Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

What Are Free Radicals? April 23, 2013

I’ve written about the importance of incorporating a cream or serum with antioxidants into your daily skincare routine in this blog before (see the list below of my related posts), but when I came across the following information about free radicals I thought I should address the subject of antioxidants from a different angle.  That angle, of course, would be to address the issue of free radicals more in-depth.

In their book Physiology of the Skin Drs. Draelos and Pugliese devote an entire chapter (chapter 8) to the subject of free radicals and the skin (those words also happen to be the title of the chapter).  I want to highlight some of the more accessible parts of the chapter (page 163):

A free radical is any atom or molecule that has one or more unpaired electrons and is capable of independent existence.  Oxygen, then, is a free radical.  In fact, oxygen is a diradical, which means it has two unpaired electrons.

Here, simplified, is the secret of the free radical – one or more unpaired electrons in a molecule or atom that can exist independently, and can react actively with other nearby molecules to alter or destroy them.  An example will make this concept more graphic and easier to remember.

Water contains hydrogen and oxygen.  It is a very simple molecule, and is written in chemical notation as either H2O or HOH.  The hydrogen atoms exactly balance the electronic charges in the oxygen atom to give us one molecule of water.  If only one molecule of hydrogen would react with the oxygen molecule, a free radical would exist, the deadly hydroxyl radical ·OH.  The little dot to the left of the “OH” formula means it is a free radical.  This ·OH is called the hydroxyl radical and is a very nasty free radical because it reacts immediately with any molecule adjacent to it to alter or destroy it.  It is a blessing that oxygen does not react with hydrogen in this manner to form hydroxyl radicals because life would be impossible if it did.

The chapter goes into great detail about oxygen – its chemistry, the molecule itself, the process and repercussions of oxidation, and oxidative stress.  On page 171 there is a graph that clearly shows how free radicals affect cells by damaging DNA, nerves, and all body tissues.  According to the book “it is the oxygen that you breathe which ultimately destroys your body”.

At the end of chapter eight in their book the doctors discuss a few specific ways free radicals specifically impact the skin and how to combat these subsequent skin problems.  The skin issues discussed are: skin inflammation, photo-damaged skin (sun damage), and aging skin.  For example when it comes to skin inflammation the doctors explain (page 177):

Any inflammatory response will involve free radical formation – no ifs, ands or buts.  If you see a red area that is tender and hot, it is inflamed and seething with free radical activity.  Superoxide radical, hydrogen peroxide, and hydroxyl radical will be there.  Iron will react with the superoxide and peroxide to form hydroxyl radicals, and produce great tissue destruction.

In her book Simple Skin Beauty Dr. Ellen Marmur explains, in easier to understand terms, how the sun damages our DNA and how the sun produces free radicals (page 138 in the hardcover copy):

Free radicals may sound like some kind of rock band, but they are toxic by-products in the body.  To make a very long and complex scientific phenomenon short, this is how they are produced through UV damage to cell’s DNA.

A photon (the sun’s laser beam) zaps through the cell membrane and cytoplasm, through the nuclear membrane (the safe, womb-like center of the cell), and hits the DNA.  Imagine DNA as being like two pieces of spaghetti laid parallel, with crosshatches all the way along like a ladder, then rolled up and twisted like an intricately knotted cuff link.  When a photon burns a hole into the DNA knot, it starts to unravel and the two sides of the ladder begin opening up.  The immune system immediately sends out enzymes to fix the problem.  (Enzymes are proteins that act as workers in the body, fixing damage by causing chemical reactions.)  One enzyme comes in and gobbles up the damaged portion; then it creates a new DNA rung to fix that ladder.  Another enzyme double-checks it, another seals it together, and another wraps it up into a nice, perfect knot again.  All these chemical reactions done to reconstruct damaged DNA give off toxic oxygen by-products, or free radicals.  Oxygen can be stable, with two electrons in its orbit, or, if it has only one electron (as free radicals do), it’s on fire – trying to steal an electron from another molecule in order to become stable.  An unstable oxygen molecule races around like a toddler with a pair of scissors or a Tasmanian devil, causing destruction to anything it its path until it runs out of energy.  Antioxidants quench and destroy that toxic free radical.

