Woman with pruritis

Identifying The Root Causes of Pruritis

Generalized itching, also known as pruritus, can be maddening, perplexing, and even downright depressing. If you are suffering from annoying itchiness, here is some information on pruritus and its causes.

What is Pruritis?
Pruritus can be defined as profuse itchiness of the skin and is a relatively common disorder affecting 20-25% of the population at one time in their lives. The condition can be, but is usually not, accompanied by a rash and the itching can range from a minor itch to a very severe itch, capable of disrupting quality of life. “Acute pruritis” is the term used for pruritus lasting six weeks or less; while “chronic pruritus” is used to refer to cases which exceed a six-week duration. For the majority of cases, there is no identifiable cause. If the condition is chronic and no cause is found, the condition is termed “Idiopathic Chronic Pruritis.”

What are the Causes?
Itching can be caused by many things including allergic manifestation, a side effect of medication, an infection, a skin disorder, or a psychological disorder. It can also be caused by a systemic disease such as, a kidney problem, thyroid disease, a neurologic disease, a blood disorder, liver disease, or connective tissue disorder and malignancy; it can also be caused by pregnancy.

How Is Pruritis Diagnosed?
A board certified allergist should be able to ask the correct questions to discover the cause of pruritis. A detailed family history should be taken from the patient and a thorough physical examination should follow. The next steps may include laboratory tests such as urinalysis, X-rays, skin biopsies , patch tests, and stool samples.

How Is Pruritis Treated?
If a systemic disease is determined to be the root cause, the itching usually subsides after the disease is treated. If there is no identifiable cause, there are a number of treatment alternatives. Medications can be given to lessen or relieve itching. Oral medications are primarily used, but topical creams can also be successful. Medications are usually administered for one to two weeks, but more severe cases may require years of treatment. UV light therapy has also been used, although degrees of success vary.

If you suffer from generalized itching, it is recommend that you seek professional help in finding the cause. Even if no cause is found, you may be given something to reduce or completely relieve your itching. If you have struggled with pruritis, feel free to contact us and share your experience.

Woman meditating on grass

Meditate For Clear Skin

If you put on the T.V. these days, it is hard not to see Ellen Degeneres. If you miss her daytime talk show, you can always catch her doing Oil Of Olay commercials, showing off her age-defying skin, or in her Amex commercial, meditating over a pair of socks that she was charged for twice. From these two examples, it becomes clear that Ellen DeGeneres is known for two things, good skin and meditation. Did you ever think these two things might be related?

Meditation, Stress and Your Skin
You’ve heard it a million times, stress is not doing you, or your skin any favors, but how do you avoid stress? While that may be impossible, there are ways to lessen it. Meditation anyone?

Dr. Jeannette Graf, MD and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai Medical Center says, “Meditation is great for everything. There’s nothing like it. For starters, it settles you so you’re in a state of deep relaxation and you’re breathing. Meditation helps every single cell in the body, and it helps your skin.” Graf explains that deep breathing adds oxygen to skin which is, “the key to help boost the actions of the cells to act normally and with great health.” She goes on to sing the praises of meditation, mentioning its positive effects on blood pressure, body, and mind.

Meditation Lessens Negativity
The popularity of meditation has grown exponentially in the past 30 years. Research from the University of Sheffield found that relaxation sessions, meditation and cognitive behavior therapy can benefit people suffering from eczema. psoriasis, acne, and vitiglio. In one such study, individuals suffering from psoriasis were asked to listen to meditation tapes while receiving UV light treatments. They were found to have healed four times faster than non-meditators. It was determined that this was caused by meditation’s ability to reduce the stress that initially caused psoriasis and helped to trigger the body’s ability to repair itself. Meditation can reduce wrinkles and slow the aging process, brightening you skin’s complexion. It will also help you feel younger by relieving tension related ulcers, headaches, muscle aches, and joint problems.

