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Archive for May, 2012

My Aunt Mary was a beautiful talented musician who played the violin until  her death at age 90.  She studied Japanese at age 70, counted Lenard Bernstein as a friend,  and taught me  how to  throw a dinner party for twenty without breaking a sweat. But at least once a week this force of nature was distraught  by  the appearance of hives.

She certainly had plenty of company.  It is estimated that at some point  in their lives, hives affect one in five people.  For some individuals, like my aunt Mary, hives can be a lifelong problem.  For others it can be a one time event that lasts a few hours to a few weeks.

What Causes Hives?

Hives are raised , red areas on the skin than can range for the size of a pencil eraser to an area as big as a frisbee.   And unlike most other forms of sensitve skin,  hives itch. In fact  the irritation  can be so severe that  it can be  impossible to sleep.

The list of causes is so long it might be easier  to list  what doesn’t cause hives.  Heat and cold ( both weather and water), are all too common hive triggers.  Medications like antibiotics and aspirin, exercise, sunlight, latex gloves, stress and food allergies ( shellfish, nuts, preservatives, eggs, and wheat)  have been shown to provoke hives in sensitive people.  Missing  from the long laundry list of causes are skin care  products.  Unlike other causes of red, irritated areas on the skin, most cases of hives are triggered internally.  Only about 40%  of the time is it possible to actually identify what is provoking these itchy red whelts. 

Best Way to Treat Hives

Whatever the cause, antihistamines  are the first line of treatment for hives.   The newer non-sedating antihistamines like Claritin and Zyrtec seem to help, especially when used twice a day rather than the usual once a day recommendation.  If hives are persistant and last  for  months, adding an antidepressant  can dramatically reduce itching. Cortisone in different forms  can be prescribed in hard to treat cases.  To provide almost instant relief in a severe hive episode, a doctor can  administer  an injection of cortisone.  Steroid creams can offer itch relief while oral prednisone  is saved for severe extensive hives that  just don’t respond to anything else.

Aunt Mary struggled for years to identify  the source of her hives.  She came to believe that preservatives in foods were the culprits and she would read  food labels carefully  to spot potential problems.  In restaurants she would quiz waiters exhaustively  about  the ingredients in a  dish that tempted her.  After she passed away, researchers determined that 30% of people with thyroid conditions also  have hives– and  my aunt  had thyroid problems for most of her life.  I suspect that  this was the driving force behind  her hives, but I learned to read while examining  food labels while  grocery shopping  with my favorite aunt.

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Its Fashion Flash Monday!

This week  The Glam Gals at Fab After 40 are  hosting Fashion Flash. Since I found their site I  spend less and look better.  They have helped  me pack  for travel,  choose the best outfit for a reunion and look great running about my grandchildren in the playground.  ( In fashion concious New York, style is important   even when pushing  swings).  I think my favorite posts deconstruct the latest fashion trends into  flattering looks  for  boomers. For example, if stripes  don’t flatter your figure  “wear” them in a bag or  pair of flats.  Be sure to check out their site and click through all the Fashion Flash info-packed posts.  

I’m still not able to commit to an arm shaping program, so I was psyched to  find a book that drills  down on the subject.  Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy by JJ Virgin starts with a low carb/ high fiber diet that offers   helpful strategies for following well-known nutritional principles.  This includes the right way to make shakes, wraps and salads to maximize protein and vitamins  and minimize fat, calories and carbs.  The exercise section offers a pretty intensive  program of burst exercise and weight training.  Ms Virgin cautions against “girly weights” and recommends using the heaviest weights  where you can still do 8-10 reps in good form.    To crank it up even further, the weight training  should be done sitting on a fitness ball. 

There is certainly  no shortage of  diet and exerrcise  advice, but what  what makes Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy unique  is the section on caring for the skin  on the arms. It recommends  exfoliation with loofahs, moisturizing with a sunscreen and  moderate self tanners or spray tan to make the arms look firm and trim.  Now this is advice that I can follow.

 The author is a celebrity trainer who  has often served as the on-air  nutritional consultant for the no-nonsense Dr Phil show.  But I am  more impressed by  her education  which includes programs in biomechanics, sports medicine, and exercise physiology.

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May is National Smile Month and I’m almost halfway  through my Invisalign treatment.     Every two weeks, I   change my current  aligner for a new one that’s  just a bit tighter.  This week, for the first time since  I started  Invisalign, I went to to my dentist for a routine cleaning.   I have somewhat sensitive teeth and sometimes I have found that the cold air and  warm  abrasive tool of a cleaning  were a little uncomfortable.  Since  the sides of my teeth were filed down a bit and the pressure  from the aligners  can make  my teeth a little bit sore, I was concerned that cleaning would  hurt.

