Whether you’re covering up spider veins with long pants or using makeup to camouflage old scars, take heart. We all have one or more skin issues we’d like to hide.
One in four Americans is affected by a skin disease, according to a 2016 report by the American Academy of Dermatology. Those who have a skin disease tend to have more than one at a time, says the AAD, with the number rising as we age because of our years of sun exposure, and the intensified vulnerability to bacteria and viruses that comes with getting older.
Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, says the AAD, and it affects up to 50 million people every year. More than 31 million suffer from eczema, and psoriasis affects more than 7 million people. It’s also been estimated that at least 16 million people have rosacea. Many of these diseases are thought to be autoimmune in origin.
But even when we aren’t suffering from a condition that requires a prescription, we may worry about less painful but still frustrating issues like cellulite, stretch marks, dark circles, spider veins, and age spots. And we spend quite a bit of time and money trying to make them go away.
The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reported that in 2015 Americans spent more than $13.5 billion on cosmetic surgery and on less invasive aesthetic procedures like Botox and microdermabrasion. A 2017 survey by the online cosmetics retailer SkinStore found that more than 85 percent of women surveyed apply a minimum of 16 products a day to their faces, with women in New York, Connecticut, and West Virginia spending an average of $11 a day on their routine, and women in Colorado, South Dakota, and Utah spending around $5 a day.
Some of the everyday skin issues explored here are hereditary — surprisingly, even stretch marks, cellulite, and dark circles may have roots in your genes. But that doesn’t mean you can’t treat what’s bothering you, whether it’s through a little more sunscreen, or a higher-tech moisturizer, or even allergy medication.
Read on for tips from Jami L. Miller, MD, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, on how you can feel more comfortable in your own skin.
Additional reporting by Carlene Bauer.
Spider Veins Won’t Kill You, but You Can Make Them Disappear
Problem: These blue or purple starbursts of fine veins under your skin are caused by the weakening of veins in the legs. Those veins are trying to circulate blood back up to your heart, but if they’re weak, the blood won’t get there; it will flow back down and pool in the legs. Spider (or varicose) veins can also be caused by hormone changes and injuries. They’re usually not painful, and they aren’t a threat to your health, but you may feel they’re unsightly.
Solution: For a temporary fix, you can camouflage spider veins with leg makeup. For a permanent medical option, says Dr. Miller, ask your doctor if you can remove them with a skin treatment called sclerotherapy. Sclerotherapy is an injection of medicine that make the vein collapse and become scar tissue that will disappear in time. Laser treatment is an option for removing spider veins, as well.
Creams and Treatments May Smooth Out Cellulite
Problem: Fibrous bands within the fat layer under the skin create cellulite, Miller says. It’s not, however, known why. Cellulite tends to be genetic, but staying active and maintaining a healthy weight may help prevent it.
Solution: You have several options, though no one treatment is guaranteed to work for everyone. There are cellulite creams containing caffeine, and there are spa treatments that compress cellulite — but both are temporary improvements. More permanent solutions may be available through your dermatologist or plastic surgeon, says Miller.
Benzoyl Peroxide Will Free You From Back Acne
Problem: You can’t wear back-baring clothing because painful, unattractive acne is standing between you and confidence. What causes acne on your back is what causes it on your face — clogged pores.
Solution: “Back acne can be treated with over-the-counter treatments like a benzoyl peroxide wash and salicylic acid,” says Miller. In addition to washing skin with an acne cleanser, daily to weekly exfoliation will also help. But Miller warns that if you are scarring or have deep cysts, you should make a trip to your dermatologist for prescription treatments. Another tip: Make sure you shower soon after working out and wash your workout clothes between visits to the gym. Sweat doesn’t cause acne, but the salt from the sweat, if it’s trapped on the skin by clothes, can lead to breakouts.
Problem: These painful red bumps are created by hair that curls up under the skin before finding a way out to the surface, explains Miller.
Solution: For the areas of skin where you get the most ingrown hairs, wash and gently exfoliate the affected skin on a daily basis. Then rinse with cool water and a mild astringent. You can also use an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream, but make sure you follow the directions closely.
Scars Can Fade With the Help of Lasers and Steroids
Problem: Scars are often unwanted reminders of past breakouts, past injuries, or other skin conditions.
Solution: While scars tend to improve by themselves over time, some strategies can speed the process. Keep new scars out of the sun, which can slow or prevent healing. Red scars can be lightened with a laser treatment or two. Raised scars can be treated with injections of corticosteroids in your dermatologist’s office or with a silicone gel sheet.
Problem: While mostly harmless, age spots take away from the appearance of healthy skin. Also known as liver spots or sun spots, they’re most common in those with fair skin, and they’re caused by frequent exposure to the sun — along with age. As time goes by, skin that has been exposed to the sun accumulates more and more melanin, and that melanin may collect in patches that become visible to the eye.
Solution: While you can’t make these spots disappear entirely, you can prevent more of them by using sunscreen. You can also try over-the-counter fading creams; these may work, but spots will return with sun exposure, warns Miller. “Prescription bleaching agents, laser, and chemical peels can be used to treat them if needed, but these solutions won’t be permanent if you continue to expose your skin to the sun.”
Lighten Dark Circles With Compresses and Creams
Problem: No matter how much sleep you get, the circles and bags under your eyes can make you look sleep-deprived. They’re most commonly caused by actual fatigue, allergies, and aging: the thinning of skin and loss of fat and collagen allow the reddish-blue blood vessels under your eyes show through.
Solution: First, ask your doctor if the problem could be due to allergies. If not, you can cover the dark circles with makeup. Or you can try treating them with a cool compress. In addition, creams containing caffeine or cortisone may temporarily shrink the blood vessels and make them less noticeable, says Miller. Some people may be candidates for surgery or injectable fillers — check with your dermatologist or a plastic surgeon.
Dermatologists Have the Tools to Smooth Stretch Marks
Problem: Unappealing red or white lines on your belly, thighs, or other areas where you might have gained weight quickly, such as during pregnancy, can make it hard to feel good in a bathing suit. Stretch marks occur when your skin rapidly stretches to accommodate weight gain; the stretching leads to small tears in the layers of tissue under the skin’s surface.
Solution: Stretch marks may require skin treatment by a dermatologist. Chemical peels, dermabrasion, and laser surgery are all options for smoothing out the skin.