Clear Skin At Last!

What is the main reason people visit their doctors? It is not heart disease, diabetes or ­arthritis. It’s skin problems.

But you can take steps on your own to control, improve and even reverse common skin conditions. Here’s how…

Important: If you use self-care and don’t see improvement within a month (or the problem worsens), see your dermatologist.

DERMATITIS (Red, itchy skin)

Dermatitis is the name for inflamed skin that can be red, itchy (sometimes severely) and swollen. There can be oozing, crusting and scaling.

The cause: Dryness and the microscopic cracks, tears and blisters that accompany it. That’s why dermatitis is the main skin problem plaguing people age 50 and older. Older people produce smaller amounts of skin-lubricating oil (sebum).

But you can prevent, control and even reverse dermatitis by keeping your skin moist. Here’s what to do…

    • Soak for 20 minutes. Taking a 20-minute bath once a day helps moisturize skin, even on the face—the air above the water has high humidity. Get out of the tub when your fingertips start to prune, a sign that your skin has absorbed the maximum amount of moisture. A warm bath also reduces stress, a factor in just about every health problem, including skin problems.

Also helpful: Add a skin-soothing colloidal oatmeal product to your bathwater—such as Aveeno ­Eczema Therapy Bath Treatment with Colloidal Oatmeal. This can reduce the inflammation and strengthen your skin.

    • Limit the use of soap. Soap is very drying (and it is not necessary for effective cleaning). I recommend using a nonsoap cleanser, such as Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser or Eucerin Skin Calming Dry Skin Body Wash.
    • Apply a moisturizer immediately after bathing. The moisturizer creates an evaporation barrier, helping to keep the water you absorbed in your skin.
    • Use a moisturizer that contains ceramides. The body manufactures a type of fat called ceramides that improves the “barrier function” of the skin—keeping moisture in and irritating factors out. Ceramides now are an ingredient in some moistur­izers—and these products are among the most effective for preventing and reversing dermatitis. Good products include Aveeno ­Eczema Therapy…Cetaphil Restoraderm…and CeraVe Moisturizing Lotion.
    • If necessary, use an over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream. Consider this option if your dermatitis is out of control and you are scratching like crazy, which further damages the skin, worsening the condition—leading to more itching, more scratching and more dermatitis. Dot the cream on the most irritated spots. Red flag: Never use hydrocortisone cream on the same spot for more than one to two weeks. Extended use can thin and weaken skin.
    • Humidify your bedroom. You spend one-third of your time there, so keeping it moist can help you tolerate dryness during the rest of the day. An ideal level of humidity is 40%. You can monitor it with a hygrometer, which you can buy for less than $20. I favor a steam vaporizer for humidifying—it is sterile, easy to clean and inexpensive.
    • Take vitamin D. Among its many benefits, vitamin D helps skin cells stay healthy and reduces inflammation. Recent research: A review study ­published in Pediatric Dermatology concluded that for people who are deficient in vitamin D, boosting the nutrient can reduce the severity of dermatitis.

Suggested dosage: 1,000 international units (IU) to 2,000 IU daily, particularly during the winter months when vitamin D–producing sun exposure may be limited.

CYSTS: Red, painful bumps under the skin

Dermatologists call these pebblelike bumps under the skin epidermal inclusion cysts. They form when a hair follicle or an oil duct is blocked and fills with dead skin cells and debris. Once you develop a cyst, it never goes away unless it is surgically removed. But that’s typically not a problem, because these cysts are benign.

Sometimes, however, a cyst becomes inflamed, creating redness, swelling and a pus-filled abscess that causes acute pain as it stretches the skin.

Unfortunately, many doctors don’t understand that this is not an infection. It is an inflammatory reaction to what your body perceives as a foreign object. You don’t need antibiotics.

Here’s what to do if your cyst is starting to act up or has become painful…

  • Apply a warm compress. Do this several times a day. It can reduce the inflammation.
  • See your dermatologist. If the cyst is painful, see your dermatologist for an injection of hydrocortisone, an anti-inflammatory medication that can calm the cyst and reduce the swelling. A topical application of a steroid typically is not strong enough.


Women are the most common victims of adult acne, with one out of four women suffering from the problem in their 40s…and one out of seven having it in their 50s and beyond. Acne occurs when the hair follicles and ducts are plugged with oil (sebum) and dead skin cells, creating an environment in which bacteria can thrive.

There are countless drugs, cleansers and lotions available for treating acne. But two simple ­dietary changes might prevent the problem in the first place…

    • Try eliminating dairy products. Many studies link dairy products to acne. Dairy products naturally contain proteins, growth factors and hormones that may stimulate acne.

Try a simple experiment—cut all dairy except for butter out of your diet for two months. If the acne clears up, dairy was the likely cause. (It is always wise to check with your doctor before making any significant change in your diet.)

If you are worried that eliminating dairy from your diet may hurt your bones, take 400 milligrams (mg) of calcium…200 mg to 400 mg of magnesium…and 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily.

    • Stop eating a high-glycemic diet. Studies also link a diet rich in refined carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour to acne. A high-glycemic diet boosts production of the hormone ­insulin, which increases inflammation and the production of sebum.

Recent research: A study published in BMC Dermatology compared 44 people who had acne to 44 people who did not—and those with acne had a ­”glycemic load” (amount of refined carbohydrates in the diet) that was 30% higher. They also ate far more ice cream and milk.

In another study, people with acne who went on a low-glycemic diet emphasizing vegetables and whole grains had significant improvements in their acne.

My advice: Eat low-glycemic meals that consist of half nonstarchy vegetables (such as greens), one-quarter protein (eggs, meat, fish, chicken) and one-quarter complex (not refined) carbohydrates. Other ways to balance insulin include regular exercise and sufficient sleep.