize nightly with a thick ointment. Reduce hand washing, and leave a tube of hand cream next to each sink so you can moisturize after hand washing.”

When choosing a moisturizing ointment or salve, look for reparative natural ingredients that can help heal severely dry and cracked skin, including olive oil, beeswax and calendula.

The antihistamines in over-the-counter allergy medications may alleviate symptoms for some people, but for others, the case may be complex. If you don’t get results from moisturizing and allergy meds, speak to a dermatologist.

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Q: Why doesn’t my skin feel like it’s absorbing moisturizer?

When your moisturizer— stays atop your skin in a greasy layer, it could mean the product is too heavy for your skin and environment. Chang recommends that, if you notice a consistent residue, you “consider switching to a lighter moisturizer, lotion rather than cream.”

It can also mean you aren’t applying your moisturizer at the right time, explains Dr. Cynthia Bailey, CEO of Advanced Skin Care & Dermatology in Sebastopol, California. Aim to apply lotion within three minutes of towel drying, before the water has evaporated.

“You want to trap the water percolating into your dead skin and living skin layer during washing,” Bailey explains. “Moisturizing dry skin is only adding oils, but you’re not hydrating the skin.”

Illustration-LotionQ: How can I keep my skin dewy and moisturized in a dry environment?

Regardless of your skin type and especially if you live in a dry environment, moisturizing daily is critical to keeping skin supple and quenched. There are two main types of moisturizers: water based and oil based, so start by determining which is best for your skin. Generally, a lightweight, water-based moisturizer is best for oily skin; for normal-to-dry, dry, or mature skin, choose a heavier, oil-based moisturizer. If you have normal skin, you may want to mix it up seasonally or based on dryness of your location. Among the most moisturizing of all ingredients is hyaluronic acid, known to hold up to 200 times its weight in water!

You can also moisturize from the inside out by drinking plenty of H20 (and eating foods with high water content such as watermelon and tomatoes) and loading up on healthy fats from fish, avocado and omega supplements.

It’s harder to keep your skin moisturized in a dry environment, so if the above tips aren’t enough, set up a humidifier in your bedroom at night, Chang advises. You can also switch to a heavier moisturizer (oil-based instead of water-based) and use a moisturizing skin-spray throughout the day. Delicious Living’s beauty editor, Jessica Rubino, recommends Kopari Coconut Body Oil.

“You want warm water and gentle soap to remove just a little bit of oils and dirt, but you don’t want to zealously overcleanse your skin, because you will remove its natural lipids,” Bailey adds. “Harsh cleansers will also damage the keratin in your dead skin layer, which is essential for dewy, hydrated skin. It’s an effective barrier against dehydration.”

You should also avoid piping-hot showers and baths, which leach water and increase the incidence of redness, scaliness and itching. Additionally, keep lips moisturized at all times to prevent chapping and windburn. The skin on your lips works in roughly the same manner as the rest of your body, giving up its moisture quickly without a barrier in place.

Note that in the case of infants, the rules are not the same. Pediatricians may recommend not using any topical treatment, or they may tell you to use a paraffin-based product. Don’t self-diagnose and medicate, however; new research in the journal Acta Dermato-Venereologica hints that the use of olive or sunflower oil to moisturize your babe might disrupt the formation of skin’s natural protective barrier, which could eventually increase the incidence of eczema. Definitely speak with a pediatrician before moving forward.

Healthcare and medical concept. Female scratching the itch on her hand, cause of itching from skin diseases, dry skin, allergy, chemical, allergic to detergent or dishwashing liquid and dermatitis, insect bites, burned, drug. Health problem.

Q: Since being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, my husband has experienced extremely dry and cracking skin. What is going on, and what can he do to alleviate the dryness?

Type 2 diabetes can exacerbate a range of skin conditions, including dry and cracking skin. This occurs, the Cleveland Clinic website explains, because of the body’s response to high glucose (a sugar molecule) levels in the blood. Diabetes occurs when the body cannot manufacture or properly employ insulin—responsible for removing glucose from the bloodstream—forcing the body to find alternative ways to get the glucose out. The body’s strategy? Trying to remove the excess sugar molecules by prompting more frequent urination, dehydrating you.

Dryness may also result from neuropathy, or nerve damage, which often accompanies unregulated type 2 diabetes. When the nerves don’t function correctly, parts of the body—especially extremities—don’t get the message to sweat. That means skin doesn’t benefit from the oils pushed out at the same time as sweat and suffers dryness.