Not to worry. There was actually less discomfort than usual and the dental technician was thrilled with the state of my teeth and gums. Turns out that the plastic aligners that cover the teeth dramatically reduce plaque build-up and kept the teeth super white. She also was so happy to see the progress in my bite. Pulling out earlier pix of my mouth , she pointed out that the overlap in both the top and bottom teeth have practically vanished.

When I got home, I pulled out my set of “befores” from Dr Jacquie and took some homemade versions of “afters”. Check out the difference in the flare of the bottom teeth in the before ( left) and after ( below) pix. When I started Invisalign, I would have been happy with modest improvements. This change far exceeded my expectations and I’m not even half done.

When I began Invisalign  I found the idea of wearing  an aligner 22 out of 24 hours a day a bit daunting.  But IRL  it was no  big deal.  And wearing the aligners kept  me from snacking and I’ve dropped a whole dress size of the past four  months.  However I do find it hard to cook while wearing aligners.  I’m such a foodie and I taste and season as I work.  I find myself automatically taking out my aligners   as I tie on an apron.

One final thought:  In the past few weeks, several people have casually remarked that I had a beautiful smile.  Just  to be clear, other than my  mom, no one has ever said  I had a beautiful smile.  Great hair  or a  cool bag, but never a great smile.   Its certainly a great confidence builder.

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This week Jackie of Aging Backwards is the host of Fashion Flash.  Jackie is one of those people  who always seem to get it right.  She is the one in a group  that picks the best restaurant in the neighborhood (  and orders the tastiest dish), she  gets invited to the best parties ( and takes you along) and shares  her knowledge with  joy and enthusiasm.  We bumped into each other at the International Beauty Show and  walked thru the exhibits together.  It is pretty overwhelming, but  in the mass of  products, Jackie suddenly spotted  a table of sponges.  She grabbed  up two packages of microfiber wipes declaring these were a great way to  remove  make-up.  When I got home, I roadtested the round lavendar disks and was blown away.  They were the BEST way ever to remove  eye make-up.  Just a swipe with the dampened  pad and   mascara and  liner were gone.  Used dry, they are a powerful  yet non-irritating exfoliator.  The point of this  story-  and I do have one- it that Jackie is someone whose advice  is genuinely good.  Her  site – Aging Backwards-  is filled with  info that you can trust.

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Question: I feel like I try a new serum or moisturizer  and get great early results but when I remain faithful, overtime I feel nothing more changes.  Is it me?  Should I rotate products to get better results?

Answer:  This is one  of my favorite topics!  We ( consumers) have all  experienced this.  We fall in love with a new skin care  product only to see the once wonderful benefits seem to twindle away.  Doctors and other skin experts have a boatload of different reasons as to the cause:

1. When  we first use a product it provides fresh new benefits, as it supplies what the skin needs.  Over time, other problems and isssues develop and the once new serum or lotion  cannot  meet the new needs.

2. Some dermatologists believe that the products still continue to work , but we’ve forgotten  how bad   our skin looked before.  In other words the original improvements are still there, but now we want more.

3.  Then there  is the phenomenon of “New User Benefits’.  For  example, if you’ve never used  an exfoliating scrub, the first time results are remarkable.  You have just taken off  layers of dead dry skin and your skin just glows.  Regular exfoliation will continue  to clarify your skin but the shock and awe of the first time will not be repeated.

4. If  you’ve purchased a second bottle of  a favorite  product only to be disappointed at the results, its possible that there’s been a “Change in Formula”.   One  or more of the key ingredients  had become too expensive, was in short supply  or even deemed unsafe.  Different ingredients, different results.

All of these are pretty subjective reasons for a products decline, but  in at least one case clinical studies have shown that skin cells do become resistant to an ingredient.  Researchers have found that after about six months skin cells no longer respond as enthusiastically to alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic acid.   The benefits  continue, but not as dramatically  as  when they were first introduced to the  skin. 

To bottom line it, there are numerous reasons that products seem to become less effective over time.  The question is what to do about it.  People report that rotating products seem to slow the loss of power, but jumping around too frequently will not allow the skin to get full benefits from a forumla.   Try using each  product for two- three weeks at a time to allow the skin cells  go  through  a full growth cycle before switching to another option.