How Do You Start?
Good skin? You’re in! Meditating can be done anywhere at anytime. Just focus your mind and center your breathing. Try to clear your mind and concentrate on each breath as you inhale and exhale, excluding other thoughts. You don’t even need a quiet room, candle, or a lot of time. Graf enthuses, ‘First of all, a yoga class is a moving meditation, so find a yoga class nearby and pop in. Yoga is amazing for your skin. If you’d rather practice privately, you can buy guided meditation on iTunes and listen anywhere.

Are you a good skin guru? If you are, we want to know your secrets. Tell us what meditation has done for your skin. We love to hear from you.

Woman looking in mirror

Is There An Upside To Acne?

It is arguable that yearbooks may, in actuality, be a compilation of photos documenting case studies on acne. After all, how many teens can sincerely claim to have been lucky enough to have taken a yearbook photo on a breakout-free day or, for that matter, how many teens can actually claim to have attended high school on a breakout free day? Unfortunately, it seems that the graduation, intended to be a celebration of a coming of age, is more often a woeful testimonial to a less than perfect adolescence. Do any high schools offer photoshop on student’s yearbook photos? Please feel free to weigh in.

Anyway, if you are one of the unfortunate students whose yearbook was marred with acne, take heart. When reunion time comes around, you will exact revenge! New British research reveals that those afflicted with acne may have an edge when it comes to aging.

What’s Behind It?
Telomeres are caps on the end of chromosomes which protect DNA from damages. As we age, the telomeres gradually become shorter and eventually die. As a result, people with long table-mores remain biologically younger than their peers of the same age. A King’s College study of adolescent twins, one-quarter of whom were acne sufferers, found that the telomeres of the acne afflicted were notably longer. Yet another study examining skin samples showed that the gene cluster responsible for cell death was showed less activity in the acne prone.

New Findings
If these revelations do not seem completely new to you, it is not surprising. Dermatologists have noted correlations between slow aging and pimples for quite a while, however, the deficit of wrinkles was always thought to be related to the excess production of oil. The connection to longer telomeres is a newer revelation. Says lead researcher Dr. Simone Ribero, “Our findings suggest that the cause could be linked to the length of the mores which appears to be different in acne sufferers and means their cells may be protected against aging.” Adds co- author Dr. Veronique Bataille, Longer telomeres are likely to be the one factor explaining the protection against premature aging in individuals who previously suffered from acne.”

Moles
Other research from King’s College, reported in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology,shows that people with a lot of moles may also fare better in their later years. Maybe that explains the eternal youth of Cindy Crawford. Longer telomeres are also associated with stronger bones and less frailty in old age. In parting, all of you who are doomed to a damning yearbook pic, listen to the wise words of Dr. Veronique Bataille who assures that you are going to look, “fantastic in their 40’s and 50’s.” and, “It’s nice to know there’s a positive aspect to having acne.” Knock ’em dead at the reunion!

We’d love to hear from you on this. Do you have a reunion revenge story or know anything about the possibility of photoshopping a yearbook photo? Curious minds want to know.

Woman with healthy skin in the fall

Tips For "Fall Proof" Skin

“To everything there is a season” and to every season there is a new skin regimen. In the summer, we sun proof, in the winter, we moisturize, and in the fall? What do we do in the fall? If you got questions, we got answers.

Fall is rough on the skin because it is a time of transition. Not only is the drying weather a problem, but new routines and busier schedules put our complexions under stress. Our skin is subject to imbalances such as, flakiness, and eczema breakouts and dryness. Here are some ways to prepare and keep your skin beautiful in this season of change.

1. Buy A Humidifier
One of the the reasons autumn is so dehydrating is drop in the humidity level. Dryness leads to inflammation, which is why rosacea and eczema are so prevalent in the fall months. The solution? Bring the humidity back with a humidifier. Use humidifiers to boost the moisture level in the home or office and increase hydration. It may also reduce redness and increase comfort levels.

2. Slather On The Oil
Nourish dry skin with some natural oil. Not only does oil help to maintain the skin’s elasticity, it decreases trans-epidermal water-loss. Worried about worsening acne? Don’t be. Lubricating skin loosens dry, pore- clogging sebum and helps to bring balance to acne prone skin. It is important that when choosing an oil, you aim for one with natural ingredients; mineral oil will not absorb as well. Your best options are olive, jojoba, and coconut oil.

