Yes, summer is upon us, as is the annual fight to fit back into last year's outfits and to look as perfect as possible before summer and beach season arrive. That's why we're offering you a head-to-toe look at products, services, and exercises that can help make you irresistible.
Approximately 25 million Americans have unsightly, bluish varicose veins in the leg. Varicose veins occur when the walls of the veins or the valves are weak. Blood is supposed to flow through the veins and to the heart, but when a valve in a vein becomes damaged, blood pools, flows backward, and puts pressure on vein walls -- causing bulging, painful varicose veins.
The good news is that now there are more options than ever to remove them, including a new procedure called radio frequency closure that treats varicose veins by heating them, causing the tissue to shrink and the vein to close. Unlike vein stripping, it is minimally invasive -- you can go out in shorts the same day, rather than needing a two-week recovery.
To perform this procedure, the doctor first maps the vein and numbs the area with a local anesthestic. The doctor then nicks the skin behind the knee and threads into the vein a small tube called a catheter that delivers radio-frequency energy to the vein wall, causing the vein to contract and seal shut. Once this happens, nearby healthy veins take over.
Another option for varicose vein removal is called sclerotherapy, or injection therapy. During this procedure, a special solution is injected into the vein to force it to close. Some doctors are also using lasers to get rid of varicose veins.
Sclerotherapy is most commonly used to treat larger spider veins, with lasers used to treat finer veins, says Bruce Katz, MD, director of the JUVA Skin and Laser Center and associate clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, both in New York.
"There is no scarring from any of these procedures," he says. "We do this literally every day, and veins are gone for good. Women with road maps on legs, who never wore a bathing suit or shorts, now go to the beach regularly. It's a really common problem, and now we can get rid of them, which is great."
In the latest addition to varicose vein treatments, researchers are testing a new laser procedure. The procedure is performed with the help of ultrasound imaging. During the treatment, the large leg vein -- called the saphenous vein -- is closed with the help of the laser. That causes the smaller veins to shrink and improve in appearance. Other healthy veins take over to carry blood from the leg, re-establishing normal blood flow.
By comparison, other varicose vein procedures -- like vein stripping -- fail more often than this laser technique, according to researchers that presented their findings at the annual scientific meeting of the Society of Interventional Radiology in Salt Lake City, Utah, in April 2003. Those procedures also require general anesthesia, and up to two weeks recovery -- and pain, bruising, and scarring are common. In addition, researchers say that even when you remove the vein with surgery, there is a 10% to 25% chance of recurrence as opposed to a 7% chance of recurrence with the new, less invasive laser procedure.
Wrinkles and Stretch Marks
"It's very cutting edge," Katz says. "It's not a one-shot deal, but there is no downtime. Women can come in on their lunch break, and after a few sessions, they'll look a lot better."
The N-lite stimulates cells beneath the surface to produce more collagen, which restores the support structure of the skin and enhances the contours of the upper layer of skin. Collagen smoothes out wrinkles and stretch marks.
Studies have shown that our skin's natural production of collagen decreases at a rate of 1% per year after the age of 40, but within three to four months, N-Lite treatment increases collagen by as much as 50%. The per-treatment costs usually fall between $1,200-$2,000, and the effect lasts for about a year.
If you are prone to acne on your face, back, or anywhere else, choose oil-free, noncomedogenic sunscreens because they won't block or clog your pores, causing blackheads, says Katz.
"Wear 100% cotton if you break out because it will absorb the perspiration that is known to make acne worse," he says. Also, he says, change clothes frequently so sweat doesn't irritate skin.
"No question about it," Katz says, "laser is the answer."
With laser hair removal, you don't get these pesky, painful ingrown hairs that come with waxing and shaving, especially in the bikini area, he says. "Shaving or waxing takes the hairs off the surface, making it more likely that they will grow beneath the surface, but laser zaps the hair at its root -- stopping it from growing inside and out," he says.
Here's how: For a bicep curl, bend your elbows to lift the weight to shoulder height. Then lower to starting position with extended, but not locked, elbows. For tricep curls, start sitting with your elbows pointing to the sky, and the weights behind your head, then slowly lift them until your arms are straight, then lower them.
Don't fall for fad diets and all their promises, says Christopher Still, DO, director for the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management for the Geisinger Health System in Danville, Penn. Even if they do work, the quick results are not sustainable, he tells WebMD.
Instead, avoid drinking any unnecessary calories from fruit juices and sugary sodas.
"Choose noncaloric beverages and increase physical activity by five minutes a day," he says. "These two quick things can cut hundreds of calories per day while upping the amount of calories we burn," he says. The result? A thinner, leaner you.
