FOR FEET SO SLEEK

In an era of “feetfies”, having clean and beautiful feet is an attainable goal. Here’s what your dermatologist and podiatrist would want you to know..

Our feet carry the load of our bodies over thousands of miles in a lifetime. There are legends of men falling in love with a woman’s feet before glancing upon her face. Yet, they happen to be the most neglected part of our anatomy. This article lists some of the most common skin ailments of the feet, and how to select the right footwear and foot care products.

1) Athlete’s Foot & Toe Nail Fungus – Athlete’s foot is a fungal disease of the feet and toe gaps. It festers in individuals who spend long hours in covered footwear, especially if they are sporty. Poor personal hygiene and sweaty feet adds to the problem. Athlete’s foot can manifest in various forms – ring-shaped red itchy and scaly rashes. Or superficial peeling of the skin on one or both soles which itches or smells bad. Sometimes it shows up as moist white macerated skin in between the toes. Diabetics are highly vulnerable to fungal infections of the feet. Athlete’s foot is contagious, and if left untreated, it can spread to the toenails as well. Fungal infections can cause toe nail discoloration, thickening, crumbling and disfiguration.
Keep your feet clean and dry, use open footwear during travel, wear cotton socks and wash them after each use, keep your blood sugar levels in check, and use foot deodorants & anti-fungal dusting powder to minimize recurrences. If you have a rash between your toes, then use a toe separator or plain cotton wool to separate them. Meet a dermatologist. This condition is easily curable. Avoid swimming and pedicures until then.

2) Shoes Bites – When it comes to footwear, most women do not choose comfort over fashion. This can prove to be foolish if you’re on a trek or spend a lot of time on your feet. Flip-flop sandals with thick soles are ideal in the tropics or on the beach. Never walk bare feet on beaches or around public shower areas. When using covered shoes, pad your shoes with soft cotton wool if required, especially near the toes. If you end up with painful shoe bites at the end of the day, do NOT pop a blister or paste a Band-aid over it. This will make it worse. Wait for the blister to flatten or break on its own. Bacteria can fester on raw open skin. So soak your feet in iced water (add a few drops of Savlon), and apply an antibiotic cream or powder (say Fucidin cream or Neosporin powder) on your wounds. These are easily available at the pharmacy, even without a doctor’s prescription.

3) Corns and Calluses – Corns are round painful hardened areas of skin on the soles of the feet. They are generally found on weight and pressure bearing areas of the feet, like the ball of the great toe, or the heels. In women who wear narrow tapered closed footwear, they may be found in between the toes as well. These are more common in people with flat feet, especially if they spend long hours on their feet in uncomfortable footwear. Soak your feet in warm water, and then get your corns shaved or scrubbed down with a pedicure brush. Use foot creams on a regular basis. Visit a dermatologist for treatment. Avoid surgical excision of corns. And find comfortable thick-soled footwear with custom-made insoles to avoid a repeat episode.

4) Cracked feet – This generally happens in dry ageing feet which have lost moisture, elasticity and suppleness. Sometimes the cuts could be deep enough to hurt or bleed. Deep fissures on the soles become an entry point for infections like fungi, bacteria and viral warts. Warm soaks followed by foot scrubs using a pedicure brush or an electronic foot file is helpful. Use a urea and glycolic acid based foot cream every night. Paraffin wraps at the salon can help soften the skin of your feet. You can also use foot therapy masks. The Luxaderme peeling & exfoliating foot mask comes in the form of serum filled socks containing urea, AHAs, BHAs and botanical extracts which peel of thick dead skin while cleansing and hydrating your feet. Cracked feet which are particularly stubborn and do not get better with pedicures etc, might be a sign of skin disease like dermatitis or psoriasis.

5) Plantar Warts – are often mistaken for corns. The symptoms are similar and so is the treatment. However, corns are a mechanical disorder while warts are a contagious viral infection. It is generally acquired by walking bare footed on wet public surfaces like the gym showers and swimming pools. Unlike corns, warts tend to bleed when they are shaved down. If left untreated, they grow deeper, more painful or can multiply in number. Treatment options include acid melting, liquid nitrogen cryofreezing or laser vaporization.

6) Foot Odour – Also known as ‘bromhidrosis’, this could be aggravated by excessive sweating, poor hygiene, high environmental humidity, stress, aromatic foods in your diet (garlic, onions etc), hormonal changes ( for eg, during puberty) or bacterial and fungal infections. Consult a dermatologist for advice on proper hygiene and use of medical grade antiperspirants and anti-fungal dusting powders. Your dermatologist can also rule out infections or medical conditions which could be causing that funky stink. Discuss medical options like Botox injections, Iontophoresis or laser treatments which can reduce perspiration. Do-it-yourself tips include bathing twice a day, regular foot scrubs with pumice stone, changing shoes and socks frequently, using foot deodorants, and wearing light-weight cotton socks that allow your feet to breathe.

