Beliefnet
A Prescription for Healthy Living

Some of my favorite memories are the ones that took place when I was a teenager. Life was good…that is, with the exception of my acne. I remember examining my acne complexion in the mirror every time I tried out a new topical concoction that guaranteed to clear my skin. Unfortunately most of the products I purchased produced little to no visible results. I am happy to report that my acne problems no longer plague me as an adult like they did when I was a teenager. And if treated correctly, clear skin can be yours too!

Causes of Acne

Acne is the abnormal growth of cells within a hair follicle that can lead to the formation of a plug or blackhead (comedeo). This plug interferes with the normal activity of the hair, skin cells and oil (sebum) which can result in the enlargement and subsequent rupture of the hair follicle. When a hair follicle gets to the point of rupture, the oil contained within spills over to the surrounding skin and results in redness and inflammation.

Certain factors that may contribute to the development of acne can include bacteria that normally live in the hair follicles, as well as certain hormones such as androgens, and a family history.

Certain conditions that can make acne worse may include, but are not limited to, the following: 

– Makeup is the number one culprit when it comes to acne. When shopping for makeup, be sure to select only foundations that are labeled as oil-free or noncomedogenic.
– Suntan lotion and/or oil
– Hair styling products such as gel and mousse
– Stress
– Hormonal changes, especially those that occur during menstruation
– Squeezing or picking at blemishes
– Scrubbing the skin

Contrary to popular belief, certain things like chocolate, French fries and sexual activity do not cause acne breakouts.

Over-the-Counter Acne Treatments

Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are the most effective topical solutions used to treat acne. These kinds of medication can kill bacteria, dry up oil and make your skin peel. Both ingredients can be found in such topical treatments as gel, lotion, cream, or soap. Remember, it can sometimes take up to eight weeks before you begin to notice any visible improvement in the overall appearance of skin, and a decrease in the number of flare-ups. If the over-the-counter product you are using does not clear up your skin within eight weeks, consult a dermatologist, as you may need to use a prescription acne medication.

Certain over-the-counter acne medications can cause side effects. Discontinue the use of any acne products you are using if you develop any of the following side effects:

– Mild to moderate skin irritation
– Burning
– Redness
– Peeling of the skin

Prescription Medication

If you experience little to no success with over-the-counter topical medications, your dermatologist may prescribe a gel or cream formulation containing retinoid. Retinoid products such as tretinoin and adapalene are typically applied to the affected area once daily. Be sure not to get medicine in your eyes, mouth and nose.

When using a product containing retinoid, be sure to use a sunscreen containing a strong SPF and avoid exposure to direct sunlight until your course of therapy has concluded. Tazarotene, a type of retinoid, should not be used if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, as it may cause birth defects.

In severe cases of acne, your doctor may opt to prescribe an antibiotic in order to treat the condition. Certain antibiotics such as minocycline, doxycycline and tetracycline are known to reduce bacteria and inflammation, and can be used in tandem with other acne treatments such as benzoyl peroxide. Antibiotics may be taken orally, or they may be included in lotions, creams or gels.

Treatment for Severe Cystic Acne

A medication called isotretinoin may be prescribed for the treatment of severe cystic acne that does not respond to other treatments. This medication is dispensed in pill form and is taken once daily for a period of 15-20 weeks.

You should not take isotretinoin if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, as it can cause serious birth defects and even result in miscarriage. A woman taking this particular medication must either use two forms of birth control or abstain from sexual activity for at least one month prior to beginning and ending the medication.

Isotretinoin may cause other serious side effects; therefore, patients should be closely monitored while taking this particular medication.

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Breast cancer. Two words that have the power to instill fear in a woman. For the most part, breast cancer is not something we typically think about as women in our 20s and 30s, but once we hit the 40-year-old mark and mammograms become an annual event, the reality that breast cancer could actually be a part of our future starts to make the disease more real to us. So, what exactly puts a woman at risk for developing breast cancer at some point in her life? Are there certain things we can do to protect ourselves from ever finding a lump in our breasts? And what are some of the early warning signs that we can look for as we do our own monthly personal breast examination?

Yes, there are certain risk factors associated with breast cancer that can place women in a higher risk category. Unfortunately most of the risk factors tied to breast cancer are ones that cannot be controlled; however, they are just as important to consider. Remember, early detection saves lives, so when you arm yourself with the information you need to identify any markers that may indicate trouble, you will walk into your gynecologist’s office prepared to discuss your findings. Do not diagnose yourself. As women, we can take a cold to cancer in no time flat, but if we keep in mind that the breast is made up of soft, dense tissue, and remember that not every lump we find is cancer, we will keep our wits about us and handle the situation intelligently rather than based on what if scenarios and hysteria.

Women who have had a personal history of breast cancer in one breast are at an increased risk of developing another episode of breast cancer. The malignancy can return to the same breast, the opposite breast, or in other parts of the body such as the lungs, liver, bones and brain.

