Sunscreen, Skin Cancer, and Staying Safe: Does Sunscreen Really Help Prevent Cancer?

Sunscreen, Skin Cancer, and Staying Safe: Does Sunscreen Really Help Prevent Cancer?

Man with groceries
Spending time in the sun can be great for your health. A little bit of sunlight encourages your body to make vitamin D, which is important for bone health, nerve and muscle function, and immune health. Too little vitamin D can lead to weakened bones and may be linked to conditions like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Being outside can also lower stress levels and boost mental health.

However, the sun can also harm your skin if you’re not careful. Sunlight can damage skin cells, leading to signs of premature aging such as wrinkles, an uneven skin color, and a leathery appearance. Too much sun can also lead to eye diseases. Importantly, sun exposure is also the main cause of skin cancer. Therefore, it’s important to keep yourself safe when you’re outdoors.

Skin Cancer: The Basics

Skin cancer develops when skin cells become damaged and begin growing too quickly. If left untreated, cancer cells can move from the skin to other parts of the body.

About one in five people in the U.S. will develop skin cancer at some point in their life. It is the most common type of cancer for people living in the U.S.

There are a couple of different types of skin cancer. The two most common types are basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). The more sun you get throughout the course of your life, the higher your risk of developing BCC and SCC. Another type of skin cancer, melanoma, is rare but is more aggressive and harder to treat. The more sunburns you received in your teenage years, the higher your chances of being diagnosed with melanoma.

The Causes and Risk Factors of Cancer

Cancer develops when a cell’s genes — sets of instructions that tell the cell what to do — become changed or mutated. This causes the cell to begin dividing out of control, forming many new cells that make a tumor.Skin cancer is primarily caused by sunlight, which contains ultraviolet (UV) rays that harm skin cells. There are two main types of UV rays that play a role in skin cancer. UV-A rays can infiltrate into deeper layers of the skin, where they form free radicals (tiny molecules that can damage many parts of the cell, including the cell’s genes). UV-B rays mainly stay in the outermost layer of skin and cause changes in DNA, the material that makes up genes.

Certain risk factors can increase your chances of developing skin cancer. These include:

  • Spending a lot of time in the sun or in tanning beds
  • Experiencing several sunburns at a young age
  • Having light skin that doesn’t tan
  • Having blond or red hair, or light-colored eyes
  • A history of being diagnosed with unusual moles
  • A history of conditions that lead to ongoing skin inflammation or a weakened immune system
  • A family history of skin cancer
  • Undergoing radiation treatments
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, including solvents, vinyl chloride, or arsenic

People without these risk factors can still develop skin cancer. However, skin cancer is more common in people with these features.

Can Sunscreen Protect You From Cancer?

holding belly
Many experts recommend sunscreen as a way to reduce the harm caused by sunlight. Sunscreens contain a variety of ingredients that can absorb and block UV-A or UV-B rays.

What Does the Research Say?

Studies have mostly found that using sunscreen can decrease skin cancer rates.

In particular, one large clinical trial conducted in Australia instructed some of the study participants to apply sunscreen every day, while the rest of the participants were free to decide when they put on sunscreen. After 4.5 years, the people who used daily sunscreen were 40% less likely to have SCC, the second most common skin cancer type.

After 15 years, the researchers followed up with the study participants and found that they were also less likely to experience melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer. Other, smaller studies have also found that using sunscreen can reduce rates of SCC and of actinic keratosis, a condition that can develop into skin cancer.

Interestingly, this clinical trial did not find that sunscreen helped protect against BCC — people who used daily sunscreen and people who did not developed this skin cancer at similar rates. Experts speculate that this may be because BCCs take a very long time to develop. Longer studies are needed in order to determine whether sunscreen can prevent BCC.

Research has also found that sunscreen can help prevent wrinkles, uneven skin coloration, and spider veins (small blood vessels that appear close to the skin’s surface, leading to reddish lines on the skin).

Overall, experts such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Dermatologists (AAD) recommend using sunscreen when spending time in the sun.

Who Should Use Sunscreen?

Everyone should put on sunscreen before going outside. Even people without skin cancer risk factors can develop the condition, so sunscreen can help all people, regardless of their age, race, and other factors.

However, experts recommend not applying sunscreen to infants younger than six months. These children may be more likely to experience a skin rash or other side effects. Instead, keep your newborn in the shade, dress them in clothing and hats that cover their skin, and make sure they stay well-hydrated with formula or milk.

Sunscreen should be worn every day for the best protection. UV rays can pass through clouds, so you can still experience sun damage even if it’s not a sunny day. Additionally, you are still exposed to UV light during the daytime even when it’s cold outside.

What SPF Should You Use?

Sunscreens are rated based on their sun protection factor (SPF). The SPF measures how much UV light the sunscreen protects against. The higher the SPF, the more you are protected.

The CDC recommends using at least SPF 15 sunscreen, while AAD recommends SPF 30. Some experts believe that higher SPF ratings may be more helpful, because people often don’t apply enough sunscreen. For example, if you are using SPF 30 sunscreen and only apply half the recommended amount, you may only be getting the equivalent of SPF 15 protection.

The CDC and AAD also suggest making sure your sunscreen protects against both UV-A and UV-B rays. It also helps to use sunscreen that is water resistant if you’re planning on swimming or think you may end up sweating a lot.

Tips for Applying Sunscreen

Make sure you’re putting on enough sunscreen. Experts recommend using an ounce of sunscreen over your entire body. This is enough sunscreen to fill one shot glass. Make sure to cover all of your skin, including your ears, the tops of your feet, and — if you have short hair — your scalp. Additionally, use lip balm with an SPF of at least 30 to protect the skin of your lips.

Sunscreen works best when it is applied at least 15 minutes before you go outside. Reapply every couple of hours, or after you swim, towel off, or sweat.

Is Sunscreen Safe to Use?

Sunscreen can occasionally lead to reactions such as stinging, burning, or a rash. They may also clog the pores. In some cases, people may be allergic to certain sunscreen ingredients, but this is rare.