7) Ingrown toe nail – This is most common on the great toe nail. This happens when the edge of the nail plate grows into the skin of the toe causing pain and inflammation. Do not cut toe nails in a curve. Repeated trauma from ill-fitting footwear or kicking (soccer players, for instance) can further aggravate the condition. Hot soaks and nail lifting is helpful. Antibiotics might be needed in case of secondary infection. For severe or recurrent cases, surgical treatment can provide permanent relief.

8) Selecting the right shoe – Take a tracing of your feet. This will help you identify any asymmetries in the size of your feet. There may be asymmetries in the size of your ankles and the calcaneus (back of the heel) as well, which affects your foot comfort. Identify these differences, and if you are having a hard time with this, then get your feet professionally measured. Buy your shoes at the end of the day when your feet tend to expand a little. Have your socks on if you’re purchasing closed footwear. Stand, wiggle your toes, and then walk around in your new shoes to get a feel of it. Your new shoes should neither pinch nor slip off. Pay attention to the width of your shoes as well. Check for sharp edges, seams or stone work that could cut or irritate your skin. Check if you need to purchase silicone-based insoles for extra support and cushioning. Don’t try to “break them in”. Your shoes will break your feet before you break them! If you suffer from corns, bunions and/or pressure ulcers, then consult a podiatrist or physiotherapist on the most suitable footwear material and designs for you. Custom made podiatric shoes are generally made of microcellular rubber (MCR) and feature cushioning soles with air pockets and orthotic insoles.

9) Selecting the right foot care products – So I am assuming you already own a nail cutter and nail file! Invest in a good foot cream that contains urea and glycolic acid. They brighten and exfoliate the tanned and thickened skin of your feet. They heel cracked feet, and prevent the build up of calluses and fungi. Once a week, soak your feet in warm water and salts for 15 minutes. Then use a pumice stone or a good pedicure brush to exfoliate dead skin. Do not cut your toe nails too short, and give them a square cut to avoid ingrown nails. Buy a good pair of silicone insoles from your shoe store, preferably a deodorizing one. Tea tree oil or Ketaconazole containing soaps can keep your feet stink-free. Use foot deodorants and avoid fabric shoes if you suffer from foot odour. Always use socks if you are wearing covered shoes, use antifungal foot powders and change your socks twice a day – this helps keep odour at bay. Consult your podiatrist on the right corn caps, toe separators, heel cups or bunion correctors for your feet.

10) Diabetic Foot Screening – Do you suffer from Diabetes or any other ailment that affects the circulation and pain sensation of your feet? Proper foot care can prove to be life saving for you. Do a daily foot examination. Any of the above mentioned skin ailments could lead to ulceration if left unnoticed and unattended. Attend patient information classes and lectures by podiatrists and diabetologists to educate yourself on how to avoid, or care for diabetic foot.

Break That Sugar Addiction!

How can anyone resist sugar? It’s all around us! But here are some compelling reasons to quit..

There is something about sugar that appeals to more than just our taste buds. It hijacks our emotions, our brain chemistry and our hormones as well. It gives us an instant rush of energy and emotional satiety, leaving us craving for more. The more we have, the more we crave for it. This is because our body develops tolerance to sugar, and gradually we need more of it to feel the same rush. This leads to craving even when we are not hungry. Cravings lead to overeating, even after we know we are full and shouldn’t eat more. Tolerance and craving are the hallmarks of addiction.

So why is sugar so addictive?

Studies have shown that sugar lights up the pleasure centre of our brain, called the nucleus accumbens. Its releases the pleasure hormone called Dopamine, which is responsible for the rush of energy and happiness. These are the same pleasure centres which are stimulated by other addictive drugs or activities like alcohol, cocaine, tobacco or gambling. Another hormone which has been linked to sugar addiction is Leptin. Some people may lack this hormone and that makes them genetically prone to food and sugar cravings. So this is’nt just about being greedy, gluttony, lazy, fat or poorly motivated. Anybody who has tried to give up sugar knows how hard it can be.

Why is sugar bad for us?