The risk of developing breast cancer increases if you have a mom, sister or close relative who has a history of breast cancer, especially if the diagnosis was made prior to the age of 50. Breast cancer typically strikes Caucasian women more often than African-American, Hispanic or Asian women; however, African-American women tend to develop breast cancer at an earlier age.

Women who have been exposed to large doses of radiation therapy at a young age have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Clinical studies reveal that the younger the woman was when she received the radiation treatment, the higher her risk will be of developing breast cancer at some point in her adult life.

Women who have children later in life, or who never have a baby, are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer than a woman who had her children at a younger age. Women who do not breastfeed their children are also at a higher risk of developing breast cancer as opposed to those who nurse their babies. Not only is nursing good for the newborn but it has the power to potentially protect a mother’s breasts from developing malignancies. The longer you continue to nurse your baby, the lower your risk of developing breast cancer becomes.

It has been noted that certain hormones may be responsible for the development of certain types of breast cancer. The use of hormone replacement therapy after menopause for more than four years can increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. This increased risk may occur with the current use of hormones and generally returns to normal after therapy has ended.

A young girl who begins her period before the age of 12 and who begins menopause after the age of 55 is also at an increased risk of developing breast cancer. The years in which you are menstruating are known as your high estrogen years. Doctors believe that the longer the period of high estrogen the higher the risk of developing breast cancer.

Excess weight and excessive alcohol use can potentially lead to higher levels of estrogen, especially after menopause when estrogen levels are low, can also put a woman at risk for developing breast cancer.

In many cases, doctors cannot explain why one woman develops breast cancer and another does not. Some women have absolutely no risk factors, yet develop breast cancer at some point in their adult lives.

As mentioned above, early detection can save your life. Eating right, maintaining a healthy weight, getting a good night’s rest, conducting monthly self-breast examinations and scheduling annual mammograms are just a few of the the ways in which you can protect yourself from ever developing breast cancer. If you happen to notice a lump, bump or thickening of the breast, contact your physician for a conclusive diagnosis.

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Did you know that there are actually quite a number of ways in which you can protect your body while taking a proactive stance in avoiding certain cancers. Of course, there are obvious things you can do to protect yourself from developing certain cancers: If you smoke, there is no better time to quit than now…right now… right this very second. By stomping out this bad habit, your chances of developing lung cancer, throat cancer, oral cancer, head and neck cancer and pancreatic cancer drastically decrease. Additionally, each year that you remain smoke-free thereafter decreases your chances even more of developing cancer.

Maintaining a healthy weight, an active lifestyle and eating a well-balanced diet are other ways in which you can avoid certain other cancers. If you struggle with keeping your weight down, speak with your family physician or dietician to develop and implement a weight loss and maintenance strategy. Do not begin any diet or exercise program until you have consulted with and have been cleared by your family doctor. Set small goals for yourself until you have reached your ideal weight, and then begin your maintenance program. Weight loss and maintenance thereof will help protect your body from major illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. Do not lose heart if you do not see the weight come off quickly or at the pace you expecting it to. Remember, weight gain does not happen overnight; therefore, it will take time for it to start coming off. Also important to keep in mind is that a 5-10% weight loss will also go a long way to reverse any damage and strain on the body. Try using such a formula as your small goal until you reach your desired weight.

Developing and maintaining an active lifestyle is another important way in which you can lower your risk of several types of cancers, including breast and colorectal cancer. Implementation of an exercise program will help to strengthen bones, build muscle tone and reduce total body fat. Exercise can also help to improve a person’s self-esteem, while simultaneously strengthening the heart and increasing muscle tone and strength. Consistent exercise and/or physical activity are also important for cancer survivors because it can help reduce fatigue as well as the emotional, mental and physical stress associated with the disease.

Most healthy adults can take on moderate activity without first checking with their doctor; however, if you are a man older than 40, a woman over the age of 50, or if you are a cancer survivor, be sure to first consult your healthcare provider before you begin an exercise program.

Most doctors recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity anywhere from four to six times per week. Start out slowly and increase your intensity until you are able to keep your workouts at a medium- to high-intensity level. Other heart healthy things you can do each day to increase your activity level would be to take the stairs instead of the elevator, or take a walk during break times.

Maintaining a healthy diet means eating plenty of vegetables, whole grains and fruits. It also means choosing items that are low in fat, cholesterol, sugar and salt. You should be eating at least five servings of vegetables and fruits each day. Choose whole-grain breads, cereals, rice and pasta rather than those products containing white flour. Increase your daily intake of fish, poultry and dried beans instead of beef, pork and lamb. Limit or avoid dairy products that are not fat-free or reduced fat, red meat and processed foods.

The following is a list of some other tips for a healthy diet:

• Portion control. This is especially important if you are eating foods that are high in calories, cholesterol, fat, salt and sugar.
• When eating out, consider sharing a main course, order an appetizer, or something off the kids’ menu so that you will not be tempted to overeat.
• Avoid eating foods with high sugar content, including most cereals, cakes, cookies and pastries; there is no nutritional value in these foods and they will do nothing to satisfy your hunger.