Some people worry that certain sunscreen ingredients may not be safe if they are absorbed into the bloodstream. In particular, there has been concern about two common ingredients — oxybenzone (BP-3) and octinoxate (OMC). So far, studies have not found any strong links between these ingredients and health problems, although researchers are continuing to look into this area.

It is important to note that sunscreens containing BP-3 or OMC have been banned in Hawaii and in Key West, Florida. This is because these ingredients may harm coral reefs and negatively impact plants and animals that live in the water. Avoiding sunscreens with these ingredients may be better for the environment.

Beyond Sunscreen: Keep Yourself Safe From the Sun

Doctor
There are also other strategies that you can use along with sunscreen to make sure you’re staying safe. The more approaches you take, the more you can keep your skin healthy and reduce your risk of skin cancer.

Other Ways to Protect Your Skin

If you want to stay safe, you may also want to try:

  • Avoiding sunlight during the hottest part of the day — The sun gives off more harmful UV rays from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so limit your time outside during these hours.
  • Staying in the shade — Spend time under a tree, tent, or umbrella in order to reduce the amount of UV light coming into contact with your skin. It’s still a good idea to wear sunscreen in the shade, however.
  • Wearing protective clothing and hats — Long pants and long-sleeved shirts made from tightly-woven fabric can help keep the sun off of your skin. You can also buy rash guards or swim cover-ups that can provide UV protection while at the beach or pool. A hat with a brim can also protect your face, neck, and scalp from sunburn.
  • Using sunglasses — Look for sunglasses that offer protection against UV-A and UV-B rays, which can keep the skin around your eyes safe and help lower your chances of developing eye problems like cataracts.
  • Avoiding tanning machines — Indoor tanning using tanning beds or booths also exposes you to UV rays and can lead to premature aging and skin cancer.

Sunlight helps your body produce vitamin D, so blocking the sun from reaching your skin may mean that your body makes less of this nutrient. If you are careful about protecting yourself from the sun, you may want to consider getting vitamin D from a supplement or multivitamin, or eating foods such as dairy products that have been fortified with this vitamin.

Ask Your Doctor About Skin Cancer Screening

skin cancer screening is an exam in which you, a doctor, or a nurse checks the skin all over your body for signs of cancer, including moles or marks that have an unusual size or color. Screening may help you find skin cancer early, which could lead to a better outcome.

You may want to ask your doctor if they recommend that you undergo skin cancer screening. It may be a good idea for people with skin cancer risk factors.

You can also perform your own screening at home. Check all of your skin, including near your genitals, under your breasts, on your scalp, between your fingers and toes, and underneath your nails. You will need a mirror in order to properly check some areas. Talk to your doctor if you notice any new bumps, sores that don’t heal, or moles that are irregularly-shaped, painful, oozing, or bleeding.

Know the Signs of Skin Cancer

If you spend a lot of time in the sun, or you have a history of sun exposure, it helps to know skin cancer symptoms so you know what to watch out for.

When looking for signs of skin cancer, think “ABCDE“:

  • Asymmetrical — The spot is oddly-shaped rather than being circular and has two halves that look different
  • Border — The outside edge of the spot is jagged or uneven
  • Color — The mole or spot has several different colors inside
  • Diameter — The spot is bigger than a pea
  • Evolving — The mole or spot’s appearance has changed

Conclusion: Sunscreen and Skin Cancer

Research clearly shows that regularly using sunscreen can reduce your chances of being diagnosed with skin cancer. It can also help prevent signs of premature aging. However, it is not the only thing that can help protect you from the sun’s UV rays — using other strategies like wearing protective clothing and staying in the shade can all play a role in keeping you safe and healthy. If you would like a skin-check, please make an appointment with Dr. Connor.

Superfoods Part 5: Ten Essential Superfoods for Radiant Skin

Superfoods Part 5: Ten Essential Superfoods for Radiant Skin

Young woman holding apple

This is the fifth article in my series on superfoods, with this one focussing on superfoods for healthy skin. I encourage you to visit the “Nutrition” section of Ask the Doctor for my other articles on superfoods.

You are what you eat. The foods that make up your diet can either supply your body with nutrients that help it work its best, or cause problems like damage and inflammation. You can help your skin become healthy, hydrated, and glowing by eating a lot of vitamin and antioxidant-packed superfoods.

Giving Your Skin Proper Building Blocks for Health

Why are certain foods better for your skin than others? While we may think of our skin as a single layer, it actually has seven layers and many different parts. In addition the skin is the largest organ in the body and is part of the integumentary system that also includes hair and nails.

Skin cells make up the outermost skin layer, called the epidermis. This layer protects the body, but is also most likely to be damaged by things like UV light from the sun.

Below the epidermis lies the dermis. This layer contains several things important for skin health, such as:

  • Sweat pores, which get rid of waste
  • Collagen and other proteins that give the skin structure and keep it firm but elastic
  • Immune cells, which fight off germs
  • Blood vessels that deliver nutrients and oxygen to the rest of the skin

Eating a balanced diet can help keep each of these components working properly.

1. Flax Seeds

Bowl of flaxseeds

Flax seeds are small brown or yellow seeds that are packed with nutrients. They are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have many health benefits throughout the body. Research has found that omega-3 molecules can help the skin by:

In one study, people who ate more omega-3’s tended to have less skin aging associated with light damage. Other experiments have also found that omega-3’s can decrease skin irritation and redness and improve skin hydration and smoothness. Omega-3’s have other health benefits as well, such as boosted heart, brain, and eye health.

If you want to add flax seeds to your diet, try adding them to your breakfast by spooning a tablespoon on top of oatmeal or cereal. You can also add this superfood to yogurt or a smoothie, or bake them into breads, muffins, or even cookies! I often tell my patients to try them on salads as a crunchy topping as well. It is better to eat ground rather than whole flaxseeds, because your body can more easily digest and absorb nutrients from the ground form. Buy them pre-ground, or chop up whole seeds in a coffee grinder. You can also find omega-3s in seafood, plant oils such as canola oil, and in other nuts and seeds.

2. Salmon

Superfoods for Skin
Salmon is another excellent source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. It is also a good source of protein, as well as several other molecules that promote healthy skin.

