Skin and Hair

How can varicose veins symptoms be treated?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have varicose veins. For a while, they were just unsightly. But recently, my leg has started to ache. What does treatment involve?

DEAR READER: Varicose veins occur when veins that lie just below the skin's surface become swollen with too much blood. They usually form in the legs and appear blue, swollen, kinked or twisted. Veins return blood back to the heart. When you use the leg muscles to walk or run, they also help pump blood up toward your heart. When blood moves upward toward the heart, gravity is pulling the blood downward away from your heart. (That's not true, of course, if you're lying flat, or standing on your head.) To offset the pull of gravity, our veins have multiple little valves inside of them. These valves open when blood is pushed up toward the heart. But they close when blood is pulled downward by gravity, stopping the downward flow.

What should I look for when I examine my skin for melanoma?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My aunt developed the skin cancer called melanoma, and I hear that this cancer can run in families. What should I look for when I examine my skin for melanoma?

DEAR READER: Skin cancers are the most common cancers in the United States, and skin checks are an important way to identify them. You asked about the deadliest type of skin cancer, melanoma. My Harvard Medical School colleague, dermatologist Dr. Kenneth Arndt, says that more than half of melanomas are identified by patients, either alone or with the help of a partner. That's important because more than 90 percent of cases can be cured with early detection and treatment. Skin carries out many functions that help maintain health. It forms a defensive barrier, protecting inner organs from foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses.

I have basal cell skin cancer, what will happen during Mohs surgery?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have basal cell skin cancer on my face and am scheduled to have Mohs surgery. Can you describe what will happen during the procedure?

DEAR READER: Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Basal cell cancer is a very slow-growing type of skin cancer. It is unlikely to spread to other parts of the body, and therefore is rarely life-threatening. The most common cause of basal cell cancer is damage from sun exposure. Basal cell carcinoma begins in basal cells, which are located deep in the skin. When these basal cells turn cancerous, they invade surrounding tissues, spreading downward and outward below the skin's surface.

I have basal cell skin cancer, what will happen during Mohs surgery?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have basal cell skin cancer on my face and am scheduled to have Mohs surgery. Can you describe what will happen during the procedure?

DEAR READER: Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Basal cell cancer is a very slow-growing type of skin cancer. It is unlikely to spread to other parts of the body, and therefore is rarely life-threatening. The most common cause of basal cell cancer is damage from sun exposure. Basal cell carcinoma begins in basal cells, which are located deep in the skin. When these basal cells turn cancerous, they invade surrounding tissues, spreading downward and outward below the skin's surface.

What can I do to make rosacea less noticeable?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have rosacea, and it makes me very self-conscious. What can I do to make it less noticeable?

DEAR READER: Rosacea is a common, long-lasting skin condition that causes inflammation and redness of the face. As with many diseases, we don't know what causes rosacea. People with the condition are more likely to have high levels of certain natural inflammatory chemicals in their skin. There also is evidence that tiny little insects (dust mites) and a particular type of bacteria living on the skin can trigger rosacea. Rosacea usually progresses through four stages. In the first stage, a person has flushing and occasional facial redness.

Is eczema just dry skin?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I took my son to the doctor because he was constantly scratching his legs. The doctor says it's eczema. Is that just a fancy word for dry skin?

DEAR READER: Eczema (also called atopic dermatitis) is more than dry skin. It is an allergic skin condition that can make a child miserable. Treatment can usually help control the condition and ease its symptoms. Eczema can look different in different children. It can be bumpy or scaly, with small or big patches. The amount of redness also varies. Dry, scaling skin usually occurs along with it.

What can I do to clear up adult acne?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I am in my 40s, but my face resembles a teenager's -- and not in a good way. What can I do to clear up my adult acne?

DEAR READER: Acne is most common during the teenage years. But it may appear for the first time, or worsen, at the start of menopause. Acne begins in hair follicles -- little pits in the skin, each containing a hair. Glands at the bottom of the follicle make an oily substance called sebum. The sebum normally oozes up to the top of the follicle and onto the skin.

What is cellulitis and how can you prevent it?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My son developed a large, red, swollen area on his arm. The doctor called it cellulitis. My son is better now, but I'd like to learn more about cellulitis and what can be done to prevent it.

DEAR READER: Cellulitis is a serious bacterial infection of the skin. Bacteria live on the surface of our skin, but the skin is built to keep the bacteria from getting inside us. If they get beneath the surface of the skin, and then into the tissues below the skin, they can make trouble. When our skin gets injured, bacteria can break through the skin's protective outer layer.

What is MRSA and why is it so dangerous?

DEAR DOCTOR K: What is MRSA? What makes it so dangerous?

DEAR READER: We have a brain, and bacteria don't. So you'd think bacteria wouldn't be able to outsmart us. But they sure can figure out ways to become resistant to the antibiotics we use to kill them. In the early days of antibiotics, 70 years ago, one of the most common and dangerous types of bacteria -- Staphylococcus aureus -- could be killed by penicillin.

How does Botox reduces lines and wrinkles?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Can you explain how Botox reduces lines and wrinkles?

DEAR READER: "Botox" is short for "botulinum toxin." Botulinum toxin injections were first used for cosmetic purposes in the late 1980s. Since then, this therapy has gained quite a following. In 2012, these injections were the leading nonsurgical cosmetic procedure in the United States among men and women in nearly all age groups.