Suggestions for combating these free radical induced skin problems include the use of sunscreens with antioxidants in them, taking multiple vitamins daily, using Retin-A, getting regular exercise, and avoiding stress.  Of course all those tips not only will help your skin stay healthy but your body as well.  Just keep the following in mind when it comes to skincare products, antioxidants, and combating free radical damage:

Any client with aging skin should be approached with the fact that treatment is a lifelong reality.  There are no easy fixes and no miracle products.  It takes time to age, and time to restore the skin to normal.  Good and effective anti-aging products address the free radical problem by containing antioxidants at levels that prove they work.  Do not buy a product that has not been tested for antioxidant activity.  Beware of products that have antioxidants listed at the end of the ingredients; they are low in concentration and are useless.  …

In addition, do not smoke cigarettes; they produce an alarming amount of free oxygen radicals that damage both the lungs and the skin.  Avoid sun exposure as much as is practical.  Use sunscreens that provide both UVA and UVB photoprotection whether working indoors or outdoors.  Increase dietary intake of fruits and vegetables at each meal, remembering to eat them freshly picked and raw to optimize nutritional content.  Unripened and preserved fruits and vegetables do not have the antioxidant levels found in fresh vine ripened varieties.

(Physiology of the Skin, pages 178 – 179)

My Related Posts:

I haven’t read this book yet, but it turns out that there is a whole book devoted to the subject of antioxidants and skin aptly titled Antioxidants and the Skin.

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Dry, Cracked Heels: Causes and Treatments April 17, 2013

Dry skin on the heels, even cracked skin, is a fairly common problem that can be treated at home.  Be sure to give your feet some extra TLC year round, not just in the summer when you are wearing sandals.


So just what causes dry, cracked skin on our heels and feet?  There are more than a few causes for this condition, but first let’s remember everything our feet do for us on a daily basis.  The Skin Inc. article Sole Searching by Vicki Malo gives great overview on this issue:

The amount of pressure exerted on the feet gives a good indication that the skin on the soles must be very different than on the rest of the body.

The skin of the soles

The skin of the epidermis on the soles of the feet is much thicker; up to 1.4 mm and comprised of five distinct layers. It has to be thicker to withstand the amount of stress and pressure placed on the soles with every step. There’s more: The skin on the soles of the feet has an additional layer in the epidermis, and the skin cells are packed together in a strong, congruent membrane. The skin on the bottom of the feet also has four times more sweat glands, but does not have hair or sebaceous glands. Due to these functional features of the skin on the soles of the feet, it does not respond as readily to typical skin care techniques practiced elsewhere on the body.

The outermost layer of the epidermis, known as the stratum corneum, is crucial to the skin barrier. Made up of overlapping layers of cells, the stratum corneum keeps vital nutrients in, and damaging substances and elements out. Healthy skin keeps in moisture and protects against the entry of bacteria, fungus or viruses. Unhealthy or dry skin creates a portal of entry, leaving the skin traumatized and unable to perform its job of protection.

Lifestyle and foot issues

So why do you see so many clients with dry skin on their feet? A lot of the reason has to do with lifestyle. Today’s is a fast-paced, high-stress, super-sized lifestyle. Lack of exercise, and a diet high in sugars and simple carbohydrates can lead to a breakdown in the circulation of the lower limbs and increased incidences of diabetes. Lifestyle is the greatest contributor to developing chronic venous insufficiencies (CVI). Venous insufficiencies lead to a disruption in the function of the skin, breaking it down at an intercellular level. There are no capillaries in the epidermis; however, the skin is nourished by diffusion from the capillaries in the underlying dermis. If the capillaries are compromised, proper blood supply (nourishment) cannot be provided to the epidermis of the skin. Impaired elimination of metabolic waste due to CVI impairs the sweat glands, diminishing sweat production on the bottom of the feet. The tissue disturbances further cause a breakdown of the lipids, which are responsible for holding the cells together. The breakdown of the lipids causes the hydrolipid film to break down, leading to transdermal water loss. The skin loses elasticity and has less potential for regeneration. The intercellular water loss compromises the integrity of the skin leading to micro lesions, such as dry skin. Micro lesions are a portal of entry and can cause skin issues, such as athlete’s foot.

There are many other reasons that one can suffer from dry heels and feet such as cold weather, indoor heating, improper foot care, and standing on your feet all day.  There are even specific Ayurvedia explanations for dry and cracked heels:

Painful, cracked and dry heels is a predominant cosmetic problem and has been termed as Padadari in Ayurveda and has been explained inKshudra Rogas in Sushruta Samhita. There are innumerable remedies for cracked foot in Ayurveda and let’s have a look at the promising Ayurvedic essential oils for healing heel fissures.