Salmon contains a lot of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). This molecule is a damage-fighting antioxidant. The human body can produce its own CoQ10, but levels tend to decrease with age, stress, and certain diseases. Therefore, eating food-based sources of CoQ10 may help keep us healthy as we get older. This enzyme can lead to healthier skin by protecting against damage and helping skin cells make more energy. In one study, people who took a CoQ10 supplement for 12 weeks had more elastic, smooth skin and fewer wrinkles.

Salmon is also full of selenium, a mineral that neutralizes damage-causing free radicals. It can help skin cells heal DNA damage and leads to less damage following exposure to UV light. The combination of CoQ10 with selenium may protect against many signs of aging, leading to more vitality and health, a better quality of life, and improved physical activity.

As if all of this weren’t enough, salmon has still more skin-boosting compounds. This superfood has a lot of vitamin D, which may help protect against some skin diseases. It’s a , which promote skin health and wound healing. Another antioxidant, astaxanthin, can increase the amount of collagen in the skin, leading to fewer wrinkles and rough spots and better elasticity.

3. Yogurt

Bowl of Yogurt

As we’ve discussed before, yogurt is a great source of probiotics, or the “good” bacteria that inhabit the gut and help your body work better. When it comes to your skin, eating these healthy microbes can balance your skin’s pH and improve its ability to act as a protective barrier. By calming inflammation and reducing stress, probiotics can also help fight acne. It may also help with skin conditions such as rosacea and dermatitis.

Yogurt also contains other nutrients that support skin health, like vitamin A, vitamin D, and B vitamins. For better results, avoid flavored yogurts, which tend to contain high levels of inflammation-promoting sugar. On the other hand, if you’re not a yogurt fan or have dietary restrictions to eating yogurt but still want a probiotic boost, look to other cultured or fermented foods such as miso, komboucha, sauerkraut, or kimchi. You can also consider probiotic supplements.

4. Oranges

Sliced orange
The skin normally contains a lot of vitamin C. This nutrient acts as an antioxidant and helps the skin build up more collagen. It may also play an important role in healing wounds once the skin is damaged. As a result, vitamin C is often added to skin products like creams and serums. However, some evidence also shows that eating foods with vitamin C can lead to skin health. For example, researchers in one study collected diet information from 4000 women. They found that women who ate more vitamin C-containing foods often had fewer wrinkles and less skin dryness.

Vitamin C is found at high levels in oranges and orange juice. Be careful when going the juice route, however – many fruit juices contain high levels of sugar, which isn’t good for the skin. Other citrus fruits like grapefruits also have a lot of vitamin C, as do kiwis, bell peppers, strawberries, and broccoli.

5. Tomatoes

Tomatoes

Did you know that a food’s color can sometimes tell you what nutrients it contains? Many red, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables get their color from carotenoids. These molecules are very important for heart and eye health, and also help the skin.

Tomatoes contain high levels of one important carotenoid called lycopene. Scientists have found that when people eat more lycopene, their skin is smoother and appears more youthful. Eating lycopene or tomato-based products can even help people get less sunburned. It’s also possible that lycopene may also help prevent skin cancer.

The body can more easily absorb lycopene when tomatoes are cooked, especially when they’re cooked in olive oil. Try eating roasted tomatoes as a side, or make a sauce to serve over whole-wheat pasta. Tomatoes can also give you a good helping of vitamins A and C.

6. Sweet Potatoes

Sliced Sweet Potatoes
There are other carotenoids besides just lycopene. Sweet potatoes are a great source of beta-carotene, a carotenoid that the body transforms into vitamin A. Like lycopene, beta-carotene can also protect against sun damage and sunburn. It can also help the body make more collagen, leading to fewer wrinkles.

Getting high doses of beta-carotene may actually lead to increased damage, so it may be better to get this nutrient from foods rather than from supplements. In addition to sweet potatoes, you can get beta-carotene from superfoods like carrots, squash, and leafy greens like kale.

7. Avocadoes

Avocado
Avocadoes are a superfood powerhouse full of nutrients that are good for the skin. They are sources of healthy fats, including omega-3’s and vitamins C and E.

Some fats are healthier than others. Avocadoes contain a lot of monounsaturated fats, which are the building blocks of many different types of cells, including your skin cells. These monounsaturated fats improve the elastic quality of skin and can lead to fewer wrinkles when eaten more frequently.

The carotenoid zeaxanthin can also be found in avocadoes. It protects the skin from damage-causing light. Clinical trials have also shown that eating zeaxanthin as a supplement can lead to fewer facial lines and wrinkles.

Avocadoes are also high in lutein, yet another type of carotenoid. Lutein can help prevent eye disease and improve memory and thinking ability. It can filter out damage-causing ultraviolet light, protecting the skin. When carotenoids are eaten at the same meal as healthy fats, they work even better because the body can absorb them more easily. Avocadoes provide the perfect combination of these fats and carotenoids.

8. Broccoli

Broccoli

Broccoli is loaded with nutrients. Eating this superfood will provide your skin with vitamins A and C, as well as multiple carotenoids like lutein and beta-carotene.

Eating your broccoli is also a good way to get vitamin K. This nutrient plays a big role in blood clotting, and can help the skin repair wounds and bruises.

Broccoli contains the mineral zinc. Because the body can’t store zinc, we need to make sure we’re getting it regularly through our diets. Zinc helps the skin by:

  • Allowing skin cells to divide to produce new cells
  • Strengthening the immune system
  • Healing cells from damage
  • Smoothing the skin
  • Helping heal wounds

Finally, broccoli has sulforaphane, a molecule also found in other cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and bok choy. Research into sulforaphane is in the early stages, but some experts believe that it can protect the skin from sun damage and keep the skin looking more youthful. Some studies also show that sulforaphane can help protect against several different kinds of cancer, including skin cancer.

9. Green Tea

Cup of Green Tea
Green tea is a superfood with many health benefits. This brew contains a mixture of polyphenols, compounds that act as antioxidants to neutralize free radicals within cells. Like some of the other superfoods on this list, green tea uses these antioxidants to protect the skin from UV damage. Typically, when the skin is exposed to UV light from sources like direct sunlight or tanning beds, skin cells will turn on biological pathways that create inflammation and encourage the development of tumors. Polyphenols in green tea can help turn down these processes.