Have you found that skin or hair care  product seem to deliver less and and less benefits?  How did you handle it?

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What do Renee Zellegwer, Cameron Diaz, Mariah Carey, and Bill Clinton have  in common?  They are four of the  16 million  Americans  who  have to deal with a form of sensitive  skin called rosacea.  For reasons that  are not clear, the skin tends to flush easily and stay red.  It is more common in women with fair skin, but its also seen in men and people with darker eyes and coloring.  

There are two  main  forms of rosacea:

1– The most common and mildest form consists primarily of bright red skin and numerous small broken blood vessels on the skin’s surface.  Why this happens  is not clear ( genetics?)  but certain triggers seems to bring trigger flare-ups.  Sunlight is the biggest culprit, followed closely by alcohol, spicy foods, stress,  chocolate, coffee and hot showers.

2– The second form of rosacea has similar redness but now the skin also  has pimple  like breakouts that don’t respond to traditional care.  There is some evidence that bacteria and yeast  microorganisms  are part of the problem.  Sunlight and the other well-known rosacea trigger also  contribute to outbreaks of this  type of rosacea.

Treatment of Rosacea 

Treatment starts with trying to avoid  factors  which provoke flushing.   Rosacea  prone skin is very suseptible to cosmetics  and should avoid  irritating ingredients  including alcohol, witch hazel, fragrance, and menthol.  Many experts advise against exfoliating agents such as scrubbing grains, glycolic acid  and complexion brushes.  Effective sun protection is key.  Use an oil-free  physical  sunscreen with  zinc or titanium oxide like Sensitive Skin SPF30 by Neutrogena.  As good as they are, chemical sunscreens can be  too irritating for rosacea-prone skin. To reduce  inflammation, bathing the skin with fresh milk and oatmeal solutions can  provide relief.   Lasers, especially IPL,  have proved to be extremely helpful for rosacea.  They close off the tiny blood vessels in the skin,shutting off the source of the flushing.

There are  additional treatment options for  the acne like form of rosacea.  Topical antibiotics like  MetroGel or anti-inflammatory lotions like Finacea can reduce  break-outs.  Cleansing pads with sulfa   like Prascion will also get to the micro-organisms that can be part of the problem.  For  severe rosacea, doctors can prescribe low-dose oral antibiotics like Oracea.

One final word:  Cortisone creams which are used for  so successfully for so many  skin problems   actually make  rosacea worse. They  have actually been known to provoke its  own type of rosacea.  While steroids can temorarily  improve the rosacea, the  problems rebound when  they are stopped 

For   more information on  rosacea visit  the National Rosacea Society  http://www.rosacea.org.

Next  post– Just because its red doesn’t mean its rosacea.

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This week Geri of Fab Over Fifty is hosting  Fashion Flash.  I love her product testing features.  Instead of  just one opinion  she  has a panel of 5-7 women using the product  and reporting the results.  We all  have such individual reactions to skin care products that  a  a thumbs  up or down from one person is pretty limited.  Geri  gets a range of opinions that provides much  more information about the benefits  ( or drawbacks) of an anti-aging therapy. 

I was also excited to learn that Beauty Bash, the health and beauty expo created by Fab Over Fifty is coming back this year in September  and will be accompanied by Beauty Bash week in NYC. More on Beauty Bash as  the program develops.

May is National Smile Month  and it  seems like karma that  the book of the week is Smile! by the dentist  who invented GoSmile, Jonathan Levine.  Its  basically a  no-nonsense approach to  caring  for  your teeth and is packed with wonderful information. For example  it explains the differences between  whitening, desensitzening  and tartar control toothpastes including which ingredients to look for and which to avoid. I was surprised to learn that  about 60% of Americans have tooth   sensitivity issues  because the tiny tubules in the teeth  transmit messages to the nerves.  Potassium nitrate seals up tubules and prevents  pain transmissions.  However  Dr Levine points out that  to be effective  a toothpaste needs to have 5% potassium nitrate  and not all that make sensitivity claims  have that formulation. FYI   Dr Levine recommends Sensodyne  if  you have sensitive teeth.

The chapter on tooth whitening  alone is worth the  price of the book.  I was  fascinated  by the science behind tooth whitening and the way the different  techniques can work together.  Dr Levine writes about who should  and  should not get tooth whitening-  during pregnancy,  while breast feeding and under age 14. He also includes a tooth whitening spread sheet that  I will take with next time I  buy a whitening product.  Smile! by Joanthan Levine  has  earned a permanent place on my beauty bookshelf.

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