Seven skin health myths many patients believe

The ease of searching the internet and patient curiosity about their own skin conditions often leads to patients presenting their physicians with questionable self-diagnoses and medical theories. In a press release on Oct. 30, 2017, dermatologists from the University of Southern California (USC) present seven common skin care myths patients believe.

1) “Cutting dairy will help my acne.”

There has not been enough research done on nutrition and skin to say definitively one way or the other, said Dr. David Peng, chair of dermatology at Keck Medicine, USC. After all, he says, “who would fund it?” Most dermatologists don’t believe food can affect conditions like acne or eczema, he added, “but if the patient swears it, then we always say if you believe that, then just avoid it.”

2) “It must be good for me—it’s organic.”

Ingredients grown organically may be free of certain synthetic additives, such as specific pesticides, chemical fertilizers and dyes. However, being identified as organic does not necessarily mean a face cream, eyeliner, or a skin care product is healthier or that the user will not have an allergic reaction to it. Dr. Ashley Crew, assistant professor of clinical dermatology at USC, said: “A lot of plant-based products are common culprits for causing skin rashes.”

3) “I’m not at risk for melanoma because I only went to a tanning booth once.”

Patients’ attempts to give themselves a ‘healthy glow’ using ultraviolet light lamps might have the opposite effect, with even one visit seriously increasing the risk of developing melanoma, said Dr. Binh Ngo, assistant professor of clinical dermatology at USC. “The majority of my melanoma patients in their 20s and 30s got it from tanning beds.”

4) “I have a lot of moles so it’s no big deal if one or two changed a little.”

Any changing mole deserves attention, no matter its location or how many other moles the individual might have. If not caught early, melanoma is likely to spread to other parts of the body.

5) “I don’t use sunscreen because I’m afraid it will give me cancer.”

“Sunscreen is one of the most important tools in preventing skin cancer,” said Dr. Crew. However, it is not sufficient on its own. Sunscreens need to be reapplied every few hours, particularly after going into the water or after sweating. Broad-spectrum sunscreens of SPF 30 or higher are recommended, and patients should be advised to wear a hat and protective clothing to cover their skin, as well as to use shade where available.

6) “A few blotchy patches on my skin is just a reaction to my lotion.”

Blotchy marks may be a sign of something more serious. Brown, thickened, velvety acanthosis nigricans patches appearing on the back of the neck could be a sign of diabetes, for example.

Dr. Peng said that when he notices it on a patient, “often times I can tell if someone is pre-diabetic before they even get their lab [results] back.”

If the blotchy skin is losing sensation, it could be a sign of leprosy, a condition which Dr. Maria Teresa Ochoa, associate professor of clinical dermatology at USC, said can first appear as a “small redness” before feeling is lost in the affected patch of skin.

7) “This bright rash is from too much sun.”

A butterfly-shaped rash on a patient’s face that spreads across the cheekbones and nose after sun exposure might be photodistributed erythema, a sign of lupus. “It looks like a butterfly in the middle of your face,” said Dr. Peng.

Dr. April Armstrong, associate professor of clinical dermatology at USC, said that patients need to know that blistering rashes should be brought to the attention of their doctor immediately, as they could be signs of severe drug reactions or of infections, such as herpes.

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