In one study of 60 women, those who drank green tea had less redness after being exposed to UV light. These women also had better blood flow in the skin, meaning that their skin cells could get more oxygen, and had smoother, better hydrated skin. In mouse studies, green tea polyphenols can also help prevent skin cancer, although this effect hasn’t yet been well studied in humans.

You can also find some of these polyphenols in dark chocolate and red wine. However, eating too much sugar or drinking too much alcohol can also have negative effects on the skin, so these may not be the best sources for getting skin-boosting polyphenols on a regular basis. Replacing a cup of coffee or bottle of soda with green tea can help give your skin a healthy boost.

10. Turmeric

Turmeric spilling out of bowl

Turmeric is a spice that is a part of the ginger family. It is traditionally used in Indian, Southeast Asian, and Middle Eastern cuisines in curries and rice dishes. Turmeric contains the molecule curcumin, which has been studied in recent years for a large variety of health benefits.

Curcumin can turn on antioxidants within skin cells, helping them better respond to stress and damage. This helps cells resist stress and stay healthy. This molecule also helps cells build up new collagen, which is important for both wound healing and for keeping the skin firm and wrinkle-free. Finally, early research has found that curcumin can help reduce the symptoms of certain skin disorders, such as psoriasis and dermatitis.

Turmeric also contains another useful compound called silymarin. The milk thistle plant is the primary source of silymarin, but the molecule is also found in some other vegetables and spices. Silymarin plays a protective role in the skin and also helps prevent collagen from breaking down. The combination of silymarin and curcumin also helped block cancerous cells in laboratory experiments, but this has not yet been tested in humans.

Try adding turmeric to rice, quinoa, soups, stews, or curries. You can also blend turmeric into a smoothie or whisk into eggs for a superfoods breakfast.

Conclusion

Start early! If you’re younger, eating a healthy diet can help your skin continue to look radiant and healthy for the long term. If some signs of aging have already begun to appear on your face, there are still things you can do to slow or even reverse damage. Eating a variety of nutrient-packed superfoods on a regular basis can help build up the health of skin cells and the underlying dermal layer, and keep your skin looking and functioning at its best.

If you would like to discuss your skin, or treatments that we offer, such as microneedling with Skin Pen, please contact our office to make an appointment.

Acute and Chronic Hives and Rashes: Causes and Treatments

Acute and Chronic Hives and Rashes: Causes and Treatments

Acute and Chronic Hives and Rashes: Causes and Treatments

Acute and chronic hives and rashes and their causes and treatments can be tricky. There are many different conditions that can cause bumps, rashes, or itchy skin. In many cases, the conditions are temporary and quickly disappear with treatment. In other cases, hives or rashes can last long-term and are more difficult to manage. Your primary care physician or a dermatologist can help diagnose skin conditions and recommend a proper treatment plan. (For more on dermatological issues, see my article on how to treat skin conditions; eczema, seborrhea and psoriasis.)

Acute vs. Chronic

When diagnosing and treating skin problems, it helps to know whether the condition is acute or chronic. Acute conditions appear quickly and often within a few days. The skin’s appearance may change within a day or two, overnight, or even within a few minutes. Symptoms may also get worse fast.

On the other hand, chronic conditions are present for several weeks or longer and they may tend to worsen over a longer time period. Chronic conditions may appear on their own or may develop as a result of acute skin conditions that go untreated.

What Are Hives?

Hives are bumps that stick out from the skin. These bumps, also called urticaria or wheals, are itchy and usually appear red in color, although this redness can be harder to see on darker skin colors. Hives may also appear as flat, raised patches on the skin. The bumps and patches may grow larger, change shape, or go away over a short time period. Hives are common, affecting up to 1 in 5 people at some point in their lifetime.

Hives are usually caused by an allergic reaction. When a person comes in contact with something they are allergic to, the immune system creates inflammation, which may lead to hives and swelling. Things that may create an allergic response and lead to hives include:

  • Pollen, mold, or dust
  • Bug bites
  • Animals, including cats or dogs
  • Foods, including nuts, dairy products, eggs, meat, or seafood
  • Chemicals such as latex
  • Certain soaps, detergents, or cosmetic products
  • Medications such as aspirin, penicillin, vitamins, birth control pills, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Hives aren’t always an allergic reaction. Sometimes, they form when a person is feeling stressed, sweats a lot, exercises, or has been in very hot or very cold temperatures. Infections like mononucleosis (mono), sinus infections, tooth infections, or COVID-19 can also lead to hives. Another possible cause is diseases like lupus, thyroid disorders, or lymphoma. In some cases, doctors don’t know what has caused a particular case of hives.

Hives can be acute or chronic. Acute hives usually appear and disappear within a period of hours or days. They may come back over the next couple of weeks, but will usually go away again quickly. Chronic hives continue to reappear, sometimes multiple times per week, over a period of 6 weeks or more.

Treating Acute Hives

Acute hives often disappear without any treatment. To help the skin recover, you can avoid hot water and tight-fitting clothing. Antihistamine (anti-allergy) medication can help calm these allergic reactions. Severe hives may need to be treated with stronger medication or a shot.

Allergens can sometimes cause a severe allergic response called anaphylaxis. You may need emergency medical care if hives appear along with a tightening of the mouth or throat, swelling in the face, breathing problems, or fainting.

It is important to figure out the cause of hives. When they are triggered by a particular substance, avoiding that substance in the future can help prevent hives. Your doctor can help you determine if you are allergic to any foods, medications, or other substances, or are sensitive to another factor such as heat or sunlight.

What Causes Chronic Hives?

In about 80 to 90% of cases, doctors aren’t sure what caused chronic hives. They call these cases “idiopathic.” Some doctors think that idiopathic chronic hives may result from an autoimmune reaction in which the immune system attacks the body’s healthy tissue. One of the most common triggers of chronic hives is physical factors like pressure, water, vibration, or extreme temperatures. These factors may make hives appear or cause existing hives to get worse.