Moisturizing is critical. Remember the three-minute rule, and if you know dryness flares up at certain times of year, take preventive steps before that season rolls around. In addition to switching to a heavier moisturizer and setting up a humidifier, you may want to reassess your sock choices. According to the Institute for Preventive Foot Health, man-made fibers wick moisture away from feet. Although that’s beneficial in the case of athlete’s foot, it’s probably not helpful when skin is already dry.

Woman applying moisturizing cream on hands

Q: I recently moved from a dry climate to a humid one. What can I do to ease the stress of a new climate on my skin?

The challenge is the promotion of yeast germs that love a humid climate, Bailey says. Specifically, yeast will cause tender, itchy pimples—a form of folliculitis, in which hair follicles become infected and inflamed. You may notice patches of red bumps form on other places of your body as well, such as under the arms or in other moisture-rich areas, such as the creases of knees and elbows.

“Watch your sugar intake, because that promotes yeast,” Bailey advises, “and keep your skin dry. Wear airy clothes so you’re not having a lot of occluded sweat, and add a cleanser that will

deter yeast. A natural option could be a tea tree cleanser.” You could also try cleansing with a product containing pyrithione zinc, the active ingredient in most dandruff shampoos.

When it comes to treatments, using a detoxifying facial mask, such as one made from charcoal, can help draw out impurities, especially if it’s feeling very oily. And even though you might be tempted to lay of the moisturizer, think again: Skin actually needs moisture and oils to stay balanced, even during its greasiest days.

Illustration-CreamQ: As I’ve aged I’ve noticed my skin has lost some of its elasticity. What can I do to reverse this?

Loss of elasticity resulting in “crepe-y” skin is a normal part of the aging process, as your body becomes less effective at producing collagen and elastin, two of skin’s main structural proteins. One of the first things you should do is start supplementing with collagen, which will both provide your body with more of this healthy aging protein and encourage your body to produce more on its own. Collagen has been clinically proven keep skin taut and also moisturized (loss of moisture is another result of aging, which can lead to loss of elasticity). And be sure to use a mineral sunscreen, packed with plant-based antioxidants, daily to help prevent further signs of free radical damage such as sagging and sun spots.

Circulation also decreases with age. Blood flow “feeds collagen manufacturing and DNA repair,” explains Dr. Ben Johnson, founder of holistic beauty brand Osmosis Skincare. At the age of 50, we have 25 percent less blood flow in the skin. Although you cannot stop the aging process, you can make lasting changes to increase skin nutrients. “The focus should be on restoring a youthful environment by restoring the lost circulation,” Johnson says.

Oxygen is also critical to collagen production, he adds. Unfortunately, as with blood flow, “the amount of oxygen in your body declines as you age and with it your immune system, your repair system, your energy, and your hormone and neurotransmitter production all decline. Learning how to breathe deeply in every breath, allowing your stomach to expand, will go a long way to restoring youthful O2 levels.”

The above tips will help you slow collagen and elastin loss. In terms of “reversing” this process, you can do so only temporarily. However, some tricks are surprisingly effective. For instance, says Blu Skin Care founder Zondra Wilson, you can get a natural face-lift with yoga poses. Before meetings, interviews or photo sessions, perform a few downward dogs or reach over and touch your toes. Do this for one to five minutes, or however long is comfortable. If you’re not sure whether this is safe for you, talk to your health care provider first.

Q: Now that I’m over 50, I’m dealing with brown spots and wrinkles. What is the best way to take care of these issues?

“There are a variety of factors that contribute to aging, particularly lifestyle, diet, genetics and personal habits,” says Dr. Rhonda Q. Klein of the Connecticut Dermatology Group. Think: smoking, pollution, stress, obesity, sleeping position and sun exposure, she adds, of which the last is especially damaging. Prevention is key.

“Sunscreen and sun protection are of the utmost importance,” Klein says. “Antioxidants and vitamins are important protectors as well. Some of these include vitamins A, B5, C E, niacinamide and biotin, plus phloretin and ferulic acid. Retinol and tretinoin [vitamin A derivatives] are some of the products dermatologists recommend most to prevent damage, build collagen, and prevent pre-cancers and skin cancers.”

When it comes to evening skin tone and keeping your complexion looking vibrant and healthy, natural skin brightening ingredients can work wonders. Look for “skin-brightening” (note: avoid “lightening” claims), including fruit enzymes, citrus-derived ingredients and kojic extract.