Sugar can have a detrimental effect on almost every system of the human body. It is especially bad for growing children. Not only does excess sugar rot the teeth and lead to obesity, it can lead to multiple nutritional deficiencies. It interferes with the gut’s absorption of Calcium, Chromium and Magnesium. It can lead to behavioural changes like increased crankiness, poor concentration, a short burst of hyperactivity followed by a longer period of sluggishness and inertia. It can cause headaches, anxiety, palpitations and dizziness, in young and old alike.
Excess sugar in your diet can directly or indirectly increase systolic blood sugar, cause kidney and gall stones, hormonal imbalance, faster cell death and cell ageing, and trigger various cancers. It increases the risk of Diabetes, Heart disease, Gout, Fatty Liver, Cataracts and Parkinson’s disease.

I have cut out sugar and candies from my life but I’m still not able to get over my cravings..

This is because sugar is all around us. We just fail to recognize it sometimes. Starch equals sugar. White rice, maize and potatoes are rich sources of starch. Almost all processed food contains added or hidden sugars to mask the taste of refined flour, chemicals and preservatives. Breads, pastas, sodas, wafers, sauces, syrups, salad dressing and chips contain sugar as well. Granola bars and energy drinks contain huge amounts of sugar as well. Check food labels for ingredients. ‘Sugar’ maybe hidden behind names like Glucose, Dextrose, Sucrose, Lactose, Molasses, Corn syrup, and such.

How can I tell if I’m addicted to sugar?

There are some clues – (1) You eat certain sugary or starchy food even when you’re not hungry, because you are craving for it. On some days, you crave for dessert even when you’re full and can’t really eat any more! You make excuses to eat more sugar (2) Dieting makes you apprehensive and cranky. You worry about cutting out certain foods from your diet. In fact, you can eat sugary food till it makes you sick. (3) You feel ill and exhausted from overeating. (4) You have developed medical ailments like Diabetes, as a direct consequence of your overeating. Your bad dietary habits have also lead to social isolation due to obesity. But you still can’t stop. You choose sugar over good health and relationships. (5) You eat when you’re happy, you eat when you’re sad and you eat when you’re mad. You realize that you need more and more sugar to experience the same pleasure or numb the negative emotions. (6) You find yourself craving sugar at odd hours. You will order that 2 am pizza or drive out to that late-night café just to order some pastry. (7) You have a secret sugar stash at home, and you find yourself rushing to binge on sugar when you find yourself alone. (8) You have a habit of “rewarding” yourself with sugar for even minor achievements, or to keep yourself motivated.

How much sugar can I have in a day?

According to the American Heart Association, one should not have more than 6 teaspoons a day for women (approx. 100 calories) and 9 teaspoons a day for men (approx. 150 calories). This includes sugars from fruits and starch.

How can I ditch my sugar addiction?

This requires commitment and honest effort and it’s not as hard as it might seem. Cutting out all sugar and starch might be too drastic and lead to severe cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Take small but determined steps. Start by giving up all sweets, candies, pastries and cocoa. Get rid of your sugar stash to avoid temptation. Simply stop buying sugary foods. Let your friends know that you’re trying to detox, and that you would prefer flowers over chocolates for next Valentine’s Day! Go an entire month without sweet treats, and then add colas and processed food to your list of ‘banned foods’.
You don’t have to give up rice, wheat and potatoes altogether. Aim for portion control.
Artificial sweeteners do not help. Use honey. Or have some milk, fruits, nuts, dates, berries, frozen yoghurt or oats when you feel the pang for sugar. Increase your fibre intake. It decreases sugar absorption in the body and controls hunger pangs. Fight the urge to have a drink or a smoke, which could be more acute when you’re detoxing from sugar. Drink plenty of water instead, and remain well-hydrated.
Good sleep and adequate exercise are also helpful when you’re trying to wean yourself off sugar. Cultivate a hobby, to keep your mind occupied. Have multivitamins containing iron, magnesium and chromium to stave off hunger. Have small amounts of health fats like eggs, fish, flaxseeds, peanuts, olives and tofu. They improve your overall sense of satisfaction from your meal, and reduce the urge to reach out for sugar. Some find it helpful to chew on sugar-free gum. Chewing fills your mouth with saliva which fools your brain into believing you’re not hungry anymore. Eat regularly and have several small meals a day. Do not give long gaps between meals. That is when the cravings raise their ugly head again!

As you wean yourself off sugar, the cravings begin to go away and it becomes easier to stick to your new diet. Allow yourself the occasional cheat day, but do not binge, or else your cravings might return. Several studies have shown that sugar is actually MORE addictive than cocaine. Worse, it is legal, inexpensive, widely and freely available, and the ill-effects are not as immediate or pronounced. This is why sugar addiction is often under-estimated and this has lead to an obesity epidemic. Educate yourself and start taking remedial steps to break the sugar habit.

