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We all feel self-conscious sometimes, especially when we expose a lot of skin—but which beauty annoyances are actually a matter of health?
Ah, summer. The time of year when hemlines rise with the temperatures, barbecues and picnics abound, and the river is made for boating and rafting. More time outside in tank tops and shorts means more ways to expose one’s non-Photoshopped bits, however. Since you can’t carry around Instagram filters to downplay your 12-pack abs or jiggly arms, what can you do? Worse yet, should you be worried about those blue veins creeping up the back of your leg? We talked to the experts.
PROBLEM: VARICOSE VEINS
The lowdown: If the backs of your legs look like the convergence of the Sacramento and American rivers, it’s due to varicose veins.
Cause: Contrary to what my fifth-grade teacher told me, crossing your legs isn’t the reason why you get those ropy bluish-purple veins on your lower calf. Nor does it have to do with standing on cement floors at work all day. Interventional radiologist Mark Davidian, M.D., of Sutter Imaging Vascular & Varicose Vein Center says it’s primarily hereditary, though pregnancy and long periods of standing or sitting can be contributing factors.
Is it serious? If your legs ache at the end of the day and it’s affecting your ability to fall asleep, Davidian advises consulting your health care provider. Any sudden leg swelling or skin ulcers near your ankles also warrant a trip to the doctor.
Treatment: Compression socks can prevent leg aches and keep varicose veins from getting worse, says Davidian. In more severe cases, laser surgery or using a catheter to heat and close the veins may be used.
Pro tip: You don’t need a prescription to start wearing compression socks—plus they now come in fun colors and patterns. And special note to the fellas: Men can get varicose veins, too, so don’t be embarrassed to seek medical help.
PROBLEM: SPIDER VEINS
The lowdown: Those thin, tiny blue and red veins on your legs—and possibly your face—can make you feel as if you had Charlotte’s web tattooed on your skin.
Cause: Just like their older sibling, varicose veins, spider veins are mostly hereditary and are found in people of all sizes.
Is it serious? No, spider veins are more of a cosmetic issue, according to Davidian.
Treatment: Sclerotherapy, which involves injecting a solution designed to shrink spider veins, is highly effective. The surrounding skin may be inflamed for a month or longer post treatment, says Davidian.
Pro tip: “We tell our patients they look beautiful no matter what,” says Davidian. No, that won’t magically shrink those spider veins, but it just saved you a copay.
PROBLEM: ACNE BREAKOUTS ON YOUR BODY
The lowdown: While the occasional zit on one’s face is often expected, when acne appears on other parts of your body, it can be downright annoying.
Cause: Whether it’s on your back, chest or even your buttocks, acne is caused by the same thing: plugged-up pores. Dermatologist Mary Horner, M.D., says not showering after exercise can be a contributing factor.
Is it serious? Not necessarily. If you have other issues bothering you, talk with your health care provider.
Treatment: Washing affected areas with a facial wash containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid can help. More severe cases may require use of medicated lotion, as it’s easier to spread over large areas.
Pro tip: Wear looser clothing so skin can breathe and, for the love of Pete, take a shower after CrossFit, hot yoga or any exercise that gets you all sweaty.
PROBLEM: PIMPLES AND BLACKHEADS ON YOUR FACE
The lowdown: Just when you thought you left the unpredictability of puberty behind, it appears: a big honkin’ pimple in the middle of your forehead. And it’s right on time for that family wedding or hot date.
Cause: Licensed esthetician Elizabeth Pauling of Rocklin says there are many reasons why pimples happen: hormonal changes, medication side effects, stress, changes in the weather.
Is it serious? Not necessarily. If you’re noticing a pattern in breakouts, consult your health care provider.
Treatment: Facial washes containing salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acid, tea tree oil, sulfur, retinols, green tea or resveratrol can help. More severe cases may require a visit to a dermatologist or esthetician. Pauling says acne can’t be cured, but it can be controlled, so it may take a while before you see results.
Pro tip: Pauling suggests taking it easy on sugar and dairy, as those are thought to exacerbate breakouts. Change your sheets and pillowcases weekly, too, as oils from your skin can build up.
The lowdown: While it mainly affects the scalp, seborrheic dermatitis—the fancy name for dandruff—can also be found on eyebrows and the nose, and in or behind the ears, according to Horner. Those scaly red patches and flaky skin aren’t contagious, nor are they a sign of poor hygiene.
Cause: The exact cause is unclear, though research suggests a yeast found in skin oils is the culprit.
