Cosmetic Clues: 6 Beauty Problems That Could Affect Your Health

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Beauty Blunders, cont'd.

A Red Face

It's probably just: rosacea.
Common in fair-skinned women between 30 and 50, rosacea is an inflammatory condition in which blood vessels dilate easily, making skin look red and flushed. Acne-like bumps often appear on the cheeks, chin, and nose. Many women assume it's just a breakout, says Dr. Peeke, but self-treating can backfire, as some acne products can make rosacea worse. A nonprescription moisturizer called PyratineXR can help, says Washington, D.C., dermatologist Tina Alster, MD, a member of the LHJ Medical Advisory Board. It calms inflammation, she says, especially when combined with two or three pulsed dye laser treatments.

But it could be: lupus.
Caused by an overproduction of antibodies, this autoimmune disease affects about 1.3 million U.S. women, who usually get it between 15 and 44. It may cause a distinctive red rash on the face in the shape of a butterfly, says Dr. Zashin. Other symptoms include fever, pain, fatigue, and problems with your heart, kidneys, joints, and other organs. Your doctor may do a skin test and biopsy to diagnose it. While there's no cure, drugs that reduce inflammation and weaken the immune system (including recently approved Benlysta) can help you manage symptoms.

Increased Facial Hair

It's probably just: perimenopause.
As you age and your estrogen levels ebb, the relative rise in testosterone that thins your hair may also lead to hair where you don't want it, says New York City cardiologist Nieca Goldberg, MD, author of Dr. Nieca Goldberg's Complete Guide to Women's Health. This hormonal shift is what makes those coarse hairs sprout on your chin or upper lip, just like the ones guys get. Your doctor can do a hormone test to see if you have excess testosterone, but sometimes it's just genetic. Waxing, electrolysis, or laser hair removal will help. Or your doctor may prescribe Vaniqa, a prescription cream that slows down unwanted hair growth.

But it could be: polycystic ovarian syndrome.
PCOS, an imbalance of your sex hormones, can cause excessive facial hair growth, thinning hair, acne, ovarian cysts, and weight gain (particularly around your stomach), as well as infertility, diabetes, and heart disease if left untreated. If you suspect PCOS, have your gynecologist or an endocrinologist check your hormone levels. While there is no known cause, treatment options include losing weight, birth control pills to stabilize hormones, and medications to target symptoms (such as Metformin, which helps to control blood sugar). Daily exercise and a diet high in fiber and low in sweets can help curb weight gain. Some studies suggest that a low glycemic index diet is best for women with PCOS.

A Stubborn Pimple

It's probably just: adult acne.
Even if you left your teenage problem skin behind years ago, you can develop acne now. When estrogen and your skin's protective oil barrier decrease with age, bacteria can penetrate more easily and cause breakouts. If your pimples recur, it could mean that your hormones are changing, says Florida dermatologist Kenneth Beer, MD. Your doctor might suggest a birth control pill that helps improve your skin or a drug called Aldactone, which can help balance certain hormones.

But it could be: skin cancer.
A pimple that looks waxy, pearly, persists for weeks, doesn't seem to heal completely, or bleeds occasionally could be a basal cell carcinoma, says Dr. Beer, who has seen such cases. Basal cell skin cancers are on the rise in women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Your dermatologist will usually biopsy a suspicious spot, and if it is a basal cell, she may scrape or burn it off, prescribe a chemical cream, or surgically remove it.

While it's more rare, such a spot could even be a melanoma, says David Kriegel, MD, director of the Manhattan Center for Dermatology and a member of the LHJ Medical Advisory Board, who says he's seeing a rise in these more serious cancers. For example, he recently saw a 38-year-old woman with a pimple-like spot that looked as if it could be a basal cell because of its shiny surface. "She didn't want to have a biopsy," he says. "But we convinced her, and it turned out to be a melanoma. It's very serious and it shocked us all."

Melanomas may require surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. Best skin-cancer prevention? Use a 30 SPF broad-spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen every day and see your dermatologist for annual skin checks.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, July 2011.


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