LATEST INNOVATIONS IN SKIN CARE COSMETICS

In this month’s fashion related blog, learn about the latest and greatest in skin care related trends, fashions and fads.. What makes sense and what does not..

(1) “The 5:2 Skin Diet” – This translates into going makeup free for 2 days in a week. This trend is becoming increasingly popular in Europe. The idea is to help your skin to detox. And try to find its right moisture and sebum levels without being regulated by cosmetics. By dermatologists feel this does not really have any special benefit for your skin. Be sure to go easy on the make up. Take off your make up, carefully and thoroughly, before you go to bed. Cleanse twice- use a cleansing milk the first time, to remove make up. And a face wash the second time, to clean out your pores. This simple step is a lot more beneficial than the 5:2 skin diet.

(2) Face Masks – It comes down to clay-based masks and panda-faced serum soaked face sheets. The choices are truly mind-boggling with ingredients such as Vitamin C, Arbutin, Collagen, Charcoal, Ginseng, Pomegranate seed, Green tea, Acai Berry, Tannins, Avocado and Hyaluronic Acid to name a few. New innovations include water rubber masks, overnight peeling masks, layering double masks and foil masks to name a few. The L’Oreal Paris Clay Masks are promising too. The benefits include hydration, cleansing, skin softening, brightening, revitalization or mattifying – based on your choice of face mask. Masks are safe, quick and easy to use; and give an instant boost to your skin when you are strapped for time. Face Masks are becoming increasingly popular among patients and Dermatologists alike.

(3) ‘Biofilm’ fighting creams – Biofilm is the formation of extracellular matrix by skin bacteria, which renders the bacteria resistant to antibiotic assault. This has lead to antibiotic resistance in the treatment of acne. To fight this menace, researchers have now come up with creams containing anti-microbial enzymes aimed at the disruption of biofilm formation, and prevention of reformation. This can enhance the effect of antibacterial drugs, both in oral and topical form. Garlic, Flavenoids, Resveratrol (in red wine), Cranberry juice, Chlorogenic acids (from coffee and cinnamon), Frankincense, Sage and Wheat Bran extract, are natural anti-biofilm agents. This trend receives the Dermatologist’s stamp of approval.

(4) Probiotic Skin Care – Our skin hosts a rich variety of resident bacteria and fungi, which fight against external bacteria and protect our skin from infection and contamination. Excessive cleansing can destroy the “friendly bacteria” on our skin as well. This is a real concern, especially with widespread use of cleansers and soaps which contain antiseptics like Triclosan. On the other hand, when the skin barrier itself is compromised, these resident bacteria can turn problematic, as seen in acne. The pH balance of our skin, along with sebum (oil) content, sweat content, moisture levels and a sturdy skin barrier (free from diseases like Eczema), are necessary to maintain healthy population levels of these friendly bacteria.

Probiotic skin care contains live bacterial cultures, which when applied topically, influence the composition of bacterial flora on the skin. They produce lactic acid on fermentation, which maintains the acid mantle of the skin and destroys foreign pathogens. Probiotics also produce potent antimicrobial agents and lysates which protect the skin. Therefore, probiotic containing cosmetics are particularly helpful for people suffering from acne, dry skin and/or sensitive skin. These skin benefits have been researched and confirmed through small-scale clinical studies.

(5) Cosmetics containing Stem Cells and Growth Factors –
There is a whole variety of cosmeceutical and pharmaceutical skin and hair care products which contain stem cells. These are touted as ‘The’ magical fix for every concern ranging from hair fall to wrinkles. Stem cells are not to be confused with ‘Growth Factors’, though most pharma reps and beauty shop sales girls will use the two terms interchangeably. Stem cells have a lot of exciting applications in the field of medicine, and have the potential to change the way we approach disease management. Any layperson knows this. Which is why we get super excited at the idea of using stem cells in our beauty creams.

Stem cells do NOT work in cosmetic/anti-ageing creams and treatments. The stem cells used in cosmetics are dead. Plant stem cells do not work on human beings, besides being too large to penetrate the skin. The FDA has not approved these treatments because there is no scientific evidence regarding the efficacy of these products. Use of human-derived stem cells in beauty creams does not exist, and probably never will, as this is a very controversial area. Stem cells cannot survive outside the lab, in a jar of beauty cream that sits on the shelf for many months. They simply do not work that way.

Growth factors, on the other hand, are generally derived from cultured human skin tissue called fibroblasts. These produce the components necessary to support skin structure and elasticity. Growth factors are sometimes derived from one’s own blood (used in the highly popular “Vampire Facial”) and sometimes from snails or plants. Growth factors can improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, under eye puffiness and skin discoloration. It gives the skin an overall radiance and translucency. The results take 6-12 weeks to show. Serums containing a combination of growth factors and antioxidants show faster results.

