We often don't think further than our face when it comes to healthy skin, but the rest of the body may need some TLC, too. And if you want your arms, back, tummy, and legs to be ready to bare all when the weather gets warmer, now’s the time to take action. “It can take several weeks to several months to see benefits in skin health, so the sooner you start, the better,” says David Bank, M.D., a cosmetic dermatologist in Mount Kisco, NY. Here’s how to tackle some of the more common body beauty concerns.
The problem: Chicken skin (rough or bumpy patches)
If you’ve got patches of bumps with a graterlike texture on your upper arms, thighs, or butt, chances are it’s keratosis pilaris, a common (and completely harmless) condition. KP is genetic, and is caused by a buildup of cells that form a scaly plug, which blocks individual hair follicles, explains Audrey Kunin, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Kansas City, KS, and founder and CEO of DermaDoctor. Depending on the severity, KP can range from barely noticeable to can’t-miss-it obvious. The latter is more likely if the follicles become inflamed and take on a red or brown polka-dotted effect, triggered by the body’s immune response.
Healthy skin solution: KP isn’t completely curable. But regular use of a body scrub—to slough dead cells from the skin’s surface—can help rub out the problem. To keep follicles clear, opt for a lotion with an exfoliating ingredient like retinol, glycolic, or lactic acid. Choose a formula that also contains urea, a moisturizer that softens the crustiest of skin, such as DermaDoctor KP Duty AHA Moisturizing Therapy for Dry Skin ($38, dermadoctor.com). Once bumps start to subside, don’t slack off on the skin care—consistency is key to controlling KP.
The problem: Bacne
Lots of people can develop blemishes along the skin on their back, but exercisers are particularly prone. This area has a hefty amount of oil glands, which may be activated with increased activity. Plus, friction from clothing can force the oil—along with surface sweat and bacteria— back into the pores, causing them to become clogged and inflamed.
Healthy skin solution: When it comes to body blemishes, prevention is the best medicine, says Bank, who recommends wearing loose-fitting tops and hitting the showers ASAP after a workout. To treat existing zits, cleanse with an antibacterial soap such as Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Antibacterial Bar ($6, cetaphil.com), or a body wash that contains benzoyl peroxide. “Keep it on your skin a few minutes so it can really sink into pores,” advises Nazanin Saedi, M.D., a dermatologist based in Philadelphia. Topical preparations with ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid can also help unclog pores and control bacteria. For extra exfoliation, Saedi recommends a weekly peel like the glycolic acid-based DCL G10 Radiance Peel ($54, dclskincare.com). Finally, since another pathway to bacne is via your scalp—the oil glands there can be feeding sources for yeast and bacteria that then travel down your neck and onto your back when you’re sweating—Bank suggests using an anti-dandruff shampoo a few times a week to keep your scalp clean.
The problem: Stretch marks
Newer stretch marks (the red kind) are easiest to treat, so the faster you can manage them, the better. Just keep in mind they aren’t too easy to erase. Stretch marks are essentially scars that have formed from the inside out, often due to rapid skin growth (which is why they’re so common with pregnancy and dramatic weight gains).
Healthy skin solution: The cheapest option for reducing stretch marks is a retinoid, a form of vitamin A that’s often used to boost collagen production and smooth lines and wrinkles, and which works the same way on stretch marks. In one study, patients with marks less than six months old who applied tretinoin (a prescription version) daily for six months saw the length of stretch marks decrease by an average of 14% and their width by 8%. A more expensive alternative is to use a medical laser, which can help remove the red pigment and improve textural changes of both new and old (white) marks. Research has shown a fractionated laser is an effective way to treat stretch marks. It works by creating tiny zones of injury that trigger new collagen and allow for fast healing. But beware the high price tag—around $1,000 per treatment, with several sessions necessary for optimal results.
The problem: Spider veins
These clusters of red, blue, and purple squiggles are dilated capillaries that become visible because they’re situated so close to the skin’s surface. The exact cause isn’t known, but genetics play a big role. Other risk factors include hormonal changes, obesity, and trauma, such as a bruise.
Healthy skin solution: If you want your spiders exterminated, ask your doctor about sclerotherapy, an outpatient procedure that’s considered the “gold standard” for treating spider veins, says Bank. A solution is injected via a very fine needle that causes the unsightly vessels to dissolve over time. Most people need three or four treatments, ideally one month apart, to clear around 80% of spider veins. Although the procedure can be uncomfortable, including some stinging at the injection site and possible muscle cramping, symptoms typically subside after about 15 minutes, adds Bank. It’s crucial to wear compression stockings after the procedure for about 72 hours in order to keep the walls of the treated veins in close contact, so the body can break them down more easily. Cost of the procedure averages around $350 per session.