Summer -- the season of the scantily clad. Like it or not, Northern California heat drives us to bare some skin and, if we dare, don a swimsuit. Winter does have its mercies after all. Underneath tights, boots and layers, we can hide our furry legs, varicose veins and other unsavory bits. Summer however is another matter, which is why so many of us declare ourselves “bikini not ready.”
Here at MyLifeStages, we’ve talked a lot about healthy weight management and losing belly fat. But what of those other swimsuit season spoilers -- the ingrown hairs, the bumpy, saggy, rashy skin? We spoke with Catherine Lenz, P.A., a Sacramento-based dermatology expert with Sutter Medical Foundation, to get a bit of advice.
Chances are, your bumpy skin might not be what you think. For example, acne on the chest and back sometimes isn’t acne at all. Instead, that outbreak may be folliculitis, a type of skin inflammation manifested around the oil glands that’s best treated with antibiotics or antifungals. And those itchy red bumps on the backs of your arms? Those aren’t pimples either. The more likely culprit: keratosis pilaris (KP), a bothersome condition that tends to run in families and is associated with dry skin rather overactive sebaceous (oil) glands.
“The worst thing you can do is scratch them,” says Lenz, who recommends moisturizers with alpha hydroxy or lactic acid to treat KP. “Too often, people endure skin problems that could otherwise be highly treatable with the right diagnosis. The key is getting things checked out.”
Some unfortunate folks may even find themselves with boils and carbuncles – painful, pus-filled bumps that form under the skin. These cyst-like irritations occur when bacteria enters the hair follicle and causes an infection. Although usually harmless, some can prompt fever and require medical attention. See a doctor if a swollen bump has a red-line radiating from it or doesn’t go away after a couple of weeks, which could indicate more serious infection.
The days of getting out the little disposable razor and shaving only the lower legs are long gone. More and more people are opting for waxing; some going so far as to remove hair from their arms and (in the case of men) their chests and backs.
“It’s a whole lot of maintenance,” laughs Lenz.
Needless to say, the trend toward sleek, hairless skin has prompted a rise in hair follicle infections like folliculitis, ingrown hairs and even staph infections. The safest way to prevent these infections is exfoliation before shaving or waxing, explains Lenz. Although there are many exfoliating products on the market, a commonplace terry washcloth can be just as effective.
Lasers may be a great option for some, particularly those with fair skin and dark hair, says Lenz. Lasers are a safe and long-term way to remove hair. While earlier lasers worked best only on fair complexions, new lasers can treat pigmented skin as well. But Lenz warns that no hair removal methods are 100 percent permanent. Everything will require some touch up, she says. The frequency will depend on each individual’s unique hair follicle growth. Also important to note is that lasers aren’t effective in removing light hair, since the laser works on melanin and can’t “see” lighter colors. To remove unwanted blond hair, Lenz prescribes topical creams that slow hair growth such as Vaniqa.
Lenz suspects that far more people have tinea versicolor than those who actually seek treatment. This common problem can cause itchy, red blotches that can flake when scratched and appear pale on tanned skin.
“We all have this yeast organism on our skin,” says Lenz. But some people are more prone to outbreaks, especially those who sweat a lot. Treatment is straightforward, but the best approach is prevention. Beginning in the spring, Lenz encourages patients prone to tinea versicolor to wash their bodies with selenium sulfide shampoos at least twice a week. Those who get especially sweaty at the gym may want to wash with these shampoos after workouts as well.
For those already facing an outbreak, over-the-counter anti-fungal ointments are usually effective. Dermatologists may also prescribe oral medication and other topical treatments depending on severity.
As many of us now know, some things simply require acceptance. Although there are five important things all women should know about their skin, there’s no magic bullet for age-related changes.
No lasers, magic creams or firming lotions are going to get rid of that cellulite or sagging skin. These things might feel good or smell good, but they’re not going to make a difference, says Lenz. “Sometimes I even try to prove myself wrong,” she jokes. “I find myself in the aisle of the store and can’t help myself sometimes. I try it, and I know better, and then think ‘Darn it, that was twenty bucks!’”
The best bet is to stay hydrated inside and out. Lenz encourages patients to use creams – typically packaged in jars not pumps – to manage dry skin, keep it moist and help with elasticity. The moisture will help plump up the look of aging skin. For the face, look for a good moisturizer, sunscreen SPF 30 or greater, a vitamin-c serum and good exfoliator (either a retinoid or something with alpha hydroxyl).
When all else fails, give your skin a good exfoliating scrub, apply a nice self-tanner and throw on a great sundress. Summer nights await us!