Also, know that although freckles have a reputation for being cute, they’re a result of the exact same process that causes sunspots, so you should take them just as seriously. Actually, Bailey says, sunspots are simply an “ill-defined term used for freckles on adults due to chronic sun exposure. They are usually not as cute as kid freckles.” She also warns: “Even freckles on kids indicate too much sun exposure and impending sun damage. Consider them a sign to better protect children’s skin.

Wilson adds that for sleeping you should use a soft, silky pillowcase. This decreases the compression on your skin and reduces creases in the morning, as well as wrinkles over time.

young woman looking her acne scars on the mirror

Q: How do I prevent blackheads?

“Blackheads are made of debris and dead skin cells that settle in larger pores and become visible,” says nurse practitioner Kristen Cantwell of the Vitality Aesthetic Institute in La Jolla, California. “In my practice, we can use light peels and microneedling to exfoliate the skin and prevent dead skin cells from settling. Many patients experience a wonderful tightening of the pores from peels.” Cantwell adds that the peels are quite mild and don’t require a lot of downtime to heal, and she uses them herself.

Blackheads often follow oily skin, which may in turn follow makeup use. As Cantwell explains: “The makeup you are choosing may be comedogenic, which is a fancy word for pore clogging. You may want to try a matte tinted moisturizer and see if your skin responds better to this.” A few brands of tinted SPF moisturizers we like are MyChelle Sun Shield Stick SPF 50 Tinted and Raw Elements USA Tint Formula Facial Moisturizer SPF 30.

Exfoliating a few times a week with a gentle scrub that uses dead sea salt, sugar or oatmeal will help ensure you’re removing product and toxin buildup, without drying out the skin and stripping it from its healthy oils.

Caitlin Hoff, health and safety investigator for ConsumerSafety.org, adds that “no matter what you put on your face—makeup, serums or miracle products—your skin will look its best only with a solid foundation of healthy habits to promote healthy, glowing skin. Wash your face every night. Even if you don’t have any makeup to remove at the end of the day, washing your face before bed is a great way to remove any dirt, oil or grime that has built up on your face over the course of the day. If you have sensitive skin, find a cleanser that doesn’t dry out your skin, irritate it or leave it greasy,” all of which can actually increase the number and frequency blackheads. Also be sure to change your pillow case frequently, keep makeup brushes clean and wipe down your phone receiver on the regular.

Illustration-Flower1Q: My eczema has been flaring up, and topical treatments simply mask the underlying systemic issues. What can I do to treat eczema from the inside out?

According to the National Eczema Association, eczema plagues 7.2 percent of adults in the United States and 13 percent of children. A broad category that encompasses a range of subconditions, eczema is any malady resulting in dry, red, scaly, flaky or inflamed skin. Causes may vary, and in many cases, topical treatments simply don’t work.

“Skin is a billboard expressing what is occurring within the inner terrain,” says Lauren Byington, CEO of natural makeup brand Omiana. It is “an active representation of internal health. The diet-skin connection is very real, and it makes perfect sense to focus on diet to improve skin, no matter one’s age or skin tone or type.”

The key is understanding that connection, says Byington, adding that choosing good, clean cosmetic products is a positive first step, but you really need to focus on the gut itself. “This involves three key steps,” she advises, including “avoiding foods someone is allergic or sensitive to, cleansing the gut and helping repair gut damage. When people heal and seal their guts, their skin improves.” Smart foods include bone broth, brightly colored fruits and veggies, and organic oils, such as olive or fish.

Cantwell advocates stress reduction and better sleep as well. These tips also apply to other inflammation-related skin conditions, such as psoriasis and rosacea, which often have similar symptoms. She recommends taking a full-spectrum omega-3 supplement, such as Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega Xtra.

Portrait of Asian woman worry about her face when she saw the problem of acne and scar by the mini mirror.

Q: I recently changed birth control from the one I was on for more than ten years. Suddenly I feel like a teenager with bad acne. What is going on?

Of course, the primary purpose of birth control is to prevent conception. However, hormonal birth control (the pill) is sometimes also prescribed for women to moderate the symptoms associated with menstruation and ovulation. This illustrates the pill’s impact on our hormones, which can be destructive as well as helpful.

“Birth control pills are made of various synthetic hormones that can really disrupt our skin,” says Cantwell. “Hormones of any kind can trigger acne, no matter your age. This is very frustrating for many women. I would recommend speaking to your women’s health provider about a nonhormonal birth control method, such as Paragard.”