(6) “Plumping” Ingredients in Cosmetics – Also touted as Home DIY Fillers. These are based on Hyaluronic acid, just like in-office fillers like Juvederm or Restylane. ‘Fillerina’ is a popular example. They have full face plumping gels, lip plumping gels as well as gels specially formulated for the skin around the eyes. The ingredients work by attracting and trapping water in your skin, leading to the plumping and filling effect. Most products promise results in 7-14 days. I am not particularly impressed with such products as most of them are just as expensive as a syringe of dermal filler, without the instantaneous, gratifying and guaranteed results.

(7) Fat Dissolving Injections – Double chins cannot be exercised away. Liposuction involves painful surgery, post surgical oozing and bruises, several days of healing and compression bandages; and some people are left behind with tell-tale puncture scars where the lipo needles were inserted into the neck. Kybella is the only FDA approved injectable drug to dissolve chin fat, using fine needles, in a virtually painless manner. It works best in people with medium amount of chin fat. In clinical trials, the results have lasted several years. The injections are administered once a month for 3-6 months, depending upon the amount of fat present under the chin. Kybella gets a big Thumbs Up from me!

(8) DNA based skin care – A lot of you might have figured out by now that ageing is, to a great extent, genetically determined. DNA based skin care takes customized skin care 20 steps ahead. The dermatologist will take a sample of DNA from the inside of your cheek using an earbud-like device. Then a specific part of your DNA, known as the SNP, is examined. 5 different SNPs are analysed – the one that is responsible for sun damage, the one responsible for damage from excessive sugar in the body, the one that controls collagen formation, antioxidant protection and finally, inflammation control factor. Some of you might be more prone to damage from sun exposure. Some may suffer from faster collagen degradation. The dermatologist will recommend skin care, antioxidants, growth factors and/or nutritional supplements based on your DNA report.

The technology is very new. And ageing is much more than just DNA. Poor lifestyle choices, chronic stress and illnesses, prolonged exposure to sunlight and drugs can also affect ageing of the skin. Customized skin care does not account for these variables. Even so, I am very excited and optimistic about this trend!

(9) Home based skin care devices – Home Microdermabrasion creams and kits are last season. The latest fad is hand-held low light laser devices for hair regrowth (in the form of laser combs or hats), and hand-help IPL devices (based on light, and not laser) for permanent hair removal. All evidences suggest that this is a fad which over-promises but will invariably under-deliver. Hand-held phototherapy devices used to treat skin conditions like Vitiligo, have lived up to its promise and it is a worthwhile investment. Hand-held Acne devices like “Zeno” or “TRIA skin clarifying system” use blue light, sonic vibration and heat to get rid of acne on short notice. The devices are fairly safe but they only work on mild acne.

(10) K-Beauty Boom – Korea is the new Mecca of skin care. Cosmetic products from South Korea made a big splash on the international market due to certain unique ingredients like pearl powder, snail secretions, bee venom, starfish extract, truffle serum and seaweed to name a few. Colourful, attractive package and aggressive marketing of the image of pristine, porcelain Korean skin, added to its appeal amongst the masses and the classes. Some of these ingredients are no doubt promising and effective. However, K-Beauty typically consists of 8-10 steps and just as many products applied to the face, which is more assault and less pampering for the skin.

Spot and Prevent Skin Cancer Now!

Skin cancer is among the 5 most common cancers in the Western World and it is not uncommon in the East either. Unfortunately, due to poor awareness, skin cancer is often detected at a late stage in the darker races..

Cancer can affect any tissue in the body. When a tissue gets affected by cancer, it’s cells become abnormal and multiple rapidly, and unnaturally. As the disease worsens, these cancer cells can migrate from the original tissue to affect other tissue in the body.

Skin cancer is broadly divided into Melanoma and Non-Melanoma cancer. This classification depends on the part of the skin where the cancer originated from. The human skin has two broad layers – the superficial layer called Epidermis, and the deep layer called Dermis. The epidermis is made up of skin cells called Keratinocytes. The two layers of skin are separated by the ‘Basal Layer’, which is made up of basal cells, with the occasional Melanocyte, which contains the pigment Melanin.

Non-Melanoma skin cancers arise from the Keratinocytes (Squamous cell cancer) and Basal cells (Basal Cell Cancer). Melanoma arises from the Melanocytes in skin.

