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What your face can tell you about your health

Lisa Fogarty

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Lisa Fogarty

Lisa Fogarty has written numerous articles for USA Today, The Stir, Opposing Views and other publications. She has covered everything from red carpet events to the discovery of toxic PCBs on school windows. She lives on Long Island, N.Y....

Puffy eyes, dark circles and acne can give you insight into bigger health issues

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.

1. Dark circles under the eyes

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.

2. Puffy eyes

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)."

3. Red cheeks/complexion

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."

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4. Flaky skin

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.

5. Bloodshot eyes

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.

6. Excessive hair on your chin/face

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."

7. Acne

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:

  • Zone 1 & 3 (Forehead): This zone is known as the sister to the bladder and digestive system. If you break out frequently along your forehead, it could be a sign that you need to drink more water and eat more whole foods.
  • Zone 2 (Middle of the forehead): The middle of your forehead, between your eyes, is related to your liver. Congestion here can be related to your consumption of alcohol or rich foods, or it could indicate a food allergy.
  • Zone 4 & 10 (Ears): Your ears are a highly sensitive area related to your kidneys. If your ears are hot, you may want to cut down on caffeine and alcohol.
  • Zone 5 & 9 (Cheeks): Your cheeks can be directed to respiratory distress. Smokers or people suffering from allergies often get broken capillaries or congestion in this area because it is related to the lungs.
  • Zone 6 & 8 (Eyes): The eyes are related to your kidneys. Dark circles, although they are often hereditary, can worsen with dehydration and poor elimination.
  • Zone 7 (Nose): If your nose is red, it can indicate heightened blood pressure or the early stages of rosacea. Comedogenic lipstick or liners can also cause breakouts around your upper lip area.
  • Zone 11 & 13 (Jawline): A breakout along the jawline can be linked to your ovaries and often has something to do with the menstrual period.
  • Zone 12 (Chin): Chin breakouts often indicate a hormonal imbalance, possibly caused by stress. Poor diet and food allergies can also affect this area.
  • Zone 14 (Neck): Adrenal stress can occur on your neck, especially with flushing. It’s also common for fragrances to cause irritation.
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