Beauty is more than skin deep, and we're not just talking about having a congenial personality.
"Our skin can reflect what's going on inside our body," says dermatologist Anne Chapas, M.D., of Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City. "As part of the immune system, the skin defends against environmental factors. But when your body is fighting an ailment, it can get overwhelmed and things like acne and redness can show up." Here, how to read the signs in the mirror.
The problem: Chin acne
The cause: Hormonal imbalance
There's a reason many women have breakouts on their chin right before their period: That part of the face is particularly sensitive to rises in progesterone and testosterone. Many women simply experience mild acne, but if your breakouts tend to be more severe or painful and are no match for OTC treatments, it's time to see your ob-gyn.
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"Deep, cystic acne on the chin or along the jaw line can be a sign of underlying polycystic ovary syndrome [PCOS] and other types of hormonal abnormalities," says Chapas. Left untreated, the condition can increase your risk for diabetes and infertility.
Get healthy: For certain patients, going on birth control pills is an effective way to balance hormone levels and clear up skin. (The pill is also very effective for treating symptoms of PCOS.) If you prefer a nonhormonal option, ask your M.D. about spironolactone, a prescription med that blocks testosterone receptors, thus preventing the skin's oil glands from going into overdrive in some patients. Skipping dessert can help too, since extra insulin stimulates the hormone production linked to breakouts. "Some studies show that eliminating processed sugars and sticking to whole grains, fruits, and vegetables may also mitigate the hormonal stimuli that can lead to acne," adds Chapas.
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Look better now: Chapas recommends using a product that contains salicylic acid and sulfur. Try Murad Acne Spot Treatment ($18, murad .com). Dab it onto the pimple and surrounding area so the salicylic acid can open and clear the pore; sulfur calms the inflammation. In the meantime, cover up with a matte cream-to-powder concealer, which stays put even as your chin moves when you talk, eat, or laugh. "Apply with a tiny brush to get each pimple," recommends makeup artist Emily Kate Warren.
The problem: Dark under-eye circles and puffiness
The cause: Allergies
Chronic allergies dilate blood vessels and can cause them to leak, which creates puffiness and that telltale dark purple-blue hue. "Many people don't even realize they're suffering from allergies. They come in wanting a professional dermatologic fix because they think it's too early or late in the season for pollen, or they've never had a problem before," explains Ranella Hirsch, M.D., a Boston dermatologist and past president of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology and Aesthetic Surgery.
And because allergens also trigger the release of histamine, a chemical that contributes to the puffiness and can make eyes itchy and runny, you rub your eyes. A lot. Which only makes the swelling and discoloration worse. "By irritating the thin skin around your eyes, you may even create more leaky capillaries," says Hirsch.
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Get healthy: If the symptoms are new and you haven't been keeping unusually late nights, try an over-the-counter antihistamine like Allegra or Zyrtec. Taking the medicine as directed should lessen the irritation in a few weeks. If that doesn't give you any relief and you're unsure of the culprit, see your doctor so she can pinpoint the cause and zero in on the best treatment.
Look better now: Chapas recommends massaging away the excess fluid every morning with a beauty tool such as the Garnier Nutritioniste Skin Renew Anti-Puff Eye Roller ($12, at drugstores). "The roller helps push out the fluid, while ingredients such as caffeine constrict vessels to minimize leaking," she says.
To temper the bruise-like color, "pick a matte concealer that's the same tone as your foundation--not lighter or shimmery, which will highlight the puffiness," says Warren. Try Nars Concealer (1), $30, sephora.com. Use your pinkie or ring finger to lightly dab the concealer onto the dark areas only, including the cavity between the eyes and nose. Tap the edges so the color blends seamlessly into your skin.
To neutralize redness, use a face primer with a green base.
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The problem: Redness and blotchiness
The cause: Stress, a digestive disorder, or lupus
Red blotches that come and go on the face and neck can be stress-related; they can be triggered by fluctuations in stress hormones, says Hirsch. Rosacea, clusters of tiny pimple-like red bumps, can be a sign of digestive ailments.
"The skin and gastrointestinal tract are both designed to protect the body by keeping things out. That may be why digestive problems can show up on the skin," explains Chapas. When rosacea sufferers took antibiotics to clear high levels of bacteria in their small bowels, their skin improved, according to a 2008 study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
Most serious is a malar rash, a symmetrical butterfly-shaped red rash that usually covers the top and middle of both cheeks. "It's a classic symptom of lupus, a disease that attacks the immune system," explains Hirsch. If you feel more tired than usual, are bruising easily, and are losing or gaining weight, see your doctor pronto.
Get healthy: Stay away from the sun and spicy foods--both can exacerbate redness. Engaging in stress-relieving activities (like yoga or meditation) may help. Also, try to up your intake of probiotics, the healthy bacteria that helps regulate digestion and calm inflammation. Yogurt with live cultures, kefir (a yogurt-like drink), and miso are all good sources. You can also consider taking a supplement such as Phillips' Colon Health, which contains three probiotic strains.
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Look better now: To neutralize redness, try a face primer with a green base. Warren likes Make Up For Ever HD Microperfecting Primer in Green (2), $32, sephora.com. "Use it as foundation or mix it into your favorite concealer if you're just covering smaller red areas," she says. Apply it with a soft eye-shadow brush, then use your fingertips to blend the edges into your skin. Set it with a light dusting of a finely milled powder.
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