In some cases, chronic hives can be a signal of an underlying disease, such as an infection or thyroid disorder. For this reason, it is a good idea to talk to your physician if you are experiencing chronic hives. However, having an underlying disease is rare, and most cases of chronic hives are caused by some other factor.

Chronic Hives: Treatments

Generally, the first step in treating chronic hives is to use a type of medication called second-generation H1 antihistamines. These medications include:

  • Claritin (loratadine)
  • Clarinex (desloratadine)
  • Zyrtec (cetirizine)
  • Xyzal (levocetirizine)
  • Allegra (fexofenadine)

If these medications don’t get chronic hives under control, doctors may recommend other strategies. This may include taking a higher dose of the same medication or trying other types of allergy medications. If these strategies are ineffective, people with chronic hives may be able to take immunosuppressive drugs (medications that calm down the immune system). Additionally, doctors may recommend steroid drugs for people with severe chronic hives.

Some complementary medicine approaches may also help. Chronic hives symptoms may come on less frequently and for shorter amounts of time when people undergo acupuncture treatments. Because stress can worsen hives, mental health therapies like hypnosis, relaxation exercises and other natural methods to boost one’s mood may also help treat chronic hives.

For a little over 1 in 3 people with chronic hives, symptoms disappear within a year. For others, symptoms may continue off and on for several years or for their entire life.

Rashes and Their Causes

There are many different conditions that can cause bumps, rashes, or itchy skin. In many cases, the conditions are temporary and quickly disappear with treatment. In other cases, hives or rashes can last long-term and are more difficult to manage. Your primary care physician or a dermatologist can help diagnose skin conditions and recommend a proper treatment plan. (For more on dermatological issues, see my article on how to treat skin conditions; eczema, seborrhea and psoriasis.)  Acute vs. Chronic When diagnosing and treating skin problems, it helps to know whether the condition is acute or chronic. Acute conditions appear quickly and often within a few days. The skin’s appearance may change within a day or two, overnight, or even within a few minutes. Symptoms may also get worse fast.  On the other hand, chronic conditions are present for several weeks or longer and they may tend to worsen over a longer time period. Chronic conditions may appear on their own or may develop as a result of acute skin conditions that go untreated.  What Are Hives? Hives are bumps that stick out from the skin. These bumps, also called urticaria or wheals, are itchy and usually appear red in color, although this redness can be harder to see on darker skin colors. Hives may also appear as flat, raised patches on the skin. The bumps and patches may grow larger, change shape, or go away over a short time period. Hives are common, affecting up to 1 in 5 people at some point in their lifetime.  Hives are usually caused by an allergic reaction. When a person comes in contact with something they are allergic to, the immune system creates inflammation, which may lead to hives and swelling. Things that may create an allergic response and lead to hives include:  Pollen, mold, or dust Bug bites Animals, including cats or dogs Foods, including nuts, dairy products, eggs, meat, or seafood Chemicals such as latex Certain soaps, detergents, or cosmetic products Medications such as aspirin, penicillin, vitamins, birth control pills, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) Hives aren’t always an allergic reaction. Sometimes, they form when a person is feeling stressed, sweats a lot, exercises, or has been in very hot or very cold temperatures. Infections like mononucleosis (mono), sinus infections, tooth infections, or COVID-19 can also lead to hives. Another possible cause is diseases like lupus, thyroid disorders, or lymphoma. In some cases, doctors don’t know what has caused a particular case of hives.  Hives can be acute or chronic. Acute hives usually appear and disappear within a period of hours or days. They may come back over the next couple of weeks, but will usually go away again quickly. Chronic hives continue to reappear, sometimes multiple times per week, over a period of 6 weeks or more.  Treating Acute Hives Acute hives often disappear without any treatment. To help the skin recover, you can avoid hot water and tight-fitting clothing. Antihistamine (anti-allergy) medication can help calm these allergic reactions. Severe hives may need to be treated with stronger medication or a shot.  Allergens can sometimes cause a severe allergic response called anaphylaxis. You may need emergency medical care if hives appear along with a tightening of the mouth or throat, swelling in the face, breathing problems, or fainting.  It is important to figure out the cause of hives. When they are triggered by a particular substance, avoiding that substance in the future can help prevent hives. Your doctor can help you determine if you are allergic to any foods, medications, or other substances, or are sensitive to another factor such as heat or sunlight.  What Causes Chronic Hives? In about 80 to 90% of cases, doctors aren’t sure what caused chronic hives. They call these cases “idiopathic.” Some doctors think that idiopathic chronic hives may result from an autoimmune reaction in which the immune system attacks the body’s healthy tissue. One of the most common triggers of chronic hives is physical factors like pressure, water, vibration, or extreme temperatures. These factors may make hives appear or cause existing hives to get worse.  In some cases, chronic hives can be a signal of an underlying disease, such as an infection or thyroid disorder. For this reason, it is a good idea to talk to your physician if you are experiencing chronic hives. However, having an underlying disease is rare, and most cases of chronic hives are caused by some other factor.  Chronic Hives: Treatments Generally, the first step in treating chronic hives is to use a type of medication called second-generation H1 antihistamines. These medications include:  Claritin (loratadine) Clarinex (desloratadine) Zyrtec (cetirizine) Xyzal (levocetirizine) Allegra (fexofenadine) If these medications don’t get chronic hives under control, doctors may recommend other strategies. This may include taking a higher dose of the same medication or trying other types of allergy medications. If these strategies are ineffective, people with chronic hives may be able to take immunosuppressive drugs (medications that calm down the immune system). Additionally, doctors may recommend steroid drugs for people with severe chronic hives.  Some complementary medicine approaches may also help. Chronic hives symptoms may come on less frequently and for shorter amounts of time when people undergo acupuncture treatments. Because stress can worsen hives, mental health therapies like hypnosis, relaxation exercises and other natural methods to boost one’s mood may also help treat chronic hives.  For a little over 1 in 3 people with chronic hives, symptoms disappear within a year. For others, symptoms may continue off and on for several years or for their entire life.  Rashes and Their Causes
rash is any change in the appearance or feeling of the skin. Rashes may appear as small or large bumps or blisters, patches of cracked or peeling skin, a scaly appearance, or areas of swollen or irritated skin. Rashes may be red, skin-colored, or look darker than the skin around them. They may feel itchy, painful, or neither. Rashes may appear and clear up slowly or quickly.

