Who doesn't obsess, even a little, about her skin? After all, it's our biggest organ, the one most likely to show the effects of the elements (like sun and wind) and the aging process. Of course, you can't control the weather or the hands of time. But there's plenty you can do to keep your skin in peak form. Read on for the latest advancesfrom high-tech lasers for fine lines to groundbreaking skin-cancer drugsthat'll help prevent and beat beauty bummers and medical problems alike.
Problem No. 1: Redness
Blame that perpetual flush on years of exposure to the sun's UV rays, which can cause capillaries to burst, explains Debra Jaliman, MD, professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and author of Skin Rules. As you get older, your skin also thins, making blood vessels more visible. Another common culprit: rosacea, a chronic condition that involves swelling of the blood vessels under the skin. Its redness comes and goes, usually in response to triggers like sun exposure, stress, hot weather, wind, hot baths, and spicy foods.
What it looks like
Redness on the cheeks, nose, chin, or forehead. Rosacea may cause acne-like bumps.
Hide facial redness with green-tinted concealers such as Dermablend, Dr. Jaliman says. If you've got rosacea, your dermatologist can prescribe antibiotics or topical products that contain sulfur or azelaic acid, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Wearing sunscreen is a must to prevent flare-ups. Look for ones that contain physical blockers zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which tend to be less irritating than chemical ingredients, Dr. Jaliman says. In the meantime, you can get visible blood vessels zapped away in your derm's office with a laser. Most people require two to three treatments at about $300 a pop.
Problem No. 2: Sun damage and lines
"As you get older, your body slows its production of collagen and elastin," says Jessica Krant, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York City. That reduces your skin's elasticity. The result? That occasional forehead furrow, frown, or eye squint becomes permanently etched on your face. As for age spots, thank all those days you spent as a teen sunning yourself sans sunscreen: Exposure to UV rays over time causes an increase in the number of pigment-producing cells in your skin, Dr. Krant says.
What it looks like
Fine lines; flat brown or black spots on sun-exposed areas such as your face, chest, and hands.
Age spots: Drugstore bleaching creamswhich contain 2 percent hydroquinone or a natural ingredient called kojic acidcan help. But if you have a lot of damage, you'll probably need something stronger. Your dermatologist can prescribe 4 percent hydroquinone, but talk to her about risksit's banned in Europe for safety concerns. Your derm may also prescribe lightening ingredients like tretinoin and hydrocortisone. If those don't work, consider laser or intense pulse light sessions, which cost $300 to $500 each time.
Fine lines: Products that contain retinol build up collagen, helping to smooth wrinkles. OTC ones are good for fine lines and crows' feet, Dr. Krant says; ask your doc for a Retin-A prescription if you need more power. Botox or Dysport injections prevent forehead wrinkles. Cost: $500 to $750.
Problem No. 3: Allergic and irritated skin
If you've got a rash that's marked by dry, cracked red patches, you probably have contact dermatitis. Either you've touched a substance you're allergic to, like nickel or latex, or you have a nonallergic reaction to chemicals like those in detergents.
You might also have eczema, which is usually triggered by irritants from fragrances, cold weather, allergens, or sometimes even stress. Eczema tends to be itchier and sometimes leads to small bumps that leak fluid.
If you have itchy welts that move around over the course of the day, you've got hives. Acute hives that come on suddenly are often due to a food or medication allergy. Chronic hives, which can last up to six weeks, are more common and not always allergic. About 20 percent of the time, they're triggered by cold, heat, light, or exercise. Otherwise, they may be caused by an autoimmune disorder or your body's reaction to an illness. In some cases, there's no clear cause.
If you notice sudden hives, take a Benadryl and call your doc ASAP; you might be having a serious allergic reaction. Contact dermatitis usually goes away when you avoid whatever's triggering it. Over-the-counter antihistamines, such as Zyrtec, and hydrocortisone creams can also help, but if the rash continues, see a derm or an allergist. Prescription cortisone creams can ease eczema and chronic hives; severe cases of chronic hives can be treated with prescription drugs, like ciclosporin, which help suppress the immune system.
Problem No. 4: Growths
Take a deep breath: Not all lumps and bumps are cancerous. The most common are seborrheic keratoses (SKs)harmless brown or black growths that tend to crop up with age and can run in families. Other non-problematic growths include warts and skin tags. Warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), and they're contagious but not life-threatening. You're more likely to catch one if you have a cut, which explains why they tend to appear on your fingers. Skin tags often show up on armpits, due to chafing. For the same reason, you may get them if you're overweight or have large breasts.
What they look like
SKs start as small, flat, rough, tan or brown bumps that slowly thicken on your face, chest, shoulders, or back. Warts are small, grainy growths that feel rough and bumpy. Skin tags stick out and may have a little stalk connecting to your body.
These growths are harmless, but you can opt to have your dermatologist remove them, either through freezing them with liquid nitrogen (cryosurgery), burning them off (electrocautery), or, if they're large, zapping them with a laser. Always get them checked out, though, since sometimes it's hard to tell whether a growth's benign or potentially cancerous.