There are also various pre-cancerous skin conditions. These often look vague, innocent and do not cause much itching or discomfort. Therefore they are usually ignored by the patient. Worse, they often mimic common skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, so they may go undetected by family physicians for months or years.
According to statistics provided by the American Academy of Dermatologists, it is estimated that 160,000 cases of Melanoma will be diagnosed in the United States in 2017. Melanoma rates have doubled in the US in the last two decades, and over 1 million Americans are living with Melanoma. The darker races are often diagnosed in late stages of skin cancer, and have a have a worse prognosis and lower overall survival rate.

Could there be something about you, which leaves you vulnerable to develop skin cancer? You are more likely to develop skin cancer if –

1) You have light skin with red or blonde hair
2) You have light skin with green or blue eyes
3) You have a close family member who has suffered from skin cancer
4) You have more than 20 moles on your body or you have more than 5 large moles (of size 5 mm or greater)
5) You have multiple freckles across your face and body; and a tendency to burn rather than tan
6) Multiple episodes of blistering sunburn, especially in childhood
7) You are a Caucasian living for many years in tropical countries, Australia or New Zealand
8) You have spent many years in outdoor activities, tanning, or spending time in tanning beds, especially without sun protection
9) Patients who have been under treatment using Ultraviolet or other Radiation for other medical conditions
10) Certain hereditary disorders like Albinism makes a person extremely sensitive to sunlight, and therefore more vulnerable to skin cancers
11) If you have worked in industries which involve contact with coal tar, petrochemicals or arsenic.

How can one tell if a mole is harmless or turning cancerous? Dermatologists urge you to learn the ABCDE of skin cancer –

A is for Asymmetry – A mole is generally round or oval but symmetrical in its shape. When a mole turns cancerous, it loses its symmetry and becomes uneven in shape.
B is for Border – A mole has smooth, well-defined and rounded borders. A melanoma’s border is ragged, notched, blurred or irregular
C is for Colour – A mole is uniform in colour – be it brown or black. A melanoma’s colour is clumpy with areas of lighter and darker pigmentation
D is for Diameter – Melanomas are usually over 6 mm in diameter. A pencil eraser is often used as a standard to describe 6 mm.
E is for Evolution – If a mole is growing larger or darker in size, has turned itchy, if it bleeds or ulcerates, this may be an indication of evolution to Melanoma.

Basal Cell Carcinomas (BCC), are usually dark crusted nodules with rolled up pearly borders. They are most likely to be found on the nose, forehead or scalp of elderly men. This type of skin cancer causes local ulceration and invasion, leading to the collapse of the nose or damage to the ear, if they are affected. However is unlikely to spread to the lymph nodes. Smaller BCCs can be frozen with liquid Nitrogen, leading them to blister and peel off. Larger BCCs may need surgical excision. Hugh Jackman created more awareness on this type of skin cancer, when he revealed he has suffered from BCC several times, and has required multiple surgeries on his nose to have them excised. Contrary to popular belief, not all skin cancers are black in colour. BCCs may be pink or pearly in colour as well.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is usually described as a cauliflower shaped growth of skin tissue. SCCs generally develop in sun exposed areas, or areas which have been exposed to repeated trauma, infection or chronic skin disease. This type of cancer does spread deeper into the tissues and travels to the lymph nodes, but if detected early, it can be treated successfully by surgery/amputation followed by chemotherapy and/or radiation. Diane Keaton has suffered from SCC and is now an active advocate for sunscreen use.

Melanomas are the deadliest of all skin cancers. It does not always occur on sun exposed parts of the body. It has been known to occur on the back, thigh, genitals, nails and even the soles of the feet. They look subtle and innocuous and have often spread its tentacles across other organs by the time they are detected. Even dark skinned Bob Marley died of Melanoma.

How can I protect myself from skin cancer?

1) Sun protection – Follow the Slip-Slop-Slap-Seek-Slide formula. Slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, slap on a hat, seek the shade and slide on a pair of sunglasses. Protect your skin and eyes from harmful ultraviolet radiation using clothing, sunscreen, sunglasses and staying in the shade.

2) Use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant, pharmacy-grade sunscreen over all sun exposed areas 20 minutes before stepping out in the sun. Reapply every 4 hours, if you plan on remaining outdoors. SPF 30 and above is good enough for day-to-day use. Choose SPF 50 or above for sporting activities.

