In her book “What the Yuck?!” Dr. Roshini Raj answers the questions you may be too embarrassed to ask your own doctor, from what’s in your lipstick to dealing with a furry derriere. An excerpt.
Chapter five: Getting gorgeous
Q: I want to get a Brazilian wax, but is it dangerous to take it all off?
A: Pubic hair prevents chafing of the delicate skin around your vagina when your guy is rubbing against you during sex. Think of it as a buffer from the friction. So if you go completely bare, you may get irritated from sex. Plus, if the waxing causes tiny abrasions in the skin, you are more susceptible to STDs.
Of course, with any bikini wax there is a risk of a bacterial infection. So it’s important to make sure the place is licensed and clean. Watch closely to make sure they never wax in the same spot twice (this will up your chance of irritation) or double-dip the wax stick (which can transfer bacteria).
Q: What’s up with those UV-light dryers at the nail salon? Could they make you wrinkle faster? Or even give you skin cancer?
A: Those UV-light dryers are like tiny tanning beds, so you’re right to be concerned. While this danger hasn’t been looked at in any large-scale studies, dermatologists report finding more skin cancer on the fingers (typically a very rare location) of patients who have frequent exposure to these nail-drying lights. In fact, a recent report in Archives of Dermatology said that using them may be a risk factor for the development of skin cancer. Also, we know that UV light increases your risk of cancer (and wrinkles), and if you’re going to the nail salon every two weeks (or weekly), that will add up to significant exposure. My two cents? Use them sparingly, or, better yet, let your nails dry on their own. It may take a bit longer, but it’s worth the effort to save your skin.
Q: I don’t have a problem sleeping, so why do I have such dark circles?
A: A few culprits may have you reaching for the under-eye concealer. Sinus blockage triggered by a food or seasonal allergy can cause swelling of the tiny blood vessels near the surface of the skin, giving you “darkened” areas around your nose and eyes. An allergist can determine an allergy trigger, but if yours is seasonal or the irritant is unavoidable, an OTC drug like Claritin or Zyrtec should help.
How’s your diet? A vitamin deficiency may also cause circles. Take a daily multi if you don’t already, and add a night cream or facial mask containing vitamins K and A (aka retinol) to your regimen.
Of course, your genes may also be to blame. Some women have a genetic predisposition to excessive pigmentation in the area. Laser surgery — which resurfaces the skin and destroys the highly pigmented cells — is a solution, but it doesn’t come cheap (it costs thousands of dollars) or easy (expect a lengthy recovery period). Cosmetic-filler injections like Juvéderm or Restylane are a popular alternative (they fill in the sunken areas that cause shadowing), again for a pretty penny — $500 to $800 per treatment, which lasts only about six months.
But before you break the bank, try simply squeezing in even a half-hour extra of sleep because fatigue can dull your skin and make any discoloration more visible. Even if you don’t have a sleep problem per se, your body may just need a little more rest than you’re currently giving it.
Q: I just found a — gasp! — gray pubic hair. If I remove it, will a thousand more grow back?
A: A thousand? No. One? Yes. We think we see more gray hairs after we pluck one because gray hairs tend to occur in patches.
Just like gray hairs on your head, gray pubic hairs come from hair follicles that have lost their pigment (melanin). A new hair that grows from the same follicle will also be gray. So go ahead and pluck it if you want, but know it’ll be back.
Q: Is it true there’s lead in my red lipstick?
A: This is one Internet rumor that’s true: Some red lipsticks do contain lead. In fact, a few independent studies by the Food and Drug Administration and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics have found low levels of lead in many red tubes, and not just the cheap ones. Some really expensive brands pack more lead than drugstore lipsticks.
What’s the harm in lead? While this toxic metal is far more dangerous to children (another reason you may not want a lead-loaded tube in your handbag), it can harm adults, too, building up in our bodies over time and causing high blood pressure and anemia, as well as reproductive and neurological problems. But don’t panic — there hasn’t been a single reported case of lead poisoning from lip color.
Still, why chance it? Although the levels are low (less than you get from drinking tap water in many areas of the country), if you reapply your “poppy red” several times a day, it could build up in your body. So it makes sense to check www.safecosmetics.org and see if your favorite brand is safe.
Q: Please tell me there’s something I can do about my hairy butt.
A: If you’re talking about the hair between the anus and vagina, that’s a tough spot — and a tender one, too. Hair-removal creams are off limits because they can cause severe irritation to your delicate skin. I also wouldn’t recommend putting a razor to the area because of the risk of infection.
Waxing at least some of the easy-to-reach hairs is an option, but it’s not going to be a fun visit. It’s a very sensitive area (did I mention that?!); take ibuprofen a half-hour before you go.
If this hair really bothers you — and I don’t think it should because it’s totally normal — laser hair removal may be worth considering. Yes, it’s expensive, and, yes, it requires several visits, but it’s a safe (as long as you go to a board-certified dermatologist) and fairly permanent solution.
Q: I got a little drunk last weekend and ended up with a tattoo. Now I’m worried that I caught something serious like hepatitis. Should I panic?
A: Not yet. Your risk of exposure is very low — as long as the tattoo parlor was sanitary and used needles that were properly sterilized. If you remember where the tattoo parlor was (check your purse for a receipt), go back and make sure they’re licensed. (Whenever you get inked, make sure to go to a licensed tattoo parlor.) If they are, they’re probably sterilizing their equipment. If the place is “sketchy” or can’t produce a license, you have more to worry about.
In any case, to ease your mind and protect your health, it’s a good idea to have your doctor test you for possible infections. You’ll need to be tested twice — once as soon as possible and once in a few weeks because some viruses take several weeks to show up.
In the unlikely case that something turns up, your doc will walk you through what to do next. Chances are you should be fine, but it is best to be sure.
Decode your beauty problems
1) Cracked lipsWhat it may mean: A vitamin deficiency, which can cause cracking at the corners of your mouth.
Solution: Have your doc check your levels, and be sure to take a multivitamin.
2) White lines on your nailWhat it may mean: You likely injured your nail bed without even realizing it.
Solution: Once the nail grows long enough, simply cut the damaged part off.
3) Bright pink gumsWhat it may mean: You grind your teeth. Clenching puts pressure on gums, causing them to redden.
Solution: Ask your doctor for a mouth guard, which prevents damage from middle-of-the-night grinding.
4) Dark circles under your eyesWhat it may mean: You have allergies, which can cause congestion of the blood vessels in that area.
Solution: Try an over-the-counter non-sedating allergy medication daily. Also try to get more rest because fatigue makes this problem worse.
Excerpted from "What the Yuck?" by Roshini Raj. Copyright (c) 2010. Reprinted with permission from Oxmoor House.