Rashes may have many causes, including:

  • Infections in the skin or throughout the body
  • Contact with certain chemicals, cosmetic products, or other items that you are sensitive to
  • Insect bites
  • Contact with a plant like poison ivy or poison oak
  • Disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or Kawasaki disease

Like hives, other types of rashes can also be caused by an allergic reaction or by an immune system response. Contact dermatitis is a form of eczema. It leads to a rash that usually appears red or inflamed. These rashes may be painful. Contact dermatitis appears when the skin touches something that irritates it.

Another common rash is atopic dermatitis. Experts don’t yet understand what causes this condition, but have found that genetics may play a large role. Atopic dermatitis is also linked to an abnormal response by the immune system.

It can be difficult to tell apart different types of rashes. If you have a rash that isn’t improving or is getting worse, you may need to get the rash diagnosed by your primary care doctor or a dermatologist. Doctors can perform various tests to help determine the cause. Tests may include blood tests or a biopsy, in which a small sample of skin is removed and studied under a microscope.

Treating Rashes

Many rashes can be treated at home. One important part of managing rashes is practicing good skin care. Things like using moisturizer every day can help keep eczema under control. Products with an oil, cream, or petroleum jelly base may work best to lock in moisture. You may need to try a couple of different products before you find one that works well for you. It’s probably best to avoid using lotions and creams that contain fragrances.

Many rashes appear or get worse when the skin touches certain triggers. See if you can recognize whether using a certain product or coming into contact with a chemical or metal makes your rash worse. Your doctor may also be able to give you a patch test, in which patches containing different materials are placed on the skin to see if they cause a reaction. This can help you figure out if you’re allergic or sensitive to a particular substance.

When treating rashes at home, you may want to try:

  • Avoiding covering the rash with a bandage or clothing, if possible
  • Cleaning your skin with gentle soap or body washes such as Dove
  • Being gentle with your skin while washing or drying it — try patting, rather than scrubbing
  • Taking a bath with products that contain oatmeal
  • Using over-the-counter creams like hydrocortisone for irritation or itching, or calamine lotion for rashes caused by plants like poison ivy
  • Taking an antihistamine pill or tablet

Most rashes are mild and can be treated with home remedies. However, some rashes are more serious or are a sign of an underlying health condition. I urge you to see your physician if you have a rash that is very painful or forms blisters. Additionally, watch out for rashes that may be signs of infection. These rashes may feel warm, release yellow or green fluid, be surrounded by red streaks, or be accompanied by a fever.

More serious rashes may require more aggressive treatment. Your physician can prescribe creams or ointments that contain higher doses of steroids or other medications than are available in over-the-counter products. Rashes caused by infections need to be treated with additional medications, such as antibiotics or antiviral drugs. Additionally, if a rash is caused by another health condition, you will need to treat the underlying disorder.

Can Diet Help Treat Hives or Rashes?

Acute and Chronic Hives and Rashes: Causes and Treatments

Dietary changes may help improve chronic hives. Some people with this condition have celiac disease, a disorder in which a person’s body can’t tolerate gluten. If you notice that your hives tend to get worse after eating products that contain wheat, barley, or rye, you may want to see if your doctor can test you for celiac disease. Additionally, some people with chronic hives have a vitamin D deficiency, so taking supplements may help improve symptoms.

Some studies have found that more than one out of three people who follow certain elimination diets see an improvement in their chronic hives. One of these diets is a pseudoallergen-free (PAF) diet. During a PAF eating plan, a person identifies and eliminates foods that lead to an immune system reaction. Chronic hives patients may be sensitive to foods like tomatoes, seafood, herbs, alcohol, or artificial preservatives or dyes.

People with chronic hives may also feel better when they eat a histamine-free diet. Histamine is a molecule that is normally made by the immune system during an allergic reaction. However, histamine is also found in certain foods. If you want to try a histamine-free diet, you will have to avoid foods like:

  • Certain fish, such as tuna, anchovy, and mackerel
  • Chicken, pork, and preserved meats like sausage and ham
  • Certain vegetables (spinach, eggplant, and tomatoes)
  • Citrus fruits, strawberries, cherries, and any dried fruits
  • Fermented foods like yogurt, aged cheeses, wine, beer, and kimchi
  • Processed foods, including fast food, canned food, and pre-packaged foods

Changing your diet may also help if you have contact dermatitis or atopic dermatitis. People with these conditions may be sensitive to certain foods. This may not result in a typical allergic reaction. Instead, people may develop dermatitis after eating a particular food. It is not always easy to figure out which food is causing a reaction, since the dermatitis may not appear for hours or days after the food was eaten. The best way to determine whether a food is causing dermatitis may be to go through testing in a doctor’s office.

If you are interested in trying a diet to help with skin problems, consult with your physician, a Registered Dietician (RD), or a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS). These health care practitioners can help you make sure you’re still getting the nutrients you need if you cut out certain foods from your diet.

Conclusion

Many cases of hives and rashes are mild. Practicing good skin care and being gentle with your skin may help a skin problem from getting worse. Additionally, some dietary changes may help soothe hives or rashes. However, you should always talk to your physician if home treatments don’t seem to be working or if you can’t figure out what is causing a skin condition.

If you have a skin condition and would like to discuss with Dr. Connor, please make an appointment.

The Biggest Health Myths of All Time (Health Central article)

The Biggest Health Myths of All Time (Health Central article)

The Biggest Health Myths of All Time

There are a lot of urban myths out there such as:  If you drop food on the floor and pick it up within three seconds, is it still OK to eat it? Should only women over 40 years old use a retinol? Do eating carrots improve vision? Can blue light from screens damage your eyes? Determine what is fact and what is fiction by reading what the experts say. Our own Dr. Connor is quoted in this Health Central article. 

To further discuss, make an appointment with Dr. Connor.

