The 10 Most Embarrassing Health Questions: Part 1
Q: I recently noticed these large, irregular patches of white on my back—it almost looks like my skin has lost pigment in that area. What's going on?
A: "This sounds like tinea versicolor, which is actually a fungus," says Isaac M. Neuhaus, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of California in San Francisco. The white color makes this more noticeable on darker skin. Neuhaus says that this fungus is unrelated to hygiene or cleanliness—you didn't do anything wrong to make it happen. "These organisms live everywhere, and they just happened to show up on your back," says Neuhaus. You can treat this condition with an inexpensive drugstore product: dandruff shampoo. "The selenium sulfide in the shampoo that helps with an itchy, flaky scalp can also clear up this skin condition," says Neuhaus. Lather up the affected area, let it sit for about 10 minutes and then rinse. You should see results in about a week. For very large patches, you may need to talk to your doctor about prescription cream or pills.
Q: I found one tiny, flesh-colored bump on my chin, and then I found another, and another...how can I make them go away?
A: You've got flat warts, Neuhaus says, and you're not alone. He's used to women coming into his office frantic after noticing warts on their face, hands, legs or feet. The viruses that cause warts are extremely easy to pick up. Once you have them, they tend to spread, so don't pick or scratch the bumps on your face, and avoid shaving over the ones on your legs. Stubborn warts resist hand washing and antibacterial gel as well as many medical treatments. "For whatever reason, the body doesn't recognize that they're a problem," says Neuhaus. "The treatments we use are our attempts to trigger the body's immune system to recognize the warts are there." Your dermatologist may prescribe cream medication, cryotherapy (freezing with liquid nitrogen) or lasers. There's no one cure that works for everyone, but when something finally gets rid of one wart, the rest frequently disappear.
Q: What's the deal with the acne on my bottom?
A: These small, white-headed pimples are symptoms of folliculitis. Unlike acne on the face, which is often attributed to blocked pores, bacteria or hormones, Neuhaus says that the bumps on your other cheeks are caused by friction. Wearing nylon stockings, nubby workout pants or tight jeans (especially without underwear) makes them worse. To clear up the skin, he advises his patients to try a roll-on antiperspirant. "The alcohol can dry out the area and help get rid of the bumps."
Next: Are large or lopsided labia more prone to bacterial infections?