Women’s Facial Hair: Blame Your Hormones

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OK. Ladies, has this ever happened to you? You look in the mirror and spot a dark, thick hair on your chin or upper lip. Aghast, you immediately pluck it. It grows back. You pluck it again. It grows back again, only this time you swear it’s darker and thicker. What’s going on?

You’re not alone. The bad news is that it’s all too common among most women. The good news is that it’s almost always benign.

First, it’s a myth that plucking hairs causes them to grow in darker or thicker. These hairs are coarser and thicker because they are secondary sexual characteristic hairs; that is, they are the result of hormonal changes. They’re not unlike male facial hair, which is also coarse. These hairs appear thicker and darker than fine vellus hairs (peach fuzz) because they’re a different type of hair, not because of tweezing. Most women develop these hairs on the chin, jaw line, and upper lip. Though these hairs can appear at any age, they’re more prominent after menopause. They can also be the result of hormonal changes due to issues ranging from birth control pills and pregnancy to irregular periods and hormonal imbalances.

What can you do to get rid of them? For a fast and inexpensive option, tweezing is fine, as are depilatory creams. But the hairs will grow back. For permanent hair removal, try either electrolysis or laser treatment (at a doctor’s office). There are also some prescription medications that stop hair from growing. If that’s something you’re interested in, then speak with your dermatologist.

In the meantime, be kind to yourself. Remember, that it’s hormones at work, not you. And that it’s a fixable problem.

Photo credit: FCC, Michael

Will Less Shampooing Help With Oily Hair?

I get this question all the time from patients, particularly men. Here’s the truth about shampooing and oily hair:

No matter how frequently you shampoo, your scalp produces the same amount of oil. Cutting back on shampooing will have no effect on your sebaceous glands; genetics and hormones determine the amount of oil they produce. But it will cause dirt and oil to accumulate on your scalp and hair follicles, and could cause inflammation and irritation that might stunt hair growth. How often you wash your hair is a personal decision. Wash your hair with a moisturizing shampoo when you feel you need it, whether that’s daily or weekly. Or if you like making shampoo mohawks.

Photo credit: FCC, Denika Robbins

4 Ways to Treat Damaged Winter Hair

It’s been a rough winter for most of the country. When you’ve got arctic temperatures and gusting winds you’ve also got low humidity in the air. And low humidity not only dries out your skin but also dries out your hair. If your hair is feeling dry and brittle and is seeking the summer warmth, then read on.

Here are four tips to help you repair your damaged winter hair:

1. Reduce shampooing. Shampooing every second or third day will allow natural oils to remain on your hair and scalp and prevent further drying.

2. Go deep. Once to twice a week, massage a deep conditioner into your hair and scalp and let it rest as you shower. Then rinse with warm water. For extremely dry hair, try using a leave-in deep conditioner or conditioning hair mask that you apply before bedtime and rinse the following morning. Be sure to wear a hair net and to place a towel on your pillow so you don’t stain your bed sheets.

3. Go natural. Using hair dyers and other heating devices take a toll on your hair. When possible, allow your hair to air-dry, but aim for at least once to twice a week.

4. Cool off. Some women who chemically treat their hair (think highlights) and use heating devices regularly (think flatirons), develop trichorrhexis nodosa, or hair breakage. Once hair is broken, you can’t fix it. You can minimize additional damage by reducing usage of heating devices. Try every second or third day instead of every day.

Photo credit: FCC, Philmoore47

A Surprising Finding About Athlete’s Foot

If you’re a guy reading this, I can be sure of two things: 1. You’ve probably suffered from athlete’s foot. 2. You’ll probably suffer from athlete’s foot again.

We know that walking barefoot in public locker rooms, gyms, and pools put you at  risk for athlete’s foot. But now there’s a new culprit in town: your laundry. When researchers in Israel compared fungus-laced socks that were washed in warm water to those washed in hot water, they found that 36% of the socks in the warm water remained contaminated while only 6% of those in the hot water did.

The take-away? Wash your gym clothes in hot water. Which would you rather have, a higher heating bill or itchy feet?

Photo Credit: FCC, Timothy Richards

Are Skin Tags Dangerous?

Nothin but skin

Recently I had a middle-aged male patient come to me worried that he had cancer-causing growths under his arms and on his neck. Turns out all he had were harmless skin tags.

A skin tag is a benign growth of skin cells. They tend to form in areas where the skin creases such as your neck, breasts, armpits, and groin area. Although close to half the population has skin tags, they’re more common among certain groups: women, particularly during pregnancy, the elderly, and overweight or obese individuals. Skin tags tend to run in families, so if your grandmother and mother has them, chances are good you will too.

A typical skin tag (or acrochordon) is small, oval or round, and hangs off the skin. Skin tags are not dangerous, and they are not a sign of early skin cancer. Indeed, since they’re benign, there’s is no medical need to remove them.

