Skin and Hair

Skin and Hair Articles

Benefits of moderate sun exposure

Dr. Robert S. Stern, chair of the Department of Dermatology at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center , calls them "solar-phobes": people so concerned about getting skin cancer that they stay inside or cover every bit of skin. "They cover up like they were going out into the Arabian Desert ," he says. The marketing of ultrablocking sunscreens and special sun-protective clothing plays into these fears. There's no getting around the fact that sunlight is hard on your skin. Age gets blamed for wrinkles and rough, dry skin. But the real culprit is a combination of age and sun that dermatologists call photoaging. The short UVB wavelengths that cause sunburn can also damage DNA and suppress the skin's immune system. The longer, more penetrating UVA wavelengths may create highly reactive oxygen molecules capable of damaging skin cell membranes and the DNA inside. The relationship between sun exposure and skin cancer risk isn't as straightforward as you might think. Genes are a factor, of course: Some protect, some promote. So is skin type: People with pale skin who sunburn easily and don't tan are more likely to get sun-related skin cancer. As for exposure, the "dose" and its timing are crucial. Several studies have suggested that suddenly getting a lot of sun is more dangerous then steady exposure over time. More »

How to apply sunscreen for maximum protection

Most families follow common medical advice and take along a bottle of sunscreen when they're spending a day in the sun. But how do you know if you're applying enough? Most people don't, but a letter published in the June 22, 2002, issue of the British Medical Journal may help clarify the amount of sunscreen you should use and how often you should apply it. The letter, written by Drs. Steve Taylor and Brian Diffey, suggests people follow the "rule of nines" to get the sun protection factor (SPF) that's listed on the bottle. According to the rule, you should divide your body into 11 different sections, each making up about 9% of your total surface area: More »

Wet Combing More Effective for Detecting Head Lice than Traditional Visual Inspection

Head lice are minute, parasitic insects that live in hair. They easily spread from person to person, especially among children at school or in day care, and they are responsible for many school absences. Because lice are barely visible, finding lice eggs, called nits, is the easier way to detect an infestation. These tiny, white flecks cling to hair shafts. Researchers at Belgium’s Ghent University recently found that carefully sweeping a fine-toothed comb through wet, conditioned hair is more effective for detecting lice than the traditional, dry-scalp visual inspection.The study, published in the British Medical Journal, compared the two methods on 224 school children. Two trained teams independently examined the students: one using the wet comb technique, the other using the visual test. Wet combing found lice in 49 children, while the visual test only detected 32 of these cases. In addition, the traditional inspection mistakenly identified 14 uninfected children as having lice.The results suggest that compared to traditional, visual inspection, wet combing would allow for more accurate head lice detection, meaning more infestations detected before they can spread, and fewer non-infested children receiving unnecessary treatment with insecticides.   More »

When You Visit Your Doctor - Rash

How long have you had the rash? Where did it start? Has it spread? Is the rash only on parts of your skin that have been exposed to the sun? Does it itch or hurt? Is the rash red, pink, or purple? Is the rash smooth or bumpy? Have you had sores in your mouth, eyes, or other mucous membranes? Have you had blisters on your skin? Have you had trouble breathing? Have you had a fever? Have you symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection (for example, a cold)? Have you had vomiting or diarrhea? Are you taking any prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, herbs, or supplements? Did you start any of them in the past two months? Have you had any new exposures to foods or chemicals? Any exposure to insects? Have you had any recent sun exposure? Temperature Examination of your skin, mouth, eyes, mucous membranes, lymph nodes, liver, and spleen Skin scrapings for microscopic analysis or culture (if the rash looks infectious) Complete blood cell count or other blood tests (if you appear sick or have a fever) Skin biopsy   More »

When You Visit Your Doctor - Shingles

Do you have a history of chicken pox? Does your skin hurt, itch, or feel numb? Is the pain sharp, dull, or piercing? How long have you had it? Do you have a rash? If so, for how long? Is the rash in more than one place on your skin? Is the rash on one side of your body only? Has the rash at any time looked like small blisters? Do you still have pain even if the rash is gone? What triggers the pain (for example, a light touch)? Do your symptoms interfere with your ability to sleep or perform activities of daily living? Are you taking any medications? Skin exam almost always confirms the diagnosis Skin scraping to examine under the microscope, or for viral culture, immunofluorescence, or polymerase chain reaction testing (rarely needed)   More »