The Biggest Health Myths of All Time
How to Treat Skin Conditions: Eczema, Seborrhea and Psoriasis

How to Treat Skin Conditions: Eczema, Seborrhea and Psoriasis

How to Treat Skin Conditions

Let’s discuss how to treat skin conditions: eczema, seborrhea and psoriasis. Eczema, seborrhea, and psoriasis are health conditions that lead to irritated skin and scaly, itchy rashes. These conditions are all autoimmune diseases, involving the immune system. While normally the immune system’s job is to fight off infection, in these conditions, something causes the immune system to go into overdrive and begin attacking the body’s own cells. Eczema, seborrhea, and psoriasis are thought to have slightly different causes, but they are often managed using some of the same types of treatments.

What Is Eczema?

Close to 1 in 3 people have eczema at some point in their life. This condition is not contagious, meaning that you can’t spread eczema to other people.

What Does Eczema Look Like?

There are a few different types of eczema. The most common is atopic dermatitis, which causes certain areas of your skin to become very itchy. You may have patches of skin that look:

  • Swollen
  • Cracked
  • Scaly
  • Crusted
  • Red

People generally have eczema for a very long time. It is not usually a rash that appears suddenly and goes away quickly. Many people with eczema have had this condition since they were children.

What Causes Eczema?

Doctors don’t know for sure what causes this condition. They think eczema may be partly caused by genes that you inherit from your parents, meaning that eczema may run in families. This disorder is also probably partially caused by things in your environment that irritate your skin.

What is Seborrhea?

How to Treat Skin Conditions
About 5% of people around the world have seborrhea, also called seborrheic dermatitis. However, one particular form of seborrhea, dandruff, is far more common. Dandruff doesn’t involve as much inflammation as does traditional seborrhea, and it only occurs on the scalp. Up to half of the world’s population has experienced dandruff.

What Does Seborrhea Look Like?

Seborrhea usually appears on the face or scalp, as well as on the trunk and in between body folds. Adults with seborrhea often have raised patches that appear reddish in pale-skinned people and as darker areas in darker-skinned people. These patches are often covered with yellowish, crusted scales. They may also be oily or greasy, and may itch. Seborrhea also occurs in infants, where it may cause a non-itchy, non-painful rash on the face, head, trunk, and diaper area. Many infants with seborrhea have a condition called cradle cap, in which patches covered with yellowish scales appear on the head. Cradle cap usually develops when the infant is 3 months old or less, and goes away on its own after a few months. Dandruff usually results in white or yellow flakes coming off of the scalp. Some people with dandruff also have redness or itching on the skin of the head, underneath the eyebrows, or behind the ears.

What Causes Seborrhea?

Experts still don’t fully understand the causes of seborrhea. However, they have identified some of the factors that may be involved. These include:

  • Yeast: this is a type of fungus that normally lives on the skin. Researchers have found that people with dandruff or seborrhea often have higher numbers of certain types of yeast on their skin.
  • Sebaceous glands: these are small structures within the skin that make an oily substance. This substance helps protect the skin and hair and keep it healthy. People with seborrhea may have sebaceous glands that are too active and produce too much oil.
  • Genetics: the genes that are passed down from your parents may affect how likely you are to get seborrhea. Genes control things like how thick your skin is and how your immune system works. These factors in turn can affect whether you get seborrhea.

What Is Psoriasis?

How to Treat Skin Conditions
Researchers estimate that about 2-3% of people around the world have psoriasis. About 10-20% of people with this condition also develop psoriatic arthritis, a related disorder that causes joint pain

What Does Psoriasis Look Like?

Psoriasis leads to patches on the skin. These most often appear on the knees, elbows, hands, feet, back, face, or scalp. These patches are usually darker in color than your normal skin, appearing pinkish, reddish, or darker brown. They may also be covered with silver or gray flakes or scales. Your skin is often thicker in these patches, and may feel itchy. People with psoriasis also frequently have dandruff and small holes or dents in the fingernails or toenails.

What Causes Psoriasis?

As is the case for eczema and seborrhea, experts still aren’t exactly sure what causes psoriasis. In this condition, inflammation seems to cause new skin cells to grow too quickly. Psoriasis runs in families, indicating that genetics may play a role. Additionally, other factors can also make someone more likely to get psoriasis:

  • A physical injury of the skin, such as a cut, burn, bug bite, or tattoo
  • Certain medications, including beta blockers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen, and drugs that change the immune system
  • Infections, including strep throat
  • High levels of certain types of bacteria or yeast on the skin
  • Drinking high amounts of alcohol or smoking

Keeping Eczema, Seborrhea, and Psoriasis Flares Under Control

How to Treat Skin Conditions
Inflammatory skin conditions typically have symptoms that come and go. Sometimes, these diseases become more active, causing symptoms to worsen. These periods are called “flares.” Other times, symptoms will go into remission – they will lessen or even disappear. One key aspect of treating eczema, seborrhea, and psoriasis is to stop flares from coming on.

Managing Dry Skin

Studies have found that people living in colder climates often have more flares from eczemaseborrhea, and psoriasis during the colder months, when the air is drier. Therefore, one of the goals of treating these conditions is to keep dry skin under control. You can practice good skin care by:

  • Applying a moisturizing lotion a few times per day, especially after bathing, in order to keep your skin from drying out. Try using a lotion that doesn’t contain any dyes, fragrances, or other chemicals.
  • Using a humidifier, especially during the colder months, to keep the air from getting too dry.
  • Trying not to scratch your skin. Keep your nails short or wear gloves to avoid the temptation to scratch. Instead, apply an anti-itch cream.

On the other hand, getting too much sun can also worsen symptoms of these conditions. Make sure to protect your skin by applying sunscreen when you go outside.

Preventing Skin Irritation

Many times, conditions like eczema get worse when your skin comes into contact with certain materials that make it irritated. Some people have reactions to specific kinds of soap, laundry detergent, fabric, or skin products. However, it may be hard to identify which of these things is causing flares. Consider things like:

  • Did you recently start using a new lotion or a new facial product?
  • Did someone in your household recently start using a different brand of laundry detergent, fabric softener, or dryer sheets?
  • Have you been regularly using a different new kind of hand soap, at home or at work?