More Natural Self-Tanners
Today's self-tanners give more natural-looking results, Katz says. Newer products deliver even, natural color in just 30 minutes compared with older self-tanners. Since the color develops so quickly, missed spots and streaking can be quickly corrected.
Choosing the Right Sunscreen
A burn can ruin anyone's holiday weekend -- and increase their risk of skin cancer. When choosing a sunscreen, make sure it blocks both UVA and UVB waves and has a sun protection factor of 15 or higher, Katz says. Active ingredients to look for on the bottle include avobenzone (Parsol), micronized zinc oxide, or micronized titanium dioxide.
"Apply it every couple of hours or more if you perspire or swim," Katz says. Also, wash your clothing with Rit Sun Guard, a laundry treatment/additive that makes clothing more sunproof.
"I definitely recommend using Rit Sun Guard for light-colored bathing suits, blouses, and T-shirts," Katz says. It's available wherever laundry detergents are sold. And don't forget to wear a hat to protect your head and eyes.
Toes and Feet
New York podiatrist Suzanne Levine, DPM, author of My Feet Are Killing Me! Dr. Levine's Complete Foot Care Program, says to start with a proper pedicure. Make sure nails are cut straight and across, she says. Push your cuticles back, but don't cut them.
"Soak your feet, use pumice on the heel, and then apply a lanolin cream," she says.
If you want to wear nail polish, use base coat and a bleaching agent. "Take breaks to give your nails time to aerate, so if you go to the beach on the weekend, keep your polish off for at least two days per week," she says.
Do yourself a favor and bring your own sterilized equipment when you go for a pedicure. And before you dip your feet in a prepedicure footbath, drop in a capful of betadine solution or household bleach to the footbath to kill the fungi that can cause infection, Levine says.
Look for fungus or thickened nails. She recommends topical antifungals containing tea tree oil, an herbal antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral agent that thins out the nail. There are also oral antifungal drugs available with a prescription, including Sporonox and Lamisil.
But now there's a first-ever topical prescription treatment to fight nail fungus -- Penlac Nail Lacquer. Applied to the nails once daily at bedtime, Penlac blocks the growth of fungi. Studies conducted by researchers at Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Center and the University of Toronto have shown that the lacquer eradicates toenail fungus in as much as 70% of users. For fingernails, the cure rate is around 85%. Be forewarned, though: It can take up to 48 weeks for your new, fungus-free nails to grow out, so you might want to go ahead and get started now for next spring.
What About Calluses?
"These are hard yellow, discolored skin around heels, and there's a new, exciting treatment for them that can make the foot look far better and feel better," Levine says. It involves using ultrasound along with a copper cream that smoothes out heel fissures or cracks. "We apply the cream in the office and ultrasound provides deep penetration in the form of deep heat," she says.
The cream is applied at home after the initial appointment, she says. This can be used in tandem with a new noninvasive laser called Cool Touch that promotes collagen growth and clears up cracks, she says. This way your heels can look great in sandals you throw on for a springtime get-together.
Levine also suggests natural herbal salts with tea tree and mineral oil to rid heels of calluses. "We also do microdermabrasion on the foot for calluses and to soften skin on foot and heel," she says. Microdermabrasion involves "sanding" the skin with small microscopic crystals made of aluminum oxide. A special high-powered instrument passes the crystals over the surface of the skin and then removes them quickly to "buff" superficial skin irregularities.
Levine also suggests a bronzer for the lower leg and foot. "It makes legs look thinner and [covers up] unsightly veins in this area," she says.
Women interested in increasing their breast size by a cup or so without surgery may want to try the BRAVA Breast Enhancement and Shaping System, an external vacuum bra that may help breasts increase in size when worn 16 hours a day for 10 weeks.
The bra pulls the breast tissue, almost like a vacuum. Talk to your doctor if you are interested to make sure that it is right for you. The cost for the program is about $2,500.
"The newest lasers are permanent in terms of hair reduction," Katz says. "And we can now treat darker skin, whereas before the best candidate was someone with fairer skin."
Here's how they work: Lasers create heat to eliminate unwanted hair. When the light from the laser comes into contact with the hair, the hair's pigment absorbs the light and turns it into heat. That heat destroys the surrounding hair follicle.
Since the laser only removes hair in its growth phase, it generally takes several treatments to get rid of all the unwanted hair. Areas he routinely treats with a laser include the bikini region for women, legs, underarms, breasts, stomach, arm, and face, including the upper lip, cheeks, and around the neck.
It takes anywhere from three to five treatments, and prices range from about $100 for the upper lip and $1,000 for legs and abdomen, per treatment. Depending on the area, it usually takes three to five sessions.
Not bad, considering that other hair-removal methods, including waxing and electrolysis, need to be continued indefinitely. "Laser is less time-consuming," Katz says.