However, if you don’t like the way skin tags look, or find them bothersome, then you can have them removed by your dermatologist. He or she can remove a skin tag by snipping it off with a scalpel or scissors, by freezing it off with cryosurgery, or by burning it off with electrosurgery (using an electric current). The entire procedure takes only a few minutes, is virtually painless, and typically heals with 24 hours.

Photo credit: FCC, Kevin Dooley

Think Before You Ink: The Truth About Tattoo Removal

Tattoo

Maybe it’s because I’m a dermatologist, but there’s one thing I’m certain about when it comes to tattoos: Many people who have them wish that there was an easy way to remove them.

A recent survey from England shows that close to 1/3 of people end up regretting their tattoos and that men are twice as likely as women to suffer such regret.

The first thing to realize about tattoos is that the ink is placed in the dermis, which is the deeper layer of the skin. The dermis is where all the connective tissue lies that make up the structure of your skin. It is also the layer of skin that leaves a scar if damaged. Superficial damage to your skin can typically heal with little or no residual mark. However, when the deeper layers of the skin are damaged, the tissue cannot repair itself without leaving a scar. This is an important point to consider before getting a tattoo.

Because the ink is deep in the skin, there is no cream or ointment that can get rid of a tattoo without leaving a scar. Although there are no shortage of websites claiming to remove your unwanted tattoo by applying their special cream or ointment, I know of none that is effective. It is not possible to bleach the pigment down deep without damaging the skin at the surface. Chemical treatments or acids that claim to get rid of tattoos could only do so by leaving a significant scar, like a third degree burn.

Lasers tattoo removal works best. It can eliminate a tattoo by targeting the pigment. Since different lasers target different ink colors, they can more effectively blast the tiny ink fragments.. The blast and destruction of the ink triggers your immune system to come in and clean up the spots, carrying the ink with it. Because the laser targets only the color, it is able to treat the tattoo that is deep in your skin while leaving the surface of your skin undamaged. Professional tattoos tend to use a higher quality ink in higher quantities, which makes complete tattoo removal difficult. Therefore, realize that oftentimes a shadow of the tattoo remains even after extensive or repeated laser treatments.

Newer tattoo inks have been developed that are engineered specifically to be good targets for the laser. The laser is more easily able destroy these pigments, and the tattoo can be removed entirely, without any residual color. You might want to ask your tattoo artist about this ink before you get your tattoo.

If you decide to remove your tattoo, then make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist who has experience with laser tattoo removal. Realize that different color inks require different lasers; black and red inks are easier to remove. Most patients need several treatments over a period of months to fully remove a tattoo, depending on the color and size of the tattoo and your skin color.

Keep in mind that laser tattoo removal is timely and expensive. Treatment sessions can be several hundred dollars each, and most people need several sessions over the course of many months. Even so, some tattoos are never completely removed.

So, please, think before you ink. It could save you a lot of time and money if the day comes when you no longer want it.

Photo credit: FCC, Jhong Dizon

How to Treat Keratosis Pilaris or “Chicken Skin”

Homemade OvenFried Chicken Raw

If you’ve got tiny, dry bumps on your thighs, then you likely have keratosis pilaris (KP). KP is a common, harmless, genetic skin condition caused by a buildup of the protein keratin that plugs up the hair follicle, resulting in an acne-like bump that can be either white or red in color. Since it resembles goosebumps, KP is often referred to, albeit ungraciously, as “chicken skin.”

Keratosis pilaris most commonly occurs on the backs of the upper arms and on the thighs, and less commonly on the face, neck, and buttocks. Although adults can develop KP, it’s most common in children and adolescents who as they age, typically outgrow it.

Although it’s benign, KP can be unsightly and embarrassing, leading many sufferers to hide their skin and avoid wearing sleeveless shirts and shorts.

How do you treat keratosis pilaris? Although you can’t be cured of KP, there are several things you can do to reduce the bumps and improve your skin’s overall appearance:

1. Moisturize daily. Moisturizing daily, particularly after showering or bathing when the skin is still damp, is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to treat KP. Moisturizing is especially important during cold weather months when KP often worsens.

2. Look for products containing lactic acid, glycolic acid, or urea. Many over-the-counter lotions and creams contain these ingredients that help exfoliate dead skin, making skin feel smoother and softer. With prolonged use, they can help remove bumps and improve the appearance of your skin. Always use gentle moisturizing body washes that both cleanse and moisturize the skin.

4. Consult your dermatologist. If you haven’t had any improvement with OTC products, then talk with your dermatologist about other options. Prescription retinoids can help KP, and in some severe cases, laser treatments can be used.

Photo credit: FCC, snowpea&bokchoy