Your face and skin are windows into your health. Here's what your biggest beauty complaints can actually tell you about your well-being.
It's easy to dismiss the bigger picture when you're staring at a mirror and dark, puffy circles; red skin; and unexpected acne along your jawline are staring back at you. Skin issues and other undesirable facial flaws are often thought of in terms of how they're unpleasing to the eye and take away from a person's natural beauty. But this way of thinking disregards the important fact that circles under your eyes, red cheeks and unusual acne that pops up in places such as your ears or along your forehead can tell a tale about nutritional deficiencies and the health of your organs.
Here are seven common face and skin problems we sometimes face and what they actually mean about our health.
The skin beneath your eyes is paper-thin, so if a combination of genes, sun damage and blood flow in this area makes you look as if you're never well-rested, it's going to show. “Because your eyelid skin is the thinnest skin in the body, sun damage shows up quickly in the form of dilating and increased blood flow to the area,” says Dr. David E. Bank, author of Beautiful Skin: Every Woman's Guide to Looking Her Best at Any Age and the founder and director of The Center For Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery. “Unfortunately, the answer to improving dark circles isn't just to get more sleep. You can try a lightening agent (such as hydroquinone) in conjunction with an alpha-hydroxy agent (something from the vitamin A family) and a sunscreen. You do need to be patient because, depending on the severity of the pigmentation or circles, it can easily take up to six months to see any kind of improvement.” Bank says severe circles can benefit from in-home treatments such as glycolic acid, amino fruit acid, microdermabrasion or even laser therapy.
The main issue if you have puffy eyes could be related to kidney problems, and these should be investigated by your doctor, says Dr. Bassam Zeina, a dermatologist at Anana Clinic who has been practicing for 27 years. If you've had Botox injections in this area, Zeina says they could lead to the muscles being weak and unable to drain fluid, which would create the appearance of puffy eyes. "This can be addressed by using less Botox in the next treatment," Zeina says. "Also, consider a lymphedema massage (a type of massage involving gentle touch between the area and the upper neck)."
Blood vessels are more apparent in people who genetically have thin skin, but red skin can also be the result of aging and skin damage, Zeina says, which leads to skin that is thinner and blood vessels that are less able to contract. "Many choose to accept it (up to 20 percent of Swedish people have a red complexion, and so does Prince Harry)," Zeina says. "If you were after a quick fix, you can simply use camouflage cream. There are some redness creams that help (the newest is called Mirvaso). Laser treatment is an option, too. A lot of the time, this can be prevented using creams containing vitamins A and C."
Can't seem to shake those annoying skin flakes? Most likely, you're battling dry skin, which Zeina says can be treated with simple emollients (creams) and using soap substitutes. Another cause around the nose, eyebrows or scalp is linked to dandruff and is caused by the same condition. It can even affect the chest, he says. Seborrhoeic dermatitis — a condition caused by genetics; stress; certain medications; or cold, dry weather — could also be to blame.
A variety of reasons, from allergies to excessive sneezing to pink eye, could be behind your bloodshot eyes. Play it safe, Zeina says, and always have your eyes examined.
If you or your distant relatives hail from the Mediterranean or the Indian subcontinent, excessive facial hair is a prevalent trait (consider it a small sacrifice you have to make for providing the best cuisine on the planet). However, if it is associated with super heavy, painful and/or irregular periods and cystic acne, you could have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), says Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse at Rapaport Dermatology of Beverly Hills.
"This is usually associated with multiple, asymptomatic cysts in the ovaries that can increase estrogen production to the degree that some get converted into testosterone," Shainhouse says. "Thus, you start to develop signs of excess testosterone, including acne and hair loss where you do want it (scalp) and hair growth where you don't (face). It can also impact your fertility. If you think that you might have this, you should be seen by both your dermatologist and gynecologist. There are oral medications that are easy to take and can help regulate the testosterone levels and their clinical effects."
Let's break acne up into facial zones, or Chinese diagnosis, one of the philosophies behind face mapping. Depending on where you're experiencing a sudden breakout of pimples, whiteheads, blackheads, or redness and sensitivity, you can tell a lot about your health. Face mapping divides your face into 14 zones according to location and what they are connected to internally. Here's a breakdown of each zone:
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