3. Hydrate
Moisturize from the inside as well as the outside. Hydration includes the increased consumption of foods like moisture-rich fruits, leafy greens, and healthy fats. Soups and stews are great for you and great for the season. Avoid dehydrating dry meats, alcohol, starches, and caffeine.

4. Feel The Peel
Exfoliate! It gets rid of dead skin and clears pores allowing the skin to absorb oils and moisturizing elements to replenish skin and prevent dry skin patches form appearing. Peeling is also crucial for circulation and keeps skin looking young. While you may choose to use an intense scrub on your body, you may want to use a gentler product on the face.

5. Stimulate Circulation
Cold weather constricts the blood vessels making for dull looking skin. Strong blood flow transports waste from our skin cells while delivering oxygen, keeping skin healthy and bright. Use skincare with ingredients such as lemon, oil, Vitamin C, ginseng, and ginger. These will help to restore color, improve circulation and increase collagen for anti aging.

6. Nurture Your Skin
Pamper yourself with a facial. The pore extracting elements will help to purify skin and the massage portion with boost blood flow and brightness. Masking treatments can be tailored to your beauty needs and aid in stress relief.

If you have any fall skin tips, please share. We welcome your insight!

Women scratch the itch with hand

The Impact of Medicine On Your Skin

When Veronica Zenker was 13, she took two aspirin to relieve her headache. Within a few days, she was diagnosed with a disease called SJS, a condition in which the top layer of skin blister and peels off. America is a quick fix society. We tend to seek the most convenient and easiest solution to our problems, hence America’s love affair with prescription and OTC medicine. We believe in pills as a solution to all our problems. Got pain? Pop a pill. Depressed? Pop a pill. Nervous? Pop a pill. It’s much less time consuming than visiting a doctor and sometimes less expensive. In addition, most people trust OTC and prescription pills because they have been approved by doctors and subject to FDA regulations. However, those that take these medicines may not realize their potential for causing skin conditions like dryness, rashes and bruising.

Allergic Drug Reaction
Allergic drug reaction is usually caused by orally taken or injected drugs. In these cases, the body’s immune system develops a sensitivity to that drug. Sometimes the sensitivity occurs after only one dose, other times, it takes several exposures. After it occurs, the drug will trigger an allergic reaction, sometimes a rash, in the person the next time the person uses it.

Nonallergic Drug Reactions
Blood thinners, such as aspirin and ibuprofen may cause the blood to leak under the skin, resulting in bruises. In fact, many people who take an aspirin daily to lower their risk of hearing attack develop all over bodily bruises all due to the inability of the blood to clot properly. Overuse of blood thinners, like aspirin, ibuprofen or Aleve, can cause the even tiniest bumps to result in a bruise. These bruises are a signal that the entire body is at risk. Herbal and natural supplements, such as vitamin E, garlic. St. John’s Wort and gingko biloba are also blood thinners and may have the same effects. Lithium, an antidepressant, can cause severe acne. Other drugs can result in photosensitivity or extreme sensitivity to sunlight and ultraviolet light. Bactrim ,  a medication for the urinary tract is an example, as are some antipsychotics and artificial sweeteners. The rash, which resembles and acts like eczema, will not develop immediately after the drug is taken, but from later sun exposure.

Symptoms
Symptoms of drug -induced skin rashes may anything from slight redness and small bumps to peeling of the entire skin. Purple, red, blue and gray discoloration may result and sometimes painful rashes will appear in the mouth.
Allergic rashes may result in itchy hives, watery eyes and a runny nose, and can develop more significantly into symptoms including low blood pressure and wheezing.

Treatment
If you believe you have suffered the effects of a medication on your skin: Discontinue drug use. Most reactions go away when the drug is stopped. Use a corticosteroid cream and antihistamines to relieve itchiness. Severe cases may require hospitalization. Be cautious and consult a doctor if breakouts occur.