When You Visit Your Doctor — Acne

At what age did your problem with acne begin? Do you have blackheads, whiteheads, pustules, or cysts? If so, what areas are involved: your face, chest, back? What is your skin-care routine? What products do you use? Do any of them help? What medications have you tried (e.g., benzoyl peroxide, Retin-A, antibiotics, Accutane)? If you are female, does your acne get worse around the time of your menstrual period and do you have regular menstrual periods? What medicines do you take, including over-the-counter medicines and birth-control pills? Have you been developing extra body or facial hair? Skin exam Blood tests (liver function tests, cholesterol, or if you are female, perhaps a pregnancy test if you are taking the medicine Accutane)   More »

Athlete’s foot: Causes, prevention, and treatment—The FamilyHealth Guide

While it's not a life-or-death matter, athlete's foot-especially if it's persistent-can be painful and make walking difficult. The early signs of athlete's foot are patches or fissures (deep breaks or slits), especially between the toes. As the infection progresses, the skin may turn red, become itchy, and appear moist. Small blisters may spread out across the foot, breaking to expose raw fissures that are painful and may swell. The area between the toes is most often affected, but the infection may spread to the soles of the feet or to the toenails, which can become thick and colored white or cloudy yellow. In the most advanced cases, the rash will extend moccasin-style across the sole of your foot, and your feet may ooze pus and develop a foul odor. Athlete's foot breeds in locker rooms, swimming pool changing areas, or any place that combines dampness and a lot of foot traffic. I mproperly cleaned instruments used in a pedicure (either at a commercial salon or at home) can also lead to infection. The fungus can even contaminate bed sheets and spread to other body parts through rubbing and scratching. To control the spread of infection, keep bathroom surfaces clean and don't share towels The best way to prevent athlete's foot is by wearing sandals or shower shoes when walking around a locker room or pool. Keep your feet clean by washing them with soap and water at least once a day, and keep them dry the rest of the time. Put clean socks on every day, and change them more often if you sweat a lot or get them wet. More »

Toenail Problems

Your toenails reveal a lot about your overall health and can provide the first sign of a systemic disease. For instance, nails that are rounded inward like spoons rather than outward, may indicate a severe iron deficiency. Nails that are pitted and thick are a sign of psoriasis. If you notice any abnormality in your toenails, ask a foot care specialist about it. An ingrown toenail is one of the most common sources of foot pain. It can be a serious problem for anyone with diabetes or circulatory difficulties. An ingrown toenail develops when the side of the nail digs into the skin. This can lead to pain, irritation, swelling, and redness. The big toe is most often affected, although no toe is immune. The problem usually develops because the nails have not been trimmed properly. Overly tight shoes may also be a factor. Some people also have an inherited tendency for the problem. More »

Cosmetic and Reconstructive Surgery: Botox Injections

With the recent nod of approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the popularity of Botox injections has surged. Spas, shopping malls, walk-in clinics and even parties advertise the availability of this age-defying treatment. Even before FDA approval, the use of Botox was on the rise, increasing 61% between 2000 and 2001, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Botox, the trade name for botulinum toxin type A, is used to lessen the telltale signs of aging by softening frown lines on the forehead and brow, crow's feet at the corners of the eye, and other wrinkles. But what is this toxin, how does it work, and who should be administering the procedure? Botulinum toxin type A is one of several proteins secreted by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. These proteins are neurotoxins; they attack nerve cells and paralyze the affected muscles. Ingestion of botulinum toxins causes the infamous food poisoning botulism. But when the purified form of botulinum toxin type A is injected into the muscles below the skin in very low doses, the result is a reduction in wrinkling. More »

Cosmetic and Reconstructive Surgery: Botox Injections & Laser Hair Removal

With the recent nod of approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the popularity of Botox injections has surged. Spas, shopping malls, walk-in clinics and even parties advertise the availability of this age-defying treatment. Even before FDA approval, the use of Botox was on the rise, increasing 61% between 2000 and 2001, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Botox, the trade name for botulinum toxin type A, is used to lessen the telltale signs of aging by softening frown lines on the forehead and brow, crow's feet at the corners of the eye, and other wrinkles. But what is this toxin, how does it work, and who should be administering the procedure? Botulinum toxin type A is one of several proteins secreted by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. These proteins are neurotoxins; they attack nerve cells and paralyze the affected muscles. Ingestion of botulinum toxins causes the infamous food poisoning botulism. But when the purified form of botulinum toxin type A is injected into the muscles below the skin in very low doses, the result is a reduction in wrinkling. More »