Skin: Love the one you’re in

Even if you’ve been blessed with the good skin gene, skin becomes thinner, drier and more finely wrinkled with every passing year. Lifestyle factors, such as smoking, can accelerate the process.

“Smoking reduces blood flow, which provides nutrition to the skin,” says Dr. Jaggi Rao, a board-certified dermatologist in Canada and a fellow with the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery. Smoking also causes wrinkles and makes skin look thinner by decreasing fat as well as collagen. Butting out, even at a later age, has been shown to help stop the accelerated aging process, says Rao.

Sun exposure is another well-known skin no-no. It causes wrinkling and patchy colouring, thins the skin and increases risk of skin cancers.

Thankfully, other lifestyle factors are actually good for the body’s largest organ. A good diet, for example, can help promote healthy skin. Another factor, exercise, provides skin with a good oxygen supply and keeps the blood flow going. One of the best things you can do, says Rao, is simply to moisturize regularly and always wear a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher (reapply every four hours or so).

Common skin conditionsr />Cancer About 75,000 Canadians will be affected by skin cancer this year. There are three major types: basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma. The first two, basal cell and squamous cell, are slow growing, superficial and highly treatable. Melanoma is less common but more serious because it can spread to other organs, such as the liver, lung and brain.

To prevent skin cancer, do monthly examinations of your skin and get an annual checkup by a dermatologist. Watch for new moles or ones that have changed in colour or shape. See your dermatologist if you notice any irregular shapes, sizes, textures or colours of moles or sores that don’t heal. If you or a family member has had a cancerous lesion removed – particularly melanoma – your dermatologist may want to see you more frequently.

Age spots Gray, brown or black, these flat patches show up on more than 90 per cent of fair-skinned people over 50. Age spots can be removed with laser therapy or lightened with skin-bleaching products, such as Solage, or those containing hydroquinone, such as Neostrata’s HQ Gel.

Psoriasis Affecting one in 10 Canadians, psoriasis occurs when faulty signals in the immune system cause skin to grow too quickly, building up on the skin surface as red, flaky, scaly patches. The scalp, elbows, knees, palms and soles of the feet are most commonly affected. Treatment options include topical cream tars, Dovonex (a vitamin D derivative), salicylic acid, retinoids and, in more severe cases, ultraviolet light treatment or oral medications such as methotrexate.

Next page: Preventing the prune

If wrinkles are an issue you’d like to iron out, here are some of the most common options.
Chemical peels A mild form of organic acid is applied to the skin where it removes the top layer, causing skin to regenerate. Classified into three degrees – superficial, medium and deep – these peels can remove precancerous growths and, with deeper peels, wrinkles. Peels are generally considered safe, but side effects can include burning, scarring, blotchiness, or de-pigmentation, particularly in people with darker skin.

Topical creams and drugs Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) cause the skin to mildly shed in order to smooth fine lines and wrinkles. They’re available over the counter in lotions and creams, such as Pond’s Age Defying Cream and Neutrogena’s Pore Refining Cleanser. AHAs come in a variety of strengths so start as low as possible (10 per cent concentration or less) and work your way up to avoid skin irritation, says Rao. AHAs can also cause sun sensitivity so wear sun protection when using these products.

Retinoids (Retin A) A topical derivative of vitamin A, retinoid creams have been a popular choice for years. “It actually rejuvenates the skin down to the molecular – the DNA – level,” says Rao. Side effects may include skin irritation.
Laser facial resurfacing These days, the buzzword around laser therapy is facial rejuvenation, which uses a light source such as a laser to negate the chronic effects of sun damage. Depending on the type used, lasers can treat a variety of facial conditions, such as wrinkles, sun damage, scars, warts and pre-cancerous growths. When the new milder non-ablative lasers such as V-Beam or IPL are used, four or five treatments may be required with a 50 to 70 per cent improvement in fine lines. Recovery time is minimal, usually no more than a day. For more invasive lasers, such as C02, recovery time is usually a month although redness may persist for longer. While uncommon, complications may include scarring, discolouration and viral or bacterial infections

Looking better was definitely one of the driving factors behind Judy Allen’s decision to have laser therapy. A rosacea sufferer, the 49-year-old Torontonian thought the treatment would be a permanent solution to the broken capillaries on her cheeks and the redness of her nose. While Allen’s cheeks healed quickly – in about a week – her nose took significantly longer. “Immediately after having the treatment, my nose was deep, deep purple – it looked quite scary,” she says. Her nose had what Allen describes as a haze – a bruise-like colour – for several months afterward.

Still, she says the results have been beautiful. “For years now, I’ve had no problems with my nose, no redness,” says Allen. The broken capillaries on her cheeks occasionally come back, and Allen says she prefers to have them cauterized rather than face laser treatment again. It’s quick, less expensive and less painful than the laser.

Next page: What about injections?

What do cows and cadavers have in common? Collagen is made from cows, and human tissue injectables come from cadavers. They’re both used as line fillers to reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

“Ick” factor aside, injectables have become popular with celebrity and plain folk alike. Here  are a few  of the procedures that can make your wrinkles disappear.

Restylane Restylane is made of synthetic hyaluronic acid. The natural form is found in all living organisms and is part of connective tissue, including skin. A soft tissue filler, restylane is used to add volume to wrinkles and lines to minimize their appearance. Allergic reactions are rare, but other side effects may include injection-related swelling, redness, pain, itching, tenderness and discolouration at the injected site, all of which usually go away within a day or two.

Botox When injected into wrinkles, Botox, or botulinum toxin, smoothes wrinkles by temporarily paralyzing the muscles. Recently, reports have surfaced in the media about new wrinkles that appear when the old ones are paralyzed. It can happen when one specific muscle group is paralyzed instead of a group of different muscle groups, says Dr. Mitchel Goldman, medical director of the La Jolla Skin and Laser Center in California.

“Botox is relatively safe if given in appropriate doses to the appropriate muscle,” says Rao. Side effects are uncommon and usually last no longer than the treatment itself – up to six months – but may include headache, respiratory infection, flu-like symptoms, droopy eyelids and nausea. More rarely, some individuals may experience facial pain, muscle weakness, redness at the injection site and eye difficulties, such as irritation, dryness and light sensitivity.

Botox may also cause bruising at injection sites in people who are already taking other medications, such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and certain antibiotics, cautions Rao. “Patients should inform their physician of any prescribed and non-prescribed medication they’re on before receiving treatment.”

Fat transfer If you’re planning to have liposuction done soon, here’s an idea for all that leftover fat: stick it in your face. “You lose fat and some muscle and bone volume, and that’s what causes an aging appearance,” says Goldman. Your own fat can be used to build up areas, such as the cheekbones and chin. “The results are dramatic,” he says. While there’s no risk of allergic reaction, the treatment may be painful, and results are not always symmetrical. Side effects include swelling and possible bruising for up to two weeks, under-correction – or more seriously – over-correction, accidental damage to underlying structures, bleeding, infection and scarring.