Skin and Hair Care

What parents should know about tattoos

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Parents grappling with whether to allow an adolescent child to get a tattoo may find answers to some of their questions in a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Why does hair turn gray?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

It may be surprising to learn that hair does not “turn gray.” The reason for the loss of hair color is rooted in the cycle of hair growth, death, and regeneration.

Shopping for sunscreen: Are all brands equal?

Emily S. Ruiz, MD, MPH
Emily S. Ruiz, MD, MPH, Contributor

The variety of sunscreens available can be confusing to consumers who want to know they are choosing a product that offers appropriate protection from harmful ultraviolet rays. New sunscreen ingredients currently in use in Europe are still in the pipeline waiting FDA approval in the US.

The problem with tanning (and the myth of the base tan)

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

The earlier one starts tanning, the longer the lifetime skin damage and the higher the skin cancer risk. As the number of people with skin cancer increases, it has become especially important to convey to teenagers the message that tanning is an unhealthy choice, whether it’s outdoors or in a tanning bed.

3 things you can do when your child’s eczema gets bad

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Simple steps and treatments, including the right moisturizer, can ease the discomfort of eczema for children during the winter months. As with any chronic health problem, it’s important to work with your doctor to create a plan to manage flare ups, as well as a strategy to prevent them from happening in the first place.

The right reasons to choose a sunscreen—and the right way to use it

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

There are a wide variety of sunscreen products on the market today that can help to prevent sunburns and skin cancer, but in a recent study published in the journal JAMA Dermatology, researchers found that 40% of the top 65 most popular sunscreens didn’t meet American Academy of Dermatology guidelines. When buying sunscreen, it is important to choose a product that is broad-spectrum, has an SPF over 30, and is water resistant. In addition to choosing the right sunscreen, it’s important to use it correctly in order to truly protect your skin from the sun.

Advice you may not hear from your doctor: Don’t go out in the sun without protection

Daniel Pendick
Daniel Pendick, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

With all the warnings against soaking up too much sun, getting ready to go outside can feel like you need a checklist like astronauts use when suiting up for a 6-hour spacewalk in the full blast of the sun’s radiation. Putting on sunscreen and following other sun-smart strategies is for a good cause: preventing melanoma—the most dangerous kind of skin cancer. Curiously, doctors tend not to talk about sunscreen use with their patients. One study showed that, in 18 billion outpatient visits, primary care doctors mentioned sunscreen to just 0.07% of their patients, or roughly 1 in 1,400. But even though your doctor may not mention it, you know better: Put on a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 before you go out. Reapply every two to three hours, or more if you are in the water or sweating. Wear a wide-brimmed hat or sun-protective clothing.

The “heartbreak of psoriasis” may affect your joints, heart, and mind

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Nearly 7 million adults in the United States suffer from psoriasis. This condition is characterized by red patches of skin covered with silvery scales, often on the elbows and knees. But today doctors understand psoriasis as an inflammatory condition that may affect more than just the skin. People with psoriasis are more likely to have other conditions linked to inflammation, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. And nearly a third of people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis, which causes stiff, painful joints and other debilitating symptoms. Several studies suggest that weight loss and vigorous exercise, both of which help combat inflammation, may help thwart psoriasis as well.

Erectile dysfunction drugs and skin cancer — should you worry?

Daniel Pendick
Daniel Pendick, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine this week found that men who used the erection-enhancing drug sildenafil (Viagra) were 84% more likely to develop melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, over a period of 10 years. That finding makes for an attention-grabbing headline. But it doesn’t tell the real story—that the study found an association (not cause and effect), that this hasn’t been seen in other studies of men, and that, even if it holds true, the absolute increase is small, from 4.3 cases of melanoma for every 1,000 men who didn’t take Viagra to 8.6 of every 1,000 men who took it. The take-home message is that it’s important to worry about melanoma—which is largely caused by getting too much sun—but not yet about Viagra and melanoma.

Tattoos, moles, and melanoma

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

A new report suggests that skin cancer can sometimes hide in a tattoo. Writing in JAMA Dermatology, three German clinicians describe the case of a young man who wanted to remove large, multicolored tattoos on his arms and chest. During the removal process, his doctors discovered a suspicious mole inside the tattoo. It turned out to be cancerous—stage II melanoma. Tattoos may make it difficult to evaluate moles. Laser removal therapy is also problematic when moles are present. If you are considering getting a tattoo, either make sure it will be applied to skin that is free or moles or birthmarks, or have your doctor check any moles in the to-be-tattooed area beforehand. If you are planning to have a tattoo removed, check for moles within the tattoo. If you see any, ask your doctor or dermatologist to check them out before starting laser therapy.