3) If you’re a Caucasian living in a tropical country, or a country like Australia which has a hole in it’s Ozone layer, then you might consider getting some UV Protected clothing. Unlike a sunscreen, UV Protective clothing provides day long protection.
UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) is the designated rating given to sun protective textile and clothing. A garment must have a minimum UPF of 15, in order to be rated as “sun protective”. A UPF rating of 15 indicates the fabric of a garment will allow only 1/15th (roughly 6%) of available UV radiation to pass through it.
If your clothing does not come with a UPF label, how can one determine if a said piece of clothing is sun protective? The popular notion is that white and thin cotton garments provide the best sun protection. This is wrong. As a thumb rule, pigment-dyed fabrics (in dark colours like black or indigo) which are thick, tightly woven and non-stretchable, provide the best sun protection. If a fabric is specially treated in optical brightening agents (present in most ‘long lasting white’ detergents), its UPF is enhanced. Dark coloured denims, wool garments, 100% polyester and unbleached cotton have high UPF rating. Natural fibres like bleached cotton and rayon, or polyester crepe and viscose score low on the UPF scale. If a fabric is stretched or worn out to 10% or more beyond its natural dimensions, its UPF rating falls tremendously. A high UPF garment also loses its sun protectiveness, if it gets wet.

4) Check the daily UV Index of your city – UV Index provides a forecast of the expected risk of over-exposure to radiation from the sun, for the following day. It stands on a scale of 0 to 11+. It is accompanied by recommendations for sun protection.
For instance, UV Index of 0-5 indicates low risk of radiation. A pair of sunglasses, along with a hat or SPF 15 sunscreen is sufficient if you only plan to spend 40-100 minutes in the sun.
UV Index of 6-8 indicates high risk of exposure to radiation. The recommendation is to use sunscreen of SPF 30 or above, along with a hat and shades, and not more than 20-30 minutes of sun exposure for the day. UV Index 11+ indicates extreme risk of exposure to radiation, and is declared as a “Sun Alert” day. People are urged to stay indoors and not spend over 15 minutes out in the sun, even if you’re wearing sunscreen.

5) Visit a dermatologist once in 2 years for full body mole screening and skin cancer check. If you have a close family member who has been diagnosed with skin cancer, then get a screening done once a year. If you have suffered from skin cancer yourself, then you might need to visit the dermatologist every quarter, to get your skin examined.

HAVING A “SKIN EMERGENCY”?

Crisis tends to hit the household when medical help isn’t handy. The mind freezes as panic takes over, and you end up doing something silly like putting toothpaste on a burn. Here’s what you should do..

(1) The “Do’s and Don’ts” of skin burns-

Has your child burnt his hand with a firecracker? Have you had hot oil splatter on your face? What does one do while you wait for a doctor’s appointment? Should I wrap a towel over it? Or should I soak the part in water?
How you manage your burn in the first 24 hours will dictate how the burn will eventually heal and if you’ll be left with a scar. Splash cool water on the burnt area for several minutes, and apply ice on it for a few seconds, 2-3 times a day to soothe the area. Do not apply egg white to the burn. Raw eggs harbour multiple bacteria which can infect the wound. Do not use bandaids or fluffy cotton. Do not pop any blisters. Cover the area with wet gauze like Sofratulle. Apply an antibiotic ointment like Fucidin. It is important to keep the area moist with unscented antiseptic creams. If you don’t have one, then use Vaseline petroleum jelly. Wash the affected skin with an unscented antibacterial Triclosan soap. Take pain medication like Paracetamol or Tylenol.
Dermatologists no longer prescribe Silverex cream as the silver content can stain and darken the skin. Turmeric is an excellent home remedy for superficial burns. But avoid turmeric in open wounds which are oozing, as the turmeric forms a dry cake over the wound which peels off the fresh skin underneath.
Most importantly, make an urgent appointment to meet with your dermatologist at the earliest. For deep and extensive burns, rush to your nearest hospital and ask for the services of a plastic surgeon. Your dermatologist/plastic surgeon team can also work together on healing any residual marks or scars from the burn.

(2) Does your child have Chicken Pox?

Does your child have fever and little itchy watery blisters over his body? Chicken Pox is not fatal or dangerous in children. Give tepid sponging for fever, and Paracetamol for aches and pains. Chicken Pox does not leave any marks or scars, unless the blisters have been popped. Cetrizine will help with the itching, and let your child wear mittens as an added measure. Your child’s caretaker during this period should be someone who has already had Chicken Pox, as they are now immune to the virus. Your child can have a cool shower, but do not use towels for drying. Let your child’s body dry naturally under a fan. Make sure they stay out of the sun, get plenty of rest, fluids, and clean nutritious home-cooked meals. Warm saline gargling can soothe a sore throat. Apply Calamine or Soframycin cream to the blisters. Use Cetrilak shampoo if there are blisters and scabs on the scalp as well. When all the blisters turn into dark scabs, you can tell that your child is no longer contagious. Keep a close watch for similar symptoms in other family members.