Women walking in polluted air with a mask

Your Skin’s Reaction To Pollution

Pollution can be a tricky issue to deal with, because, unlike other factors in your life, such as sun exposure and diet, the effects of pollution will not be immediately visible on your skin.

Nevertheless, your skin reacts to pollution in a number of different ways, and it is important to understand this in order to protect your skin as much as you can.

What Is Pollution and Where Does it Come From?

Simply put, pollution is when contaminants are introduced into a natural environment, and this is something that happens on a daily basis.

Every day, an increasing amount of microscopic specks of smoke, acid, soot and more are released into the atmosphere.

Where do they come from?

So many different sources, including cars, power plants, fires and more.

factories releasing harmful smoke into the city

Air pollution is actually one of the most common types of pollution, with research showing that traffic pollution in particular may be the single most toxic substance for the skin.

As you can imagine, this is a greater problem in urban areas, and even rural areas that are nearby to them, as the wind carries and distributes pollutant particles.

Water pollution is another one that you need to be aware of. Again, this is caused by so many different things, from industrial waste to chemical run-offs to laundry detergents.

While there are other types of pollution out there, from noise and light pollution to thermal and radioactive pollution, it’s air and water pollution that you really need to focus on when it comes to your skin.

How Exactly Does Pollution Affect the Skin?

Pollution has been linked to a wide range of different health issues, from lung and heart diseases to diabetes and even to mental health. However, the effects that pollution has on the skin are only now being understood…

To begin with, pollutant particles are absolutely tiny, often up to 20 times smaller than the size of one of your pores.

As you can imagine, this means that once they settle on to the surface of your skin, it does not take long for them to work their way into your pores and infiltrate your skin’s different layers.

So, what do these particles do when they enter your skin?

They trigger inflammatory responses in a few different ways…

Firstly, they create free radicals, while depleting the body’s natural levels of antioxidants.

In a way, this is a two-pronged attack, because it is the antioxidants in the body that are key when it comes to fighting free radicals. With all of these extra free radicals, and a loss of antioxidants, your body, and your skin, are somewhat defenseless.

Free radicals not only accelerate the aging process, but they also severely damage the cells within the body, including the DNA within them, which then causes new cells to grow in a damaged way.

In fact, studies have shown that people who live in highly polluted areas age 10% faster than those who live in the countryside.

Another result of the inflammation caused by pollution is a stimulation of melanocytes, which are basically the cells responsible for your skin color. By over-stimulating these melanocytes, excess pigment is created, which results in what are known as age spots, or sun spots.

close-up of woman with sun spots

In some cases, environmental pollutants can be so harmful that they cause severe genotoxic stress, potentially leading to skin cancer.

The inflammation caused by pollution also expands the blood vessels in your skin, making them much more visible. This manifests as redness, and, in some cases, rosacea.

The collagen in your skin, which is basically your skin’s support system, giving it its firmness and smoothness, is also affected by pollution…

How?

Well, not only does pollution break down the collagen that is already in your skin, it also interferes with the production of new collagen. This then results in sagging skin, as well as fine lines and wrinkles. This is exacerbated by the fact that pollution starves the skin of oxygen, while drying up its natural oils, as dehydrated skin ages much faster than hydrated skin.

Another effect that pollution can have on the skin is hives. In fact, studies in Beijing, which is an extremely polluted city, have shown that there are direct correlations between spikes in air pollution and hospital visits for skin conditions, with hives being one of the main ones.

With pollution affecting so many different processes within the skin and body, everybody’s skin will react in its own way.

However, here are a few of the other skin issues that pollution can cause:

  • Breakouts, similar to acne
  • Skin allergies
  • Rashes
  • A dull complexion
  • Dry and dehydrated skin
  • Eczema

Protecting Your Skin From the Effects of Pollution

Now that you know about the damage that pollution can cause, you likely want to know about how you can protect your skin from this, while also reversing any damage that has already been caused.

Cleansing is one of the most important steps in your skin care routine when it comes to tackling pollution.

Why?

Because this will remove any environmental toxins from your skin, clearing away clogged particle matter.