Is it serious? Usually it’s not, but if you have a weakened immune system from cancer treatments or a recently diagnosed disorder, dandruff can be a side effect. Consult your health care provider.
Treatment: Over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoos will do the trick, although more severe cases may require prescription medication.
Pro tip: Got white flakes in your hipster beard that aren’t from eating powdered doughnuts? Your facial hair may be masking seborrheic dermatitis. Time to shave it off and treat the underlying problem.
PROBLEM: FLABBY ARMS
The lowdown: Whether you refer to your upper arms as bat wings or chicken wings, having less-than-buff biceps and triceps can make you envious of Michelle Obama’s toned arms, especially when slipping into a halter top or strappy sundress.
Cause: Simply put, not exercising the muscles. Fat can collect on the arms regardless of age or weight, says Roseville personal trainer Tiara Wall.
Is it serious? No.
Treatment: Weight and resistance training, along with modified diet and cardio, is your best bet, says Wall. Doing 10 to 12 reps of tricep pushups, tricep dips and bicep curls several days a week will build upper-arm strength and help tone arms—but don’t expect results overnight. Wall recommends taking before and after photos, as well as measurements, to help gauge effectiveness.
Pro tip: Don’t use your age as an excuse. Wall’s clients range in age from 20s to 60 and older, and they all do the same types of exercises—and see the same results if they keep with it.
PROBLEM: ITCHY, DRY SKIN
The lowdown: Seen photos of California lake beds during the drought? That’s how your skin looks and feels: dry and cracked, with an added bonus of itchiness. Dermatitis is a catch-all term used to describe red, itchy and sometimes swollen skin.
Cause: Eczema, a form of dermatitis that can affect hands, neck and crooks of knees and elbows, can be hereditary or caused by a weakened immune system. Contact dermatitis is connected to environmental factors or allergies, such as exposure to harsh chemicals, poison ivy or another irritant.
Is it serious? Only if you scratch so much that open sores form, in which case infection can occur. And it’s definitely not contagious, says Horner.
Treatment: For contact dermatitis on the hands, Horner advises against excessive hand washing with soap and water, as soap can be too drying. Eczema patients may use creams and ointments to alleviate dryness and itching, with topical steroids being prescribed in cases of severe itching.
Pro tip: If some “Game of Thrones” fan asks if you have greyscale, the completely fictional contagious, often-fatal skin disease, you have our permission to roll up this issue and slap them with it.
PROBLEM: TOENAIL FUNGUS
The lowdown: If you’ve ever used the internet, you’ve likely seen ads showing funky, discolored toenails and been grossed out. Truth is, toenail fungus is way more common than you think.
Cause: The fungus that causes athlete’s foot is the same one that causes toenail fungus. It gets lodged under the nail plate and works its way back so that it’s between the skin and the toenail. Trauma to the toenails through dancing, tight shoes or sports may be a contributing factor.
Is it serious? “Not typically,” says Sacramento podiatrist Kevin A. Kirby, D.P.M., who has treated athletes, runners and older adults for the infection.
Treatment: Kirby advises treating athlete’s foot as soon as you notice it to prevent its spread to the toenails. Once the fungus has affected the toenails, he typically prescribes topical medication that’s applied like nail polish. While patients will see results after a few months, it can take up to a year for the problem to be completely gone. Laser treatments that cure toenail fungus in a single office visit may be effective for some patients but can be expensive—and not covered by your health insurance.
Pro tip: Keep those tootsies dry and out of dark, moist places, like wet shoes and socks, where fungi love to breed. And if you get pedicures at a salon, make sure they don’t reuse clippers and other tools without sterilizing them first.
PROBLEM: EXCESSIVE SWEATING
The lowdown: It’s hot in the Central Valley—this isn’t news to anyone. But if your armpits are constantly dripping, or sweaty palms are making it difficult to grip objects, Horner says it’s time to consider treatment.
Cause: There’s no known cause for the condition, says Horner.
Is it serious? In some folks, excessive sweating could be a case of hyperhidrosis, a disorder affecting the nerves that trigger sweat glands. If your sweating is accompanied by chills, chest pain, nausea or a fever, seek immediate medical attention.
Treatment: Topical solutions, such as clinical-strength antiperspirants applied to very dry skin, can help. In some cases, medication may be an option.
Pro tip: Look for moisture-wicking clothes and shoes, especially for exercising. And consider yoga or meditation to help reduce any stress factors that could be making you break into a sweat.