Fear not: If you've got an ingrown hair or other embarrassing skin problem, you don't have to resign yourself to living with it. "Women no longer have to accept less-than-perfect skin," explains Birgit Toome, M.D., medical director of the Appearance Dermatology Centers in Austin, Texas; Philadelphia; and Vineland and Voorhees, N.J. She credits recent advances in laser surgery, skin care and prescription medicine for clearing up awkward skin conditions. So now, problems that once seemed like mountains can be smoother than a molehill or gotten rid of altogether.
What they are "Milia look like whiteheads, but they're really superficial cysts under the skin," explains Patricia Wexler, M.D., a Manhattan dermatologist. They usually occur when oil and skin cells, normally sloughed off, get trapped under the surface of the skin. And they're typically found on the face, chest or other areas where there are numerous sebaceous (oil) glands.
Over-the-counter remedy While the only cure is to have them professionally removed, using lightweight gel or lotion moisturizers instead of thick creams can help prevent recurrence. Exfoliating regularly also helps slough off potential milia-causing dead skin cells. Try Olay Age Defying Series Revitalizing Eye Gel ($10; at drugstores), Lancome Impactive Multi-Performance Silkening Moisturizer Lotion ($38; lancome.com) or BlissLabs Quiet Type Exfoliator for sensitive skin ($29; blissworld.com).
Doctor's Rx Your dermatologist will cut a tiny opening in the skin to remove the cyst. A small scab will result. "Don't squeeze it out on your own," Wexler warns. "You'll be left with the milia and a bruise."
What they are Skin tags are small projections of skin that usually appear on the chest, neck, back or under the arms. They can be genetic but tend to show up more frequently on people who are overweight, over 40 years old or pregnant (moles, skin tags and even body hair often grow more during pregnancy). Their appearance may also signal benign intestinal polyps.
Over-the-counter remedy Although there's no home remedy or proven method of prevention, cover the skin tag with a small bandage until you make it to the doctor's office. This prevents clothing from rubbing against it, causing irritation.
Doctor's Rx Skin tags are one of the easiest skin problems to deal with, Wexler says. "They can just be snipped off at your dermatologist's office with curved scissors," she says. "There may be a scab, but it only lasts a few days." Larger skin tags, which are less common, may have to be burned off.
What they are Up to 40 percent of adults suffer from keratosis pilaris, tiny bumps on the upper outer arms and thighs. The condition is genetically inherited and caused when the skin's top layers don't slough off normally. The hair follicles are elevated above the surrounding skin, resulting in a dead-skin-cell backlog.
Over-the-counter remedy Dermatologist Bruce Katz, M.D., director of the JUVA Skin & Laser Center in New York City, recommends using moisturizers with skin-exfoliating AHAs (try BeneFit Wonderbod, $24; 800-781-2336). "It will help make the surface less rough."
Doctor's Rx Some dermatologists prescribe Lachydrin, a 12-percent lactic acid (an AHA) that can be combined with a daily moisturizer. "Microdermabrasion [sloughing skin with tiny sand or aluminum particles] can also help," Toome explains.