If that doesn’t seem like the best option for you—some women, for instance, cannot tolerate intrauterine devices such as Paragard—then Diana Hermann of Zi Zai suggests going back to the old pills. This really depends on why you changed your brand in the first place, she says. If the new pill has a different hormone ratio from the old, you should look for a brand that mimics the original hormone ratio. If you switched because of insurance considerations and can’t find a good substitute, you might want to consider paying the difference.

Chinese medicine effectively treats such issues, Hermann says, explaining that for stubborn acne cases, “it’s really challenging to make a difference simply with products you put topically on the skin.” Ingesting herbs is a natural route to adjusting your hormones and easing inflammation.

I think it would be beneficial to provide some specifics about herbs and other strategies that can naturally balance hormones. This seems very vague.

Hormonal fluctuations can cause other conditions as well, such as skin tags. If you developed tags during pregnancy—or at any time—visit a dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment options. In any case, even if you have completely healthy skin, it’s a good idea to visit a skin professional at least once a year. If you struggle with ongoing hormone-related issues (or any issues), you can go more often.

Illustration-Lotion2Q: What are the side effects of long-term use of pharmaceuticals, steroid ointments and creams used to treat acne or eczema?

“When you apply a large dose of chemicals to your skin,” says Caleb Backe of Maple Holistics, “you not only deprive the organ of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals it needs to stay healthy, but you also actively contribute to the detrimental effects of aging and environmental damage.”

He further explains that “chemicals tend to strip away our protective natural oils on the surface of the skin and have a wide range of other, often-unforeseen consequences, such as negative effects on our hormonal balance and our skin-cells’ regenerative properties.”

Johnson points out that these compounds don’t occur only in skin care products. “Avoid sodium benzoate, found in most sodas,” he cautions. “It is one of the known DNA toxins that for some reason is way too common in our foods and skin care. Antibiotics have been shown to result in DNA damage, so eating organic will also help.”

Instead of employing long-term chemical applications, Backe says, you should use “natural products, such as essential oils; unrefined botanical extracts; and pure, vitamin-enriched creams.” These “not only help to slow the effects of aging but can also strengthen your skin’s regenerative properties and encourage healthy skin-cell regeneration.”

Close-up cropped portrait of nice attractive lovely well-groomed pure perfect shine cheerful cheery feminine wavy-haired lady touching smooth clean clear skin isolated over violet purple background

Q: I’ve heard that certain things I eat, such as dairy foods and nightshade vegetables, can affect my skin? Is this true? And how so?

Skin can absolutely suffer because of foods we put in our bodies, says Byington, offering by way of example “the person who eats yogurt and has a massive breakout the next day, the person whose face turns lobster-red after two glasses of wine, or the one who gets covered in hives after eating anything with a trace of gluten.

“On the other hand,” she points out, “think of the pregnant woman whose hair has never been shinier, nails never been more unbreakable and skin has never been so glowing because she’s mindful about ingesting folate and other key nutrients emphasized during pregnancy.”

Understanding your trigger foods and cutting them out of your diet is a good first step. Gluten and dairy are go-to no-no foods for many people who suffer from skin irritation. Soy can also be a trigger for some people, and for nearly everyone, sugar is a skin villain that can accelerate signs of aging. At the end of the day, how your skin reacts to your diet is very personal and in order to assess which ingredients are harming your complexion, an elimination diet could be helpful.

Either way, take notice of which foods trigger your skin and stop eating or drinking them. If you can’t tell on your own, it’s time to see a dermatologist for an allergy test. Incidentally, if you’ve never been to a dermatologist, or haven’t visited in years, it’s probably a good idea to schedule a visit, because allergies may manifest in nonobvious, but health-impacting ways.

Young girl in straw hat is applying sunscreen on her back to protect her skin

Q: What is the best way to balance skin protection and sun exposure for health?

First, says Bailey, understand that tanning is not a good thing. When your skin tans, “that’s your body letting you know you’ve let UV rays into your skin, and your skin is trying to respond by protecting itself. It’s sad, not good. We have to change the whole mind-set on it.”

If you’re going to head out into the sun, wear long sleeves, pants and a hat. It’s better to sweat than to soak up lots of rays (though keep in mind earlier cautions about yeast and nonbreathable fabric). Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30, and make sure it actually says “sunscreen.” The FDA disallows the term “sunblock,” Bailey says, because “it implies block, and nothing is blocked.” The best bet is a mineral sunscreen, such as zinc oxide, which uses metals to reflect the sun’s rays off your body.