For those who live in extremely polluted areas, a double cleanse may be worth considering, as this will ensure that all pollutants have been removed from your skin. While this may be the case, you do need to make sure that you are not overdoing it with the cleansing. Everybody’s skin reacts differently, so while some people may benefit from a double cleanse, others may find this too drying for their skin. 

Exfoliating a couple of times a week is also vital. While cleansing clears away the pollutants on the surface of your skin, exfoliating will enable you to get even deeper, clearing out any pollutants that have already worked their way into your pores.

Exfoliation will also help any subsequent skin care products that you apply to better penetrate your skin, meaning that they will be able to work so much more effectively.

When it comes to the free radicals that pollution causes, one of the best ways to protect yourself from this is by increasing your antioxidant intake.

Wondering what makes antioxidants so powerful?

Well, they are able to donate missing electrons to free radicals, therefore neutralizing them and preventing them from causing damage to the rest of your skin cells.

infographic on free radicals, antioxidants and normal molecules

Antioxidants can be consumed, as well as applied topically. When it comes to topical antioxidants, your best bets are:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Squaline

You are likely to find these antioxidants, as well as many more, in numerous skin care products.

In terms of foods that contain antioxidants, try to increase your consumption of the following:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables of a wide range of colors
  • Green tea
  • Oily fish
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Coffee
  • Dark chocolate
  • Herbs and spices

However, keep in mind that in order to maximize the effects that antioxidants have, you need to be providing your body with a wide range of them. 

Why?

Because antioxidants work in conjunction with each other to heal and protect your skin, and single ingredients on their own will not have much of an impact in the end.

Another way to protect your skin from pollution is to strengthen your skin’s natural protective barrier.

This can be found on the outermost layer of your skin, and is not only important for keeping moisture locked in, but also for keeping environmental toxins out.

If you have a damaged skin barrier, then the effects of pollution will hit you so much harder.

So, how do you go about protecting and strengthening your natural protective barrier?

To begin with, you need to be moisturizing daily. Moisturizers are designed to form a thin film over the surface of the skin, therefore, in a way, creating their own barrier. Moisturizers will also keep your skin hydrated, which is essential for your natural protective barrier to thrive.

You should also be paying close attention to the ingredients in the skin care products that you use.

Why?

Because harsh ingredients will strip your skin of its natural oils, leaving your protective barrier vulnerable. Many ingredients can also have an alkalizing effect on your skin, meaning that they alter your skin’s delicate pH balance, disrupting all the natural processes that your skin goes through.

Your diet can also have an impact on your skin’s natural barrier. Ceramides, as well as essential fatty acids, both do so much to strengthen the barrier, and while these can both be consumed through your diet, obtaining enough to actually protect your skin from the damaging effects of pollution can be difficult.

So, what can you do about this?

Well, in addition to using skin care products that contain both of these ingredients, you could also consider taking oral supplements for both. These will be absorbed by the skin from within, and have been proven to have a significant effect in just a couple of months. 

Of course, sunscreen is also vital. While you may be focussing on fighting pollution rather than the sun, the sun’s UV rays will damage your skin’s barrier, making sunscreen essential.

For those who live in areas that are extremely polluted, it would be worthwhile listening in to your daily weather forecasts. On the days when meteorologists call for high amounts of smog or low air quality conditions, try to stay indoors as much as possible, and wear clothes that completely cover your skin when you have to head outdoors.

If you use air conditioning in your house, you should also make sure that the filters are kept clean, so that they do not end up trapping pollutants and blowing them into your home.

What About People Who Live in Rural Areas?

If you live in a rural area, you may think that your skin is safe from the effects of pollution, but this is not at all true…

As mentioned above, pollution particles are incredibly tiny, meaning that, even with a small gust of wind, they can spread further than you would imagine.

This means that nobody is safe from the effects of pollution, no matter where you live.

While you may not need to be quite as diligent when it comes to protecting your skin from pollution if you live in a rural area, you will still need to take at least a few of the steps mentioned above.

Don’t Forget About Indoor Pollutants

In addition to all of the pollutants outdoors, you need to also remember that indoor pollutants will also damage your skin.

