Skincare saviours for those body parts you tend to ignore until they're begging for help
Ignorance is bliss, until backne kicks in
We often think of skincare just for our faces. All the acne treatments, anti-ageing serums and sunscreens we splurge on leave the rest of our body crying for even a stray drop of lotion here and there for some moisturising. And by ‘we’, I mean me. Over time, the lack of body care has left me resembling a patchwork quilt — some parts are ashy dry, others bumpy and red, and I have perpetual tan lines accessorising my ankles.
They say you can tell someone’s age by looking at the skin on their hands. Mine would be a prime candidate for carbon dating, thanks to a) general neglect and b) washing my hands 20 times a day from Covid-19 paranoia.
Indian skin is delightfully resilient, but when we take our genes for granted like I do, we could run afoul of hyperpigmentation, dry patches and sun damage, especially around the knees, elbows and underarms. While rarely harmful, they do tend to be an aesthetic concern for some people.
Our ever-helpful team of experts offer their recommendations on how to overcome common skin ailments our bodies deal with.
Body care 101
Beating ‘chicken skin’ for the win
These little bumps usually appear on your upper arms, bum and legs. Some have a reddish tint, others are dry and rough. While harmless, they can make someone pretty self-conscious.
“Keratosis pilaris (KP) is a genetic condition in which there is a defect in keratinization (formation of the top layer of skin). It appears as red spiky spots on the outer aspect of arms and thighs,” says dermatologist Dr Aanchal Panth.
She adds that it’s a tough condition to fully treat, but you can try in-clinic laser hair reduction to reduce the roughness of your skin. “The spikiness will reduce but the red dots will not.”
She also recommends that we add products containing salicylic acid or a sulphur-based lotion to our night-time routines and apply it to the affected areas. “This will help in shedding overlying dead skin, making it smoother.”
Do you have a chemical exfoliator toner or serum that just isn’t suiting your face? Instead of junking these products, try using them on your body instead.
“Our body needs exfoliation too. The skin on your body is thicker than your face, making it less prone to negative reactions. Exfoliation can help remove the dead cells, clear your pores and minimise the appearance of KP. Still, be careful with how you use it and always moisturise and use sun protection afterwards,” adds dermatologist Dr Medha Gatkare.
Clearing up pigmentation on elbows, knees and armpits
There’s a high likelihood for Indians to have knees, elbows and underarm areas that are a different colour from the rest of our bodies.
While this is considered perfectly normal, constant sun exposure, lack of moisture and friction can make these areas appear discoloured, scaly and ashy.
These areas have more folds in the skin, which translates to more melanin, giving it a browner appearance than the surrounding area.
Some light exfoliation, hydration and moisture can help resurface your skin to get rid of any roughness and sun-damaged hyperpigmentation.
Panth adds, “Avoid friction in these areas. Wearing tight, very fitted clothing can also rub against these points and cause thickening and pigmentation. Conditions such as eczema and psoriasis can lead to scaling in this area, along with darkening.”
The instinct may be to try and scrub away the top layers of our skin to unveil baby smoothness underneath. Panth says that could actually make matters worse. Harsh scrubbing and loofahs in these areas are not a good idea. “The darkness is not due to dirt but due to thickening of the skin.”
Her advice is to incorporate a moisturiser into your daily routine that contains urea and lactic acid. “You can also exfoliate with a glycolic acid 12 % cream once or twice a week.”
Body care for ingrown hair
In most cases, ingrowns are caused by aggressive or improper hair removal techniques, especially shaving. “When the hair is cut off or broken at an odd angle, then a sharp tip near the follicle can cause ingrown hair,” says Gatkare.
You’re most likely to get these in areas that you’re removing facial or body hair. In some cases, it can also happen because of improper cleansing and a lack of skin exfoliation. “A build-up of dirt and debris will block the opening of the hair follicle. This can force the hair to start growing sideways instead, under the skin.”
The most important thing according to her is to employ good shaving practices. Use shaving cream and invest in good razor blades if it’s something you do often. Switch them out and keep the blades clean to avoid any kind of infections and transfer of bacteria to your skin.
You can try a gentle physical exfoliator or body scrub before you shave or dry brushing for gentle exfoliation before you bathe. There are now more body care products on the market than ever, so find lotions featuring gentle acids and urea that can help moisturise your skin while gently sloughing away dead skin cells.
Say bye-bye to backne
There’s something especially disconcerting about waking up with a pimple on your shoulder. You’re left wondering what sin from your past life you’re making up for now. Sadly for us, acne isn’t limited to our face, and body acne shouldn’t be ignored, usually making their appearance on our back, upper arms and shoulders, chest and sometimes your groin area. Basically, any part with little ventilation where oils and dirt could get easily trapped.
“Different factors can contribute to acne on the body,” says Gatkare. The usual suspects are an increase in sebum production, bacteria and improper cleansing, sweat, stress, genetics and even your hormones.
Some may be difficult to control while other factors you can challenge with a proper body care routine.
“Track which part of your body these are appearing on to better understand the cause. Tight-fitting clothes made of unbreathable fabrics could be leading to sweat and bacteria being trapped in the pores. Increased friction, dietary habits and your hormones can also have an impact on the appearance of acne on the body,” says Gatkare.
It could also be a fungal infection that appears in the form of breakouts, she adds. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and happens to more people than you think. It’s one of the most common skin ailments she comes across in her practice for people living in hot and humid climates.
Up your body care game with products that target acne like you would add treatments for your face. A benzoyl peroxide wash few times a week can rein in body acne, but it can be quite drying too. Fungal breakouts require special ingredients including ketoconazole, zinc pyrithione and clotrimazole, among others. In severe cases, it’s best to consult your doctor.
The best de-tanning cream on the market
Sunscreen, insists Panth, a woman after my own heart. “No cream will work if you continue sun exposure after application of the cream.” De-tanning scrubs, packs, lotions and ‘after-sun’ gels – the products in the market are endless. Each touting their own benefits and abilities.
It won’t matter how many thousands you drop on a product if you’re not protecting your skin from free radicals and sun damage that will counter any progress you may have made with these skin elixirs.
Your tan is going to naturally fade in time, give it a few weeks. Till then you can protect your skin to help it recuperate. “Wearing full-sleeved clothing, carrying an umbrella and covering the area is the best way to get rid of a tan.”
“You can use creams containing kojic acid, glycolic acid 6%, arbutin, liquorice extract or vitamin C to hasten the process of de-tanning. These creams will have to be applied twice a day for two-three weeks. Follow it up with a sunscreen with SPF 30. But you must stay away from the sun while using these products, otherwise, they do not work,” says Panth.
Leave the scrubbing for your bathroom floors and allow your skin to heal as God herself blessed it to do.
Regarding face masks, our favourite new accessory, don’t worry about any awkward tan lines on your face. Panth says that they’re in contact with your skin for too short a period to have any effect on tanning. So, be on the right side of history, protect yourself and others by keeping those face masks on when you’re out of the house.