Causes for cracks or fissures: Human foot is the powerful part of the body helping one to withstand all severe climatic conditions and roam around, yet it is this part of the body that is often neglected. Cracks on foot have no age limit and it can affect anyone for that matter irrelevant of the sex, color and origin. The major causes for cracks or heel fissures are:

  • Cracks are occupational especially for farmers and other people who are involved in laborious tasks that demand standing always, which lead to huge pressure on the foot forcing it to develop cracks.
  • Prolonged standing on hard floor and this is the reason why most of the homemakers develop cracks.
  • Dry, dull and lifeless skin that lacks moisture, especially during winter has the tendency to develop cracks.
  • Uncomfortable, not so fitting or open back footwear compels pressure on the foot, while widening and deepening the cracks.
  • Obesity or excess accumulation of fat and deficiency of essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals.
  • Dry, hot, humid and tropical climatic conditions make your feet dull, dry and hard paving way to develop cracks.
  • Aging and skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, athlete’s foot etc.
  • High exposure of feet to dust, dirt, germs and other harmful organisms leading to infection in the foot.
  • Excess sweating of feet or other causal illnesses like thyroid and diabetes can also cause cracks on the foot.

Symptoms: Cracks generally appear on the external or outer walls of the heels, when it is thick and dry. The symptoms of cracked foot are dry, itchy and painful heels with flaky and red patches and partition of skin looking like root hairs. When left unnoticed, fissures may start bleeding with excruciating pain and might even lead to developing Calluses, Cellulites, and Lymphangitis etc. Anyone with cracked feet will have greater discomfort while walking and the cracks can act as a dangerous channel for bacteria, virus, fungi and other harmful organisms to enter into the body and complicate the situation.

(From Ayurvedic Treatment for Cracked FootEssential Depot)

Treatment Options

Now that we know the cause of dry and cracked heels what about the cure?

If you simply suffer from dry skin on your heels and feet you need to use a moisturizer with gentle acids in it in order to exfoliate and hydrate your feet.  Apply nightly after soaking your feet or taking a shower.  You can even wear cotton socks during the night if you want to in order to help the moisturizer penetrate deeper into your feet.

For very rough feet you can purchase a callous remover lotion or gel that is applied to the feet for about five to ten minutes.  After that time has elapsed file the skin gently with a pumice stone or foot file.  Finish with a moisturizer.

If your feet are cracked you need to use a product formulated for such a condition so that your skin can heal.

Bottom Line:  Though dry and cracked heels are an unpleasant phenomena this is a common skin condition that can be treated at home.  The key to proper treatment is finding the right product for you and using it daily.


At Home Treatments:

I found a few different at home treatment protocols that I thought were relevant to share:

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A Slight Departure: A Little Nail Art April 5, 2013

Filed under: Nails — askanesthetician @ 10:06 am
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If you read my bio in the “about” section of this blog you’ll see that since returning to live in Israel in August, 2012 I did a manicure/pedicure class since almost all estheticians here in Israel also do manicures and pedicures. As a matter of fact it’s pretty much a given that you do these services here in Israel when you tell people you’re an esthetician, and a lot of people assume that you also do artificial nails. Unlike in the US where you learn how to do manicures, pedicures, and artificial nails in the course of learning how to be a nail tech here in Israel the artificial nails class is offered separately. I actually signed up for both courses simultaneously and am now nearing the end of my artificial nails class. If I can be totally honest when I started the class I wasn’t happy; I couldn’t figure out why I was learning this skill. Except for at my wedding I have never worn artificial nails, and I hated having artificial nails at my wedding (though I didn’t hate my wedding, luckily :)). But as the class has progressed I’ve become more and more impressed by the skill level of nail techs who create artificial nails well have. When done at a high level this nail service is really an art form.


The other reason I started to like my class so much was that I was lucky enough to have a great teacher – Oshrat Chen. Oshrat’s skills in creating artificial nails were very apparent from the beginning and her nail art skills are amazing. All the photos in this post are examples of Oshrat’s work. Only today, three months into my course, did I find out that Oshrat has won Israeli nail art competitions and has placed in the top ten in international nail art competitions. So happily I get to learn from the best.

A few words about nail art: practice! It took me forever to learn how to apply nail polish correctly (and I still think I could improve), and I am still working on perfecting my french manicure technique. There are tons and tons and tons of nail art tutorials out there (I pin them like crazy on Pinterest), but you do not realize how much skill you really need in order to create these designs until you try to recreate them yourself. Don’t give up, keep trying. If I can do anyone can do it. Consider taking a class if you can with a skilled nail artist. Hands on learning with a master who can see (and correct) your work is priceless. And above all – have fun! Nail art, though an art form in my opinion, isn’t a strict discipline. Everyone can create something that they love and share it with the world via Instagram and Pinterest (to name just two out of many sources for nail art inspiration). Nail art can be 3D as well. Lastly, nail art isn’t limited to a few different designs. Let your imagination run wild. Designs can be anything from a new take on french manicure, to flowers, geometric designs, or like Oshrat’s designs here for artificial nails – designs that could easily be translated to canvas.

