Monday, November 21, 2011

Your Skin Flight Plan

November means the holiday travel season is upon us. Whether you’re off to a family gathering or a much deserved getaway, it’s important to remember when flying that the unique pressurized environment of a plane is rather hostile to the human body. In addition to travel fatigue, swollen feet and motion sickness, flying causes severe dehydration.

Most of us find a relative humidity of 50% comfortable. In-flight humidity levels register at 10%. Considering that the Sahara desert reaches a just bearable 25%, flight conditions are extreme. Since your skin is your largest organ, when you lose moisture, it shows. To protect yourself and arrive in un-wilted condition, I cannot stress drinking water enough. Not soda, not coffee, not alcohol - water. In a 3 hour flight, the human body loses 1.5 liters of water! I recommend bringing your own, so you can rehydrate immediately and continuously.

Before the flight, in addition to making sure you embark well hydrated, apply moisturizer from head to toe. Most manufacturers have travel or sample sizes so you can bring your favorite moisturizer in your carry-on or purse. You will want to reapply often during your flight. Give your face a quick spritz from a water atomizer or small spray bottle before reapplying moisturizer to get an extra moisture boost. Other good items to have are saline eye drops, antibacterial hand wash and lip balm.

My other piece of advice – keep your hands away from your face. Think about the amount of germs covering every surface. Whatever you may have thought, planes are not deep cleaned after each flight. With thousands of travelers having flown on any given aircraft, it’s too easy to come in contact with unknown bacteria that can result in breakouts and skin problems. Use wipes or sanitizer religiously.

We know that part of the appeal of a vacation is a change in routine, as well as scenery, but do not let that extend to your skincare habits. Pack your regular beauty products. An abrupt change in products can upset your skin’s acid balance and cause an unwanted vacation breakout.

Finally, have a safe flight and a great holiday!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cut. Color. Cancer Screening?

Your new ally in the fight against skin cancer just might be your hairstylist. Researchers have found that although few hairdressers have been formally trained to spot cancer, many are checking their clients’ scalps and necks for moles and 58 percent have made a recommendation to get one checked.

While fatal melanomas on the scalp are rare, it is an area that is difficult for people to check on their own. Some don’t even realize it is possible to get skin cancer there. Unfortunately our scalps are often ignored when applying sunscreen. If not specially formulated for scalps, sunscreen tends to make hair look greasy. Hair does offer some protection, but part-lines, cowlicks and areas of thinning hair are vulnerable. There are sprays available that offer protection and hats are always a good choice.

If your hairdresser finds a mole, it is important to remember that moles are common. The average person has 10 to 40 on their body and not every mole is cancerous or needs to be removed. The American Academy of Dermatology has published the ABCs of evaluating moles to help you examine your skin. Look for abnormal Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter or Evolution.

Checking your skin often improves your chance of finding melanoma early which in turn increases your chance for a positive outcome. So next time you go into a salon ask your stylist to alert you to any moles, but don’t let that replace regular visits to your dermatologist.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Caring for Dark Skin

When thinking about skin care, most people focus on whether they have oily, dry, or sensitive skin and stop there. Just as important as skin type, however, is skin tone. Skin conditions, for the most part, are color blind and will cause problems regardless of whether you have a fair, olive or dark complexion. While light skin is more vulnerable to damage and premature aging from excessive sun exposure, there are several conditions that afflict dark or black skin more frequently and with more severity.

Dark skin is more susceptible to both vitiligo (loss of pigment) and hyperpigmentation. Vitiligo occurs when melanin producing cells are damaged. It affects all skin tones, but is considerably more noticeable on dark skin. If you have this condition there are topical and phototherapy treatments available to re-pigment the skin.

Hyperpigmentation occurs when the skin produces too much pigment. It is usually the result of a pimple, cut, scrape, or burn and can even be caused by cosmetic and acne treatments that are not administered correctly. Sunscreen can keep dark spots from getting darker while they heal. However this can take months. Properly controlled chemical peels and skin bleaching can lighten affected areas.

Ingrown hairs are also a common problem affecting blacks and Hispanics who have curved hair follicles. They result in bumps under the skin and can lead to infections and hyperpigmentation. Laser hair removal has shown to be an effective treatment, but because ingrown hairs look similar to acne, it is important to be diagnosed by a dermatologist familiar with ethnic skin.

Other problems for darker skin are eczema and keloids. According to the National Eczema Society, eczema occurs twice as frequently in people of color. Unfortunately, it is often misdiagnosed leading to a thickening of the skin and pigmentation problems. Topical creams and ultraviolet light therapies are effective once the correct diagnosis is made.

Keloid scars tend to develop more in darker skin. They are different from other scars in that they continue to grow for several months and spread beyond the original injury site. Early treatment can minimize keloid development and includes cortisone injections, pressure dressings, and silicone gel applications. Once formed, laser surgery can be used, but it hasn’t shown to be very effective.

As you can see, it is important to treat dark skin gently. Avoid harsh cleansing puffs and products that contain benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. Look for cleansers made for sensitive or ethnic skin. Darker skin has a tendency to appear "ashy" when not well-hydrated. Moisturize and use sunscreen daily. It is a common misconception that dark-skinned people don’t need sunscreen, in reality they have the highest skin cancer mortality rates.

Healthy skin is worth the effort and a skin care program specifically tailored for dark skin will bring out the best qualities in an ethnic complexion.