Even better, Bailey recommends sun-protective clothing. You can buy T-shirts with zinc oxide built into the fabric, such as Coolibar, which offers a variety of clothing that screen both UVA and UVB rays.

Take sun damage seriously, adds Dr. Sarah Villafranco, founder of organic skin care line Osmia. In case of sunburn, a cool shower or bath will soothe the skin. “After bathing or showering, follow up with a body oil with lavender essential oil to soothe discomfort and reduce inflammation,” Villafranco suggests. “For more chronic damage, use vitamin A–rich skin care products, such as those with a base of rosehip seed oil, carrot seed oil or jojoba oil,” all of which promote increased cell turnover. And of course, if you ever see multicolored or uneven moles, see a dermatologist right away.

Also, to make up for direct sun-to-skin exposure, consider adding a vitamin D supplement to your daily regimen.

Illustration-Flower3Q: What’s the best way to go about using sunscreen without clogging pores and causing breakouts? I want clear skin and skin protection!

One of the reasons you may have trouble finding a moisturizer that respects pores and protects your skin is you’ve been looking for a moisturizer first. Rather, you should be looking for a sunscreen that also acts as a moisturizer.

These products exist, “but they are sunscreens first and foremost,” says Bailey. A few sunscreens that also have a moisturizing effect are Goddess Garden Face the Day SPF 30 Moisturizer & Firming Primer, Juice Beauty SPF 30 Oil-Free Moisturizer, and Derma E Even Tone Brightening Day Cream SPF 15.

Because sunscreen is so important and you should wear one of these products every day, Bailey adds, it’s important you don’t treat SPF factor as a secondary consideration. You should search for a reliable sunscreen with broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection, and only then consider its moisturizing and anti-comedogenic properties.

Illustration-VeinQ: How do I prevent and mitigate varicose veins in my legs, and why do I have them in the first place?

Although we associate varicose and spider veins with ropiness, raised surfaces, and blue or red coloration, they are not limited to such symptoms. In fact, varicose veins can often cause itchy or inflamed skin, explains the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which you might not intuitively link to veins.

That said, if you want the best possible skin on your legs, it’s important to understand the mechanics and treatment of varicose veins. Veins have valves in them that allow you to pump blood against the flow of gravity up toward your heart. If those valves weaken, typically because of straining, obesity or a lack of exercise, as well as genetic and medical factors, blood will backflow and pool in veins, causing bulging and breakage.

The best way to combat varicose and spider veins is to exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight. If you are genetically predisposed, see a vein specialist to address any veins you might already have and prevent more serious occurrences. To fight surface issues, employ previous suggestions for dry or irritated skin.

Woman With Thinning Hair

Q: Why does my scalp sometimes really hurt, for up to 24 hours, after wearing my hair pinned up or in a ponytail?

The causal factor is simply “tension on the hair,” Hermann says. “Every hair has small muscles surrounding the root of it, so when they’re pulled in a tight ponytail or a tight bun, it keeps tension on those muscles the entire time. And it keeps tension on the skin as well. It would feel like any muscle you’d been pulling on too long.”

It’s a simple fix, luckily: Don’t wear your hair in a static style for long. After all, you wouldn’t sustain a crunch for 12 hours, would you? (Although if you could, our hats are definitely off to you!) Loosening your hair and switching up your style prevents fraying and breakage, and reduces the chance that follicles will get inflamed.

At the end of the day, your skin is like any other organ in your body: If you want to keep it healthy over the long haul, you must pay special attention to protection and care. Bonus: Because skin is also your most visible organ, you’ll receive an aesthetic payoff from all that TLC. So don’t wait any longer to target your individual skin issues or see a dermatologist for products that will work better for you.

This post was provided by New Hope Network. FoodTrients is a member of the New Hope Influencer Co-op, a network of health and wellness bloggers committed to spreading more health to more people. Images by New Hope Network.

About FoodTrients

Combining her passion for food and a lifelong commitment to promoting a healthy lifestyle, Grace O has created FoodTrients®, a unique program for optimizing wellness. Grace O is a fusion chef with a mission: to cook up recipes for sustaining a long and joyful life that are built on a foundation of anti-aging science and her work in the health care industry. Mixing foods and unique flavors culled from a lifetime of travels from Asia to Europe and America, Grace O encourages young and old to celebrate a full life that embraces diversity. Lifestyle tips, age-defying recipes, and secrets of the healing properties of food are the centerpiece of FoodTrients™–all available through cookbooks, e-newsletters, and FoodTrients.com. foodtrients.com
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