(3) Suffering from a nasty sunburn?

This is what happens when you’re not sunscreen-smart. But lectures aside, how does one manage sun burn? Have a cold shower, apply cool compresses to the affected area and use Calamine or Aloe Vera based moisturizing lotions several times a day to take the edge off the sting. Drink plenty of fluids and electrolytes, and take anti-inflammatory pills like Ibuprofen for some pain relief. Sunscreen may sting your skin at this point, so keep the sun burnt area covered with clothing and stay indoors till your skin heals. However, if your skin is swollen, blistered or extremely painful, then rush to your dermatologist. Sunburns can be particularly severe in children, and requires immediate medical attention. Multiple episodes of sunburn, especially in childhood, increase your risk of developing skin cancer as an adult. So do not skip the sunscreen.

(4) Head lice invasion in your household?

When it comes to head lice, home remedies do not always work. Mums use vaseline petroleum jelly and mayonnaise to coat their kid’s scalp as a treatment for head lice. This does not always work in suffocating the lice or their eggs. It may only stun them for a while, and you will still have to use a lice comb to get the lice out. Besides, it’s a nightmare to wash all that mayonnaise out!
If your kid has been around someone with lice, then use olive oil and a hot towel instead of vaseline. But if you SEE lice on your child’s head, then consult a dermatologist for medical management. Shaving your child’s head or swimming in chlorinated water will not get rid of head lice.
Lice shampoos must be used by ALL members of the family. Permethrin containing lice-shampoos work the best. If there are nits on the eyelashes, apply a generous layer of petroleum jelly to your child’s eyelashes while he/she is asleep. Wash off the next morning. Remember to clean the lice comb in hot water, vinegar or Lysol. Wash all clothes and bed linen at the end of the treatment. Skipping these simple steps is the most common reason for treatment failure.

(5) Are pinworms tormenting your child?

You might actually be able to see the tiny white thread worms around your child’s anus. You might also find them in your child’s underwear. The itching is worse at night leading to crankiness and restless sleep. In female children, it can cause vaginal itching as well. They can even irritate the urethra and cause bed-wetting episodes in children who have been potty-trained. You can gently stick a piece of cellotape to your child’s anus and get rid of the worms and their eggs. You can also apply menthol or camphor based cream on your child’s bottom, to suffocate the worms. This is only a temporary measure so your child can have a peaceful night till you can get them to the doctor’s office the next day.
Encourage hand hygiene to avoid infection in the future.

(6) How can I avoid catching a skin infection from my pet?

– Check your pet regularly for fleas, sores or patchy hair loss. If you see a rash, non-healing wound or areas of bald skin on your pet’s fur, take him to a vet without delay.
– If you or your pet suffer from an open wound, keep the wound covered. MRSA, a particularly virulent and antibiotic-resistant strain of the bacteria Staph Aureus, can be spread from animals to human. Do not let your pet lick your wounds.
– Scabies and fungal skin infections can be passed on from animals to humans. If you are adopting a stray, make sure to take your new pet to a vet for a thorough examination, followed by prompt treatment if found necessary.
– If you have suffered a bite or a puncture wound from an animal or pet, consult your physician at the earliest, even if the injury was accidental. The risks are higher if the animal was a stray, if the wound was deep enough to draw blood, and if the bite is closer to the head or neck.
– Wash your hands before and after handling pets.

(7) What should I do if I’m stung by an insect?

If you were stung by a snake or a scorpion, do whatever you can to find yourself in a hospital at the earliest. If you are stung by a bee, wasp, spider or caterpillar, here’s what you can do till you can meet your doctor.
Place an icepack on it. Keep the affected limb elevated for some time. Do not itch or shake vigorously as it encourages the spread of the venom. Apply Hydrocortisone cream every 4-6 hours. Take an antihistamine like Cetrizine or Benadryl. Take an anti-inflammatory drug like Tylenol or Ibuprofen, if you have pain and swelling. Meet your doctor if the rash/pain worsens over the next 12-24 hours.

Home remedies and old granny’s concoctions, while well-meaning, do not always work. In fact in some cases, they’re bad advice which can make matters worse. Your first aid kit at home must contain the following basic OTC medications – Betadine (preferable to Dettol or Savlon), Hydrocortisone 1% cream, Aloe Vera, Calamine lotion, Tablet Benadryl, Tab Paracetamol, Tablet Ibuprofen and Mupirocin ointment. These medications can provide relief till you can get an appointment with your doctor. In some cases, they can even relieve your symptoms completely and save you a trip to the hospital. Be Aware, Be Smart!