Dawn Harper on problem skin

The lovely co-presenter of Embarrassing Bodies, Dr Dawn Harper, takes a break from the road show to answer some of your most frequently asked questions about skin. From cellulite myths to age spots, find out more about what you can do to keep your skin looking healthy.

Embarrassing Bodies

What are the causes of itchy/dry skin and what’s the best way to go about treating it?

Probably the most common cause of dry or itchy skin is some form of dermatitis or eczema. So the most important thing now is to rehydrate the skin.

Avoid soaps or perfumed products as these tend to dry out the skin even more and talk to your pharmacist about emollients to rehydrate the skin. They may not lather but they are excellent when used as a soap substitute too. I am always delighted when patients ask for repeat prescriptions of emollients early because this means they are being used liberally - you can't over use this stuff!

What’s the best way to prevent or reduce the appearance of age spots?

Undoubtedly, prevention is better than cure here and using a good sunscreen to prevent damage is vital in protecting your skin. Look for one with a high SPF - at least factor 30 - and with a 4* rating. This star rating indicates the amount of protection from the longer ultraviolet rays that cause a lot of the chronic sun damage

Do any high-street products really work at improving the appearance of stretch marks? Can they be prevented in the first place?

I have never seen any convincing evidence that any creams cure stretch marks. There are some excellent camouflage make ups that cover up the appearance but a stretch mark is like a ladder in a stocking – once formed the damage has been done.

Laser will take some of the red pigment out of new stretch marks but this only really speeds up what nature would do more cheaply over a longer time – all stretch marks fade over time. Stretch marks are most common in people who experience rapid changes in weight and on pregnant women due to the hormonal changes. Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and eating a well-balanced diet will help promote healthy skin and minimise the risk of stretch marks developing

Varicose veins – again, can these be prevented and if not, what’s the best way to improve the appearance of them?

A bit like stretch marks – once formed varicose veins won't heal on their own. The appearance of the varicosities is because valves in the vein have broken down as a result of back pressure. They are also most common in people who are overweight and following pregnancy. You can prevent them getting any worse by maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding standing still or sitting with legs crossed for long periods and exercising regularly. Support tights may also help. Constipation causing straining or a chronic cough will also predispose to varicose veins so managing these symptoms will also help.

What is rosacea and why does it affect some people more than others? How can this be treated to improve redness?

Rosacea is a skin condition causing facial flushing, redness and spots. It affects about one in ten people and is most common in our 30s-50s, affecting women more commonly than men.

Sometimes it’s genetic, but can also be made worse by sun exposure. Using a sunblock is helpful and avoiding any abrasive alcohol based skin lotions or exfolients which can irritate the skin further. Camouflage make ups make a big difference to the appearance of the redness but probably the best way to deal with this more permanently is with laser. Your GP can prescribe antibiotic gels or tablets for any spots

Any tips on blackhead removal?

There seems to be a lack of knowledge around what causes this skin issue and the best way of treating it. Essentially, they are large pores, also known as comedones, with a blocked opening which have a black discolouration due to the skin’s pigment melanin. Sometimes a simple cleanser isn’t enough to eradicate them, so talk to your pharmacist about the products available.

Dr Dawn Harper is working with Neutrogena to promote healthy skin. You can buy their Visibly Clear Blackhead Scrub (£4.69) from Boots.