Drinking alcoholic beverages may increase the risk of developing certain oral cancers, esophageal cancer, and cancer of the breast and liver. If you are a man, you should not drink more than two drinks a day. If you are a woman, limit yourself to one drink daily. The beverage breakdown can be considered this way: One drink is the equivalent of a 12-ounce bottle of beer (4.5% alcohol), a 5-ounce glass of wine (12.9% alcohol) or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.

You can avoid skin cancer by wearing sunscreen and keeping out of the powerful noon-day sun. Tanning beds are another no-no.

Certain viral infections can also cause cancer. Speak with your doctor regarding the hepatitis B vaccination which will lower your risk of developing liver cancer. Finally, human papillomavirus (HPV) can lead to cervical cancer. If you are under the age of 26, speak you’re your doctor about the HPV vaccine.

Keeping a proactive stance in terms of diet and exercise will go a long way to protect your body from some of the many major cancers.

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 “Do you want to look like an alligator handbag when you grow up?” If you have fair skin and a tendency to burn, chances are you were probably asked this question by your mom at some point in your sun-worshiping life. Truth is, most of us don’t think about what we will look like after the age of, say, 30, so we park ourselves on a sheet of aluminum foil, grease ourselves up with some Crisco oil and spend the next 12 hours in the direct sunlight because, boy, do we look great with a tan when we are 18! The downside is that we don’t stay 18 forever, and eventually we will turn 40 and 50. It is then that the oil and foil come back to bite us on our wrinkly behinds. There is nothing attractive about a tan wrinkled woman who is probably no older than 40, yet looks about 60 because she continually exposed herself to damaging UV rays without wearing the proper protection (sun visor, hat, sunglasses) and sunscreen.

As women, our dream is to have a face and body that is completely free from any evidence of aging. As a result, we will try every single product on the market in the search, and with the hope that we will find the perfect combination of chemicals that will stop the aging process and delay the development of wrinkles.

Naturally every square inch of our skin is prone to aging; however, the area(s) most often exposed to the sun will age prematurely. While small amounts of exposure to the sun can be good for you, you literally open yourself up to all sorts of skin-related problems when you spend too much time in the sun without proper sunscreen. Some specific developments associated with too much sun exposure, and the resultant damage may include dryness (actually roughness), saggy appearance, keratoses (liver spots), and wrinkles. Wrinkles can be classified into two categories: Fine surface lines and deep furrows. Wrinkle treatments are generally more effective when treating fine lines. Deeper creases may require more aggressive techniques such as Botox injections and even plastic surgery. Wrinkles are found primarily on the parts of the body where sun exposure is greatest. These areas include the face, neck, backs of the hands, and tops of the forearms.

Factors that promote wrinkles include:

– Smoking

– Genetics

– How much skin has been exposed to the sun, as well as how much time you spend in direct sunlight

– Skin type: People with light-colored skin are more susceptible to sun damage.

Obviously, some of these factors are beyond our control, but we can control our exposure to the sun, as well as whether or not we smoke. It is likely that the exposure to harmful UV rays used in tanning beds and spending lots of time outside, even while wearing a maximum protection sunscreen, could contribute to the development of wrinkles. Some sunscreens contain ingredients such as Parsol 1789 which provides UVA protection, but these are only partially effective.

Treatment

There are several topical creams and cosmetic techniques available to improve and minimize the appearance of wrinkles:

Vitamin A Acid (Tretinoin)

This topical agent is very effective in improving such signs of aging as pigmentation distribution, rough patches and the overall wrinkling of the skin. This cream should be used on a continual basis. This particular medication may initially produce redness and peeling, but these side effects are essential in order to notice marked improvement. This medication is available by prescription only. Consult your healthcare provider or dermatologist to see whether this medication is the most effective form of therapy to meet your needs.

Alpha-Hydroxy Acid

Otherwise known as the fruit acid, this treatment contains glycolic and lactic acid. These topical treatments are considered safe and effective and at the worst, may cause some mild irritation.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants include Vitamins A, C and E, as well as beta-carotene. These topical treatments may provide a certain amount of sun protection, as well as a mild improvement of wrinkles.

Moisturizers

Over-the-counter creams and moisturizers will keep the skin looking well hydrated, minimizing the look of fine lines and wrinkles.

 Cosmetic Procedures

There are a number of other cosmetic procedures that may be performed in order to minimize the signs of aging. These other procedures include glycolic peels, deeper peels, dermabrasion, laser resurfacing, non-ablative laser resurfacing, Botox injections and plastic surgery.

Protection

The best way to avoid premature aging as a result of sun exposure is to minimize the time you spend in direct sunlight. Make sure that your moisturizer contains an SPF. Make sure to wear sunscreen when outdoors, no matter how long you plan to stay outside. You should not be exposed to direct sunlight for more than 20-30 minutes. Believe it or not, this is more than enough time to develop a healthy glow without turning into an alligator handbag.

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