Oshrat was nice enough to share photos of two nail art tutorials with me so I could share them with my readers. If you give them a try be sure to let everyone know how they turned out for you.



Resources and Further Reading:



How to Treat a Dry, Itchy Scalp April 2, 2013

Filed under: Skin and Skincare — askanesthetician @ 7:30 am
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Not so long ago I shared my struggles with my skin; skin issues that occurred after moving back to Israel from Chicago in late August. Bottom line – my skin went psycho, and it took months to get things under control. In part I blamed the hard water in Israel for my skin misfortunes. I mentioned in that post that not only had things gone haywire with my skin when I moved but my scalp was dry, itchy, irritated, and flaky as well. This was not the first time I had suffered from a dry, itchy scalp, but it was definitely the worst I had experienced. (In the past I even received a prescription shampoo from a dermatologist for the problem. The shampoo made the itch go away but my hair started falling out at an alarming rate so I stopped using it.) As a matter of fact my scalp was so itchy that I thought I was losing my mind. There are many things that can make a person crazy, but I rank an itchy scalp within the top ten. Anyhow, I definitely think that the hard water in Israel was to blame for my dry and itchy scalp. Regular shampoo (I shampoo every other day) did nothing good for me. I had to find a solution quick so I bought a medicated shampoo that greatly helped my situation. By now I’ve cycled through a few different shampoos that were either for sensitive scalp or dandruff or both. We also put a filter on our water pipes, and now things are under control with my dry, itchy, and flaky scalp. When I looked for a shampoo to help my problem I looked for ingredients like urea, salicylic acid, and zinc all of which are known to exfoliate and sooth. Of course there are other ingredients as well that can help combat this vexing problem. See below for more details. (By the way, have you noticed that the moment someone mentions or you start to read about an itchy scalp you start to feel itchy? Same goes for lice for me.)

Causes of an Itchy Scalp

Let’s be clear – an itchy, red, and flaky scalp are not caused by poor hygiene. You are not dirty if you suffer from this problem. There are a few different causes for an itchy scalp. The Live Strong website explains in the article What Are the Causes of Itchy Scalp in Women? (I’m not sure why women are singled out here since both men and women can have itchy scalps):

Dry Scalp Skin

One of the most common causes of an itchy scalp in women is simply dried out scalp skin. Your scalp can become dry because of regular exposure to very cold or very hot weather, using hair driers too frequently and even showering or bathing in extremely hot water or spending a lot of time in the sauna. Dry scalp skin can particularly be a problem in the winter when your skin is subjected to cold, windy weather outside and dry indoor heating in buildings for days and weeks on end.

Hair Washing

Both washing your hair too seldom and too often can cause your scalp to become itchy. If you don’t wash your hair often enough, dead skin cells, oils and potentially skin-irritating substances can accumulate on the scalp. On the other hand, washing your hair too frequently — particularly with harsh shampoos or soaps — can cause the skin on your head to dry out and also become itchy. In addition, if you use too much shampoo while washing your hair, a residue can be left behind that may also act as a skin irritant.


Dandruff, also known as Pityriasis simplex capillitii, is a skin condition in which the scalp produces and sheds off excessive amounts of dead skin cells, making the scalp itchy. Dandruff can be caused by a wide variety of factors — exposure to temperature extremes, mild skin infections and overactive sebaceous cells in the scalp producing too much sebum, the oily substance that prevents the hair and scalp from drying out.


Dermatitis refers to a condition that makes your skin red, inflamed and itchy. There are two types of dermatitis that can affect your scalp, making it itchy: contact dermatitis and seborrheic dermatitis. Contact dermatitis develops when the scalp skin reacts to a substance that it has come into contact with — for instance, a hair dye, shampoo, soap, hairspray or any other hair product. You might be allergic to a compound contained in the product, or you could be reacting to the high amount of alcohol that makes up the inactive ingredients of many haircare items. High concentrations of alcohol on the skin can cause it dry out quickly and become irritated and itchy. Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin condition characterized by the overproduction of skin cells on the scalp, face, forehead, chest, neck and often abdomen and excessive dandruff. Seborrheic dermatitis can develop due to immune disorders, fungal infections and as a reaction to environmental factors. Dr. Anupam Biswas, writing for the website Health Cave, reports that genetics may also play a role.


Psoriasis is a chronic skin disease that can cause thick, itchy patches of red or silvery scaly skin to develop on various parts of the scalp, as well as on the elbows, knees and lower back. It may be caused either by the abnormally excessive production of skin cells or, as reports, by an immune system dysfunction caused by environmental or hereditary factors.


Both fungal and bacterial infections can result in an itchy, red scalp. Tinea capitis is an infection of