Where do indoor pollutants come from?

A variety of different sources:

  • Stoves
  • Fireplaces
  • Particles from pressed wood products
  • Foam insulation

In addition to following the steps above to protect your skin from pollution, you should also be taking a few extra measures to reduce the damage that indoor pollutants can cause. These include improving the ventilation in your home by allowing more fresh air to flow through, while keeping the humidity relatively low.

Anti-Pollution Skin Care

With the effects that pollution has on the skin being more and more recognized, skin care companies are now investing heavily into researching ways in which they can create products that will protect the skin.

There are already a few of these products out there, with many containing high levels of niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3, since this is quite effective at combatting pollution damage.

However, researchers are currently looking into ways in which they can create products that actually block this damage from occurring in the first place. One molecule that is able to do this has already been found, and is being registered as a cosmetic ingredient, meaning that this will soon make its way into skin care products in the next few years. 

Pollution is something that everybody has to deal with, no matter where in the world you may live. While pollution has been proven to have severely detrimental effects on the skin, in a number of different ways, there are, fortunately, steps that you can take to protect yourself from this, and you should really try to do this as much as possible.

Woman taking a pill

How Does The Pill Help Reduce Acne?

If you have acne, the struggle is real.  You’ve bailed on your plans with friends, foresworn chocolate, and fried food tried every product on the market, and even considered joining a heavy metal band so you have an excuse for painting your face.

  Acne is an unfortunate right of passage and, although it may seem like every time you zap that last zit, a new batch is on its way, you will survive it.  Hey,  Adam Levine and Julianne Hough  both admitted to having acne and look at them now!  Maybe having acne increases your chances of ending up on reality TV!  And if you are female, you have one advantage over Adam Levine: birth control!

Going on  “the pill”  can make a big difference in your skin. It regulates the hormones, which are especially important to devoting young women who’d may be adjusting to menstruation.

How Does It Work?
‘The pill’ contains estrogen and progestin.  These are the same hormones being made by your body.    When you take ‘the pill’ it can override your body’s signals to ovulate, or release an egg, thus the birth control part.  However, as an added bonus, the oil also lowers your body’s testosterone level, which reduces acne.

Will the Pill Work for You?
Not all acne is a result of a hormonal imbalance. Maybe it is all that greasy pizza or that wing of hair that falls over the side of your face causing that breakout.  If that’s the case, the pill may not work for you.  How can you tell?   According to celebrity esthetician Renee Rouley,”hormonal breakouts are oftentimes one bigger blemish-  a pustule or a cyst.  They happen mostly around the chin or jaw area.”

Dr. Jennifer Ashton, OB-GYN and senior medical contributor for Good Morning America says, “I would say that 90% of girls’ skin problems improve dramatically or completely resolve within six months of starting the pill.”  However, she does warn that sometimes the acne, depending on the way your body reacts to the pill, will get worse before it gets better. So give it a chance.   Rouleau suggests you wait 90 days before you make a decision on whether or not  to continue using it.

Considerations
Before deciding if birth control is the way for you to go, you may want to consider the following;

  • Convenience:  The pill is only available by prescription and needs to be taken at the same time every day.
  • Cost:  The pill can cost between $15 and $50 per month
  • There are three types of birth control approved by the FDA which is recommended for acne.  They are:]
  1. Orth-Tri Cyclen
  2. Estrostep
  3. Yaz

Studies have not shown a major difference among these in the way they treat acne.

Side Effects  of the Pill May Include
Nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, bloating, weight gain, weight loss, headaches, breast tenderness and dizziness, and turning into a judge on a reality show.  Proceed with caution.

Woman relaxing in a suana

The Health Benefits of Hot and Dry Heat

You have just finished working out at the gym and you feel like crawling home.  It must have been somewhere between the 50th and 51st set of squats when your muscles just gave out.  Your legs feel like jello.    You decide that some relief is definitely in order if you have any chance of getting to your car and driving home without  requiring medical attention.  You spot the sauna. “This is just the thing,” you think.  I will sit in here, let my muscles relax  a little and I will feel like a new person!” Then you spot the steam room.  Could this be a better option?  You try and think.  What have you heard about them?  You can’t remember which one is which and think that in your condition it may just be a matter of which one is closer.  Well, just so you are prepared for when this happens to you, here’s the breakdown.