Seborrhea and psoriasis may also worsen when the skin becomes irritated. Certain skin medications, such as fluorouracil, and certain cosmetic products may lead to seborrhea flares. Additionally, psoriasis flares have been linked to skin injuries like cuts and burns. Do your best to protect your skin from potential damage. Try wearing gloves when doing tasks around the house like cleaning or gardening. If you have frequent flares, try switching out skin care, cleaning, and soap products one at a time and replacing them with another brand or a different type of product. This may help you see if any of these products are contributing to your symptoms.

Managing Stress

Eczemaseborrhea, and psoriasis flares have all been linked to stress. When the body is stressed, it makes certain hormones – natural substances in the body that act as messengers. These hormones may affect both the immune system and skin cells, leading to inflammation and skin symptoms. Working to reduce stress and better manage your mental health may help your skin symptoms improve. Here are some ideas for getting your stress levels under control:

  • If you have a lot you need to get done at home, work, or school, try making a to-do list in order to keep track of your responsibilities. Be realistic about how much you can get done.
  • Develop healthy habits, such as eating healthy foods (especially superfoods), exercising, and getting more sleep, in order to lower stress levels.
  • Learn how to relax. Try stretching, deep breathing, or meditation exercises in order to calm your body and your mind.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. This can sometimes cause more negative feelings in the short term, but helps improve your mental health in the long run.
  • Tell your loved ones when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Talking with a friend or family member can help you better deal with stress.
  • If your stress levels or mental health seem to be getting worse, you may get best results by talking to a professional. Try talking to a doctor, counselor, social worker, or therapist.

Treatments for Eczema, Seborrhea, and Psoriasis

How to Treat Skin Conditions
The treatment you receive for a skin condition may depend on different factors, such as which areas of your skin are affected and how severe your symptoms are. You may have to try a few different strategies before you find a treatment plan that works for your skin.

Topical Medications

Eczema, seborrhea, and psoriasis are often treated with topical medications. “Topical” refers to something that is applied directly to the skin. Many topical skin creams containing different medications have been developed to help treat inflammation. When diagnosed with eczema, seborrhea, or psoriasis, many people are first prescribed a corticosteroid treatment. Steroids calm the immune system and stop skin cells from growing and dividing so quickly. They may come in the form of ointments, creams, gels, foams, or lotions. Steroids keep skin conditions under control for many people, but don’t work for everyone. Additionally, steroids should only be taken temporarily, and are not a long-term solution. If you need to try a different treatment, your doctor may give you other topical medications:

  • Topical immunomodulators (TIMs) are medications that change the way in which the immune system interacts with the skin. Examples of TIMs used to treat inflammatory skin problems include tacrolimus and pimecrolimus.
  • Skin cream containing coal tar is frequently used to treat eczema and psoriasis. It may help eliminate inflammation and make skin cells grow more slowly.
  • Topical treatments that contain ceramides may help. Ceramides are a type of fat molecule that allow the skin to work properly. People with inflammatory skin conditions may have ceramides that don’t function correctly, so applying ceramides as a treatment may help treat these conditions.
  • Treatments with lactic acid or salicylic acid can help reduce skin scales.
  • Antibiotics can fight off germs if you have developed an infection within your skin.
  • Anti-fungal treatments such as ketoconazole can help keep the yeast that grows on your skin under control.

Medications Taken by Mouth

For more severe cases of eczema, seborrhea, and psoriasis, skin treatments may not be enough to reduce symptoms. Oral medications (pills taken by mouth) may be prescribed. Examples of possible oral treatments include antihistamines (allergy medication)steroid medicationsanti-fungal treatmentsvitamin A or vitamin D treatments, and drugs that slow down the immune system.

Biologics

A newer category of treatments called biologics has recently been developed to help with inflammatory skin problems. Biologics can block specific immune cells or molecules that cause inflammation. These drugs may be taken as a skin cream, oral medication, or other methods. For example, for more severe cases of eczema, a drug called dupilumab can be injected under the skin. A wide variety of biologics have also been approved to treat psoriasis. These include adalimumab (Humira) and ustekinumab (Stelara). Researchers are also beginning to study how biologics may help people with seborrhea. If you are interested in seeing how biologics may work for you, talk to your doctor.

Light therapy

Many doctors recommend light therapy, also called phototherapy, to help with eczema, seborrhea, and psoriasis. During this treatment, you are exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light either over your whole body or just in one specific affected area. UV light can lessen inflammation, make skin cells grow more slowly, and soothe symptoms of eczema, seborrhea, and psoriasis. Certain forms of UV light can make the skin age faster and can lead to a higher chance of getting cancer. Your doctor can determine the right types and dose of UV light to provide while maximizing benefits and minimizing risks. For this reason, it is important to receive these treatments in a hospital or doctor’s office. Light therapy isn’t the same as using a tanning bed, which are more likely to damage your skin.

Shampoos for Dandruff

When you have seborrhea on the scalp (dandruff), special shampoos can usually solve the problem. Studies have found that shampoos containing medication like ketoconazole, ciclopirox, selenium sulfide, coal tar, zinc pyrithione, salicylic acid, and tacrolimus can help reduce symptoms. Some of these options are available over-the-counter at your local store, while others need a prescription from a doctor.

Conclusion

Conditions like eczema, seborrhea, and psoriasis are often hard to tell apart from each other. If you think you have one of these conditions, it may help to see a doctor so that you can be sure you are using the right treatments. Your doctor can more accurately tell which condition you have by looking at your skin and asking you about other possible symptoms. Your doctor may also use a biopsy to diagnose you. In order to take a biopsy, your doctor will take a small sample of your skin and then look more closely at your skin cells under a microscope in order to get a better idea of what’s going on. Your doctor can also help you come up with a treatment plan. Many people with eczema, seborrhea, and psoriasis need to use a variety of strategies in order to come up with something that helps. Reducing how often flares pop up and treating symptoms when they appear, can help you better manage your skin condition. If you have a skin condition you would like to discuss with Dr. Connor, please make an appointment.

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