Acne is the most common skin condition that dermatologists see. Patients frequently ask me about common acne myths and I wanted to take some time over the next few blogs to discuss these.
Myth #1: Chocolate causes acne
This is a very interesting myth because a study has actually been done on this topic. I know what you’re thinking–sign me up! In the study they actually made the participants eat chocolate daily to see if they got more pimples. The good news is that they didn’t get more pimples. So chocolate does not cause acne. But does eating sugary food like chocolate cause acne? The answer to that question is more complicated. But the short answer is that it does appear that diets that high in sugary foods may be linked to acne. So if you have acne, a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables may help. This gives us one more reason eat a healthy well balanced diet.
Keratosis pilaris is a very common condition characterized by small bumps on the upper arms. If you “pick” at them (which you should not do) the bumps sometimes have tiny little hairs trapped inside. KP can also occur in other locations such as the thighs-usually the posterior thighs. I have KP on my elbows! KP tends to occur in people with a history of eczema but people without eczema can also get it. This condition is very frustrating and is not so easy to treat. I always explain to patients that there are treatments that can make the skin smoother but it is difficult to make it go away completely. Moisturizers with lactic acid or urea can help to make the skin smoother. Prescriptions that contain salicylic acid are also helpful. The good news is that this condition tends to improve with time. In the meantime, slather on moisturizers that also exfoliate. Gentle exfoliation with a loofah or similar material can be helpful (but don’t overdo it or you will get irritated!). For more severe cases, retinoids (Retin A/Tazorac/Differin) and chemical peels can help. If you have severe KP and it really bothers you, make an appointment to see a dermatologist for these types of treatments.
I just left a meeting in New York with Seventeen magazine and learned about a great article they have on skin cancer in their May issue. It is a great informational story on skin cancer (http://www.thedermablog.com/?p=96). I was especially moved by the story of a teenager who developed skin cancer on her leg. She used to tan regularly at tanning salons and even got a tanning bed to use at home to save money. Then one day she noticed a funny looking mole on her leg and it turned out to be malignant melanoma (see the full story here). Even though skin cancer in teenagers is rare, this great article reminded me how significant tanning beds can be in the development of skin cancer. Studies show that use of tanning beds can increase the risk of skin cancer by 74 %. I know that tanning bed use is very common (especially with young adults) and I just wanted to remind all of you of the dangers of tanning beds. There is a misconception that indoor tanning is safer, but the truth is that they are just as bad (and are probably worse) than regular tanning. So if you love the look of tanned skin, choose a fake tan. Now they have great products that look great and don’t smell! There are creams, mousses and even spray guns that you can use at home. Just stay away from the tanning salon!
A lot of you may have heard of skin care products that cost hundreds of dollars for a small jar that claim to be a miracle in a bottle. Well before you go out and spend your hard earned money on these products, let me fill you in a little secret….you don’t have to spend a lot of money on skincare to get results! Most of the cutting edge research in skin care and new technologies are actually developed by drugstore brands. This is because these large companies have the resources to do extensive research and clinical trials to support the claims they make on the bottle. That doesn’t mean that products from smaller prestige companies are not as good. It just means that you need to see the research to support any claims before jumping on the bandwagon and spending hundreds of dollars of skin care.
There are many ways to protect yourself from the sun…sunscreen, hats, umbrellas. But did you know that there are pills that offer sun protection also? These pills contain potent antioxidants that reduce free radical damage from harmful ultraviolet rays. Oral antioxidants do not replace sunscreen but prevent damage from the rays that do reach the skin.
In one study in women with melasma, they demonstrated improvement in the melasma with daily use of an oral antioxidant pill. I also did a study with polypodium leucotomos compared to a placebo pill for melasma and found that the participants that took the antioxidant pill improved. Polypodium leucotomos is an antioxidant that comes from a tropical fern. Heliocare and SunPill are two brands that contain this antioxidant. Other studies have been done with ellagic acid (pomegranate extract) and demonstrated similar results.
Based on these studies, even simply consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables likely has beneficial effects. For the ultimate in sun protection, add an oral antioxidant to your daily regimen. This simple intervention can help to protect against wrinkles, uneven skin tone, and hyperpigmentation caused by damaging ultraviolet light.