The basic difference between saunas and steam baths is that steam baths use moist heat, while saunas offer dry heat.  Both are hot baths which stimulate blood flow, easing pain and promoting healthy metabolism.

The Heat Factor
Saunas are a good deal hotter than steam rooms with the set temperature at somewhere between 160 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and a humidity level between 5 and 30%  In other words, it’s a dry heat.  Steam rooms measure somewhere between 110 and 120 degrees but the 100% humidity will make it feel much higher.  Heat rises in both saunas and steam rooms, so the higher you sit, the hotter you will be. Wet and dry heat have a sedative effect which can provide relaxation to those suffering emotional disorder and pain relief to those suffering from a muscular injury.

The Bare Bones
Have you ever gotten on a slide in the hot weather as a child? Perhaps, then you understand why saunas are built of wood and not metal.  In addition, wood absorbs moisture, keeping surfaces cooler and pulling humidity from the air.  In steam rooms, high humidity would cause wood to deteriorate and are therefore made of tile or plastic.  They feature sloped ceilings which allow the water to run down the wall rather than drip on your head.

The Relaxation Factor
Both steam rooms and sauna reduce muscle tension and promote relaxation. They improve circulation and cause occupants to perspire, opening the pores and cleansing the skin,  The humidity of the steam rooms may be more comfortable for people suffering from allergies and congestion, whereas those with conditions that may be aggravated by humidity, like arthritis, may opt for the sauna.

The Expectoration Factor
One advantage that a steam room may have over a sauna is the expectorant effect.  Wet heat opens the sinuses throat and lungs and can loosen and clear the mucus in your nose, chest, and throat.  However, it can also aggravate asthma, which would make a sauna a better choice for asthmatics.

The Myth
You may have heard that both of these baths may remove toxins from the body and help you lose weight.  There is no evidence to support that either removes any toxic chemicals from your body and any weight loss will be temporary, resulting from water weight lost from sweating, so hanging out in the sauna or steam room will not make you svelte, which is why you still have the gym.

So which way do you stagger?  To the dry or to the wet?  The choice is yours, just pick one soon!

Women getting her skin examined at the doctors.

Understanding the Two Types of Melanin

Hair dye.  How we love our hair dye.  Because of hair dye, we don’t have to hit the genetics lottery. Little girls born with  brown hair can grow up to be blondes and red heads. Blondes can grow up to be goth chics. From the bleach blond of Marilyn Monroe to the honey blonde of Beyonce, from the jet black of Nikki Sixx  to the sometimes blue of Katy Perry to the sometimes pink of, well Pink, we have to have our hair dye and are willing to take some extreme measures to make sure we have it.  For years, men and women would prefer to  damage, torture and strip their hair rather than have it be (gasp!!)  their natural color.  Even though many of us would rather trade their natural hair color for, well almost anything else,  melanin is the pigment that is responsible for it. Melanins are also responsible for our skin and eye color.  Most melanins are dark, from black to brown, but other melanins are reddish or yellowish.Animal melanins are divided into two groups, eumelanin (eu = good) and pheomelanin (pheo +cloudy or dusky)

Skin
In her book, “Skin: a natural story, Dr.Barbara Jablonski says,  “In Homo sapiens, skin colors make up an exquisite palette varying in almost imperceptible degrees from the palest ivories to the darks browns.”  pheomelanin is usually  found in large quantities  fair skinned redheads and is also, interestingly enough, found in freckles, lips, and nipples. (Julianne Moore must have a bunch.) Eumelanins are more common in humans, predominantly darker skinned people.  High concentration can be found in moles.  (Think Cindy Crawford) Because people with red hair are less capable of producing eumelanin, their skin is more susceptible to burns and aging.

