How to treat the dreaded 'chicken skin' for summer
Skin care isn't just about what lotions and potions you use. It's true that good genes help, but a healthy glow also starts from within
I THOUGHT seeing as we are hopefully finally coming into summer that I might spend the month of June looking at some common skin problems.
You might wonder if skin warrants an entire month all to itself, but in my experience we Irish have a love-hate relationship with what is our largest organ.
Despite the fact that thankfully most skin conditions are not dangerous or life threatening, we spend a lot of time and money seeking the Holy Grail of perfect skin.
I'll start with stating the obvious: no one has perfect skin. So unless you can air brush yourself on a daily basis, start to try to like what you have and work toward looking after it.
Healthy skin isn't only about physical appearance, it is actually a living, breathing organ with important functions such as acting as a barrier to outside toxins, sensation, heat regulation, expression, excretion (sweating) and absorption.
Women tend to devote more time to skin care than men but I just want you boys out there to know that a decent skin regime isn't a girly issue. Skin won't look after itself; it requires care and attention.
Skin care isn't just about what lotions and potions you use. It's true that good genes help, but a healthy glow also starts from within.
First and foremost is hydration. It is essential to drink at least 1.5 litres of fluid a day to maintain skin health.
Next, reduce sun exposure. It's the best anti-ageing treatment there is. Wear factor 30 in winter and 50 in summer and ensure both UVA and UVB protection.
Avoid smoking. It damages collagen, elastin and superficial blood vessels causing a red-faced appearance. Lastly, follow a healthy diet rich in minerals and vitamins and low in processed foods and refined sugars.
Despite our best efforts, many of us will experience skin problems at various stages of our lives.
One particularly common and unpopular skin condition is Keratosis Pilaris (KP).
This is the medical term for the condition commonly known as chicken skin and refers to the coarse, dry, sandpaper-like bumps that appear mainly on the arms, thighs and buttocks.
The bumps are usually white but may sometimes be red and there may appear to be trapped hairs in them at times. It often runs in families. The severity may vary through the seasons: it's often worse in winter and easing in summer.
It is thought that air dryness caused by central heating may be the reason for this.
Keratin is a tough protein that forms a protective layer on the skin, but when built up in the hair follicles forms a scaly plug which leads to the bumpy texture of the skin.
The build-up of these plugs is what we see in KP. Dry skin makes the condition worse and it is more common in those who have conditions such as dermatitis or eczema.
KP usually appears in the first decade of life, peaks in the teens and twenties and in many people eases after the age of 30. It is thought to occur in over 50pc of the population, but is more common in women than men.
KP is not known to damage skin and there is no underlying disease, so treatment focuses on improving its appearance.
Moisturising is key to its management.
A good moisturiser designed for dry skin (those used in eczema are especially beneficial) should be applied daily after bathing.
Baths and showers should not be too hot, the skin should be patted dry and moisturiser applied while it is still damp.
Moisturisers that contain urea are particularly effective.
Hydroxy, lactic and salicylic acid products will also help loosen skin cells and free up keratin plugs. But these acids may irritate skin and cause redness and are not recommended in children.
Gentle exfoliation can assist clearing keratin plugs but vigorous scrubbing is likely to make the condition worse. Steroid creams are occasionally used and can help reduce irritation and inflammation.
Retinoids are creams derived from vitamin A. They encourage cell turnover and reduce the formation of plugs but may also increase skin dryness and irritation.
Avoiding over-perfumed skin products which may further dry and irritate skin is also helpful.
If your home or office environment is very dry, using a humidifier may help reduce skin dryness. Laser treatments have also been used to improve skin surface and reduce keratin plugs.
Treatment, once started, usually needs to be continued as skin changes reoccur on ceasing same.
KP is less obvious on darker skin, so if the above methods aren't really helping using a tanning lotion can help cover it up.