As miraculous as the human body is, sometimes it can let you down. These common problems may make you want to hide away, but there are treatments to help.
Blushing, sometimes known as ‘flushing’, is where areas of the body suddenly become red in colour. This is due to an excess amount of blood flowing into the small blood vessels that are located just below the surface of the skin. Areas where blushing commonly occurs include the face, ears, neck and upper chest. As well as causing redness, blushing can sometimes make the affected area feel hot. It affects men and women and is a normal response when we feel anger, embarrassment or excitement. ‘Normal’ blushing happens when a strong emotional response stimulates the nervous system to increase the flow of blood into the skin of the face.
Abnormal (severe or frequent) blushing can have both psychological and physical causes. Psychological causes include social anxiety disorder or general anxiety disorder and physical causes can include rosacea – a common skin condition that affects the face – and certain medications, such as tamoxifen, hormonal therapy, used to treat breast cancer.
If the underlying cause of the blushing is psychological, such as an irrational fear (phobia), then a talking treatment called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can often be effective.
Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can also help relieve any associated feelings of anxiety and worry. In extreme cases, a surgical treatment can be used called endoscopic transthoracic sympathectomy, commonly known as ETS.
If the underlying cause is physical, such as rosacea, you may be advised to avoid common triggers such as stress, prolonged exposure to sunlight and spicy foods. If the rosacea is inflammatory, a range of skin and oral treatments are often used. For the vascular form of rosacea (flushing, redness and thread veins), this is best treated with laser and intense pulsed light (IPL) therapies.
An estimated 20% of women in their twenties through to their forties experience acne, so what was once thought of as an adolescent affliction can affect you later on in life.
Acne happens when sebum, a waxy, oily material that keeps the skin supple and moist, is excreted through the hair follicles. However, the problem kicks in when sebum production increases and this happens most notably during puberty, pregnancy, as part of the menstrual cycle and during menopause.
What happens is the affected follicles eventually become plugged up and the combination of sebum, bacteria, pigment and dead keratin cells (the top layer of the skin) creates clogged pores. It is this that leads to acne outbreaks. These can manifest themselves as whiteheads, blackheads or papules which are red, swollen pimples. Pustules are pus-filled inflammations which are the most visible form of acne.
Some acne can leave long-term scars, too, and there are a number of treatments and procedures that will help to smooth these out.
Dermabrasion is when your face is ‘sanded down’ by a hand-held machine which takes off the surface layer of the skin. You will have a local anaesthetic to numb the area and once the skin is smoothed, superficial scars can be removed completely and the appearance of deeper scars much improved. It can also reduce the appearance of whiteheads and blackheads. The downside is that it can be painful and can leave skin feeling raw for months afterwards. After a dermabrasion, sun exposure can cause problems with darkening of the skin, too.
Mild or superficial chemical peels that gently remove a top layer of skin cells are done with trichloroacetic acid or alpha hydroxy acid. For severe acne conditions, doctors use phenol peels, which are usually administered under general anaesthesia by cosmetic surgeons and have a longer-lasting effect.
For average scarring, you might get a trichloroacetic acid peel, administered by a doctor, that works well on reducing the appearance of shallow scars by smoothing the texture of skin. Laser and light therapy treatments work well on acne scarring but like dermabrasion, it is best to avoid direct sunlight after a year following treatment.
Also known as hallux valgus, bunions are painful deformities of the big toe joint. They develop when the foot angles towards the second toe, creating a bony bump at the side. Bunions tend to rub on shoes and they can become extremely inflamed, swollen and painful. The majority of bunions are believed to be caused by ill-fitting shoes but there are other factors, too – there may be some genetic tendency towards a weakness in the affected joint, and some forms of arthritis may make people more susceptible to the condition.
Bunion pads and painkillers can help to ease symptoms. If your bunion is related to arthritis, other drugs may be recommended. Surgery is an option in severe cases, which improves the alignment of the big toe. The way in which your foot loads during walking can place excess stress on the big toe joint and special shoe inserts (orthotics) can relieve this stress and reduce pain. There are ways you can prevent bunions from getting worse – and even more painful – which include:
• Wear shoes that fit your feet properly – the wider the better so that your toes are not squashed.
• Choose shoes that have a round toe rather than a pointy one to give your toes more space.
• Wear lower heels or opt for a wedge or a chunky heel over stilettos, which will provide a lot more support to your foot.
• Get your feet properly measured by a professional – many people find that they have been wearing the wrong size shoes for years.
• Visit a podiatrist who can give you advice on suitable footwear.
Too much sweat
Severe sweating (hyperhidrosis) is usually a genetic condition and occurs when the apocrine and eccrine glands – responsible for perspiration throughout the entire body – go into overdrive. An overactive thyroid gland used to be blamed, as did anxiety problems, but both of these have since been dismissed as causes of this condition. Sometimes, people sweat heavily because of other illnesses they may have, such as hyperthyroidism, psychiatric disorders, menopause and obesity. These causes must first be ruled out before primary hyperhidrosis can be diagnosed. There are surgical options you can go for, but before you go down this drastic route, there are several options to explore first.
Botulinum toxin (Botox) is one alternative that is worth trying. Better known as a treatment for facial frown lines, it is now also licensed as a treatment for excessive sweating from the armpit. A small amount of the toxin is injected into multiple sites in your armpit skin and the procedure.
At least 25% of middle-aged women have unwanted facial hair and most are reluctant to discuss it or even admit they have this problem, despite it being very common. It is usually down to hormonal changes, which leads to increased hair on the upper lip, chin and sides of the face. These hairs can be quite dark and course too, which makes them more noticeable. There are several ways of removing unwanted hair though, from the short-term solution to the more drastic long-term measures…
Depilatory creams work by dissolving hair at the follicle, but most are better used on hair on the body and the results usually only last two to three weeks. Waxing is good for removing hair on the upper lip and sides of the face but not for chin hair. It can irritate the skin and leave red, raised bumps. You will need to repeat treatment from two to six weeks. Laser hair removal causes selective destruction of hair follicles and can achieve long-term hair reduction after several treatment sessions. The treatment must be performed by an experienced doctor, nurse or licensed aesthetician.
After three treatments, six weeks apart, there will be about a 50% reduction in hair but you will need to have follow-up treatments. It works best for people who have fair skin and dark hair. Light therapy can actually permanently stop hair growth. A sequence of rapid pulses of light energy is delivered to the skin and is then absorbed by the melanin in the hair. It gets so hot that it stops hair from growing again. Systems can be tailored to your needs, according to skin colour and type of hair.