Hair
Eumelanin is predominant in black and brunette hair.  There is brown eumelanin and black eumelanin.  Contrary to what you may presume, brown eumelanin without other pigments actually causes blonde hair.  pheomelanin is found in red hair. While people with dark hair may produce pheomelanin it is usually hidden by the dominant eumelanin. Blond and red and auburn streaks are usually the results of the pheomelanin showing through.  Grey hair contains only a few melanin granules, white hairs contain none.  The apparent whiteness is a result of the way they reflect light.

Eyes
Eye color is  dependent on the ratio of eumelanin and pheomelanin in the outer layer of the iris. People with darker colored eyes have more melanin in general, and more eumelanin than pheomelanin. People with light colored eyes(blue or green) have less melanin and more pheomelanin than eumelanin.  (Bet you’re thinking, “Why don’t we have yellow eyes?”)Hazel eyes are in between.  Eyes appear blue and green rather than red and yellow because of light scattering off proteins in the eye.

In conclusion, it seems that melanin has a whole lot to do with our appearance and making us who we are.  Of course, new technologies allow us to change our pigmentation at will, be it using hair dye, colored contact lenses or even photoshopped. Here’s hoping you love your blue/black/brown/pink/freckled/mocha/moled/orange/yellow hair/eyes and skin just the way it is!

Women in a locker room

Avoiding Locker Room Germs

So how’s this for a first world problem?  We are constantly being warned about dangers of obesity.  In fact, it seems we cannot put on the tv or  social media without seeing pictures of people on treadmills, eating green vegetables and  practically bursting with health. The message is obvious, exercise is important and we need to incorporate it into our lifestyles.

However, no matter how healthy we are, virus and bacteria horror stories seem to pop up almost as often.  Whether it be an outbreak in a food chain or a child on a slide at MacDonald’s, it seems evident that we must also place avoiding germs high on our list of priorities.

And therein lies our dilemma:  the gym locker room.  We’ve heard so many horror stories about what happens in this place.  There seems to be a disagreement about locker room etiquette.  From inappropriate bodily emissions to naked toenail cutting, the potential for picking up some kind of bacteria seems almost unavoidable.  So what options are there for the health obsessed germophobe?  Should we choose to be sick and skinny or disease free and fat?  Here are some things we can do to keep ourselves protected in this hotbed of germs.

Keep Your Jellies On
Because the shower and locker room  tend to be  warm and damp, they are great places to find to mold, algae and fungus.  These villains  find their way around the locker room mixing with sweat, skin cells, and urine.  (And don’t think that shower floor has never been urinated on)  Barefooted athletes in the gym locker are a prime target for Athlete’s Foot and other catchable infections.  Cover those feet!

Don’t Stuff Your Sweaty Clothes in Your Gym Bag
Jack Foley, ATC, director of sports medicine and head athletic trainer at Lehigh University says,”If you’re tossing warm, damp gear in your gym bag after a workout, you’re allowing germs to have a free ride home in a perfect petrie dish. ” (Quite an  image, no?) A better idea is to bring a clean plastic bag with you for dirty clothes and wash them when you get home  and, while your doing that, try tossing in your gym bag every other time or two or use disinfectant wipes to clean it inside and out.

Don’t Drink from the Water Fountain
This seems like good advice in the locker room and not.  According to the cleaning business, Coverall, a water fountain can have 2.7 million bacteria per square inch per spigot.  BYOW. (Bring your own water.)

Wash Your Face and Hands
Letting sweat and grime fester on your face is not going to do anything to help your acne problem.  And,before you wash your face, wash your hands.   After touching the handlebars on the stationary bike in spin class, you don’t want to know what kind of germs and viruses are your hands may be carrying.  Your hands are the most common culprits for transferring bacteria between surfaces, so keep ’em clean!

Bring Your Own Towels
Ah!  The pleasure of drying off with a nice clean towel after a good hot shower.  Not so fast!   Some gym employees have a habit of using the same containers for dirty and clean towels which aids in the spread of E. coli and MRSA.  Bring two antimicrobial towels from home, one for wiping sweat, the other for post shower and you will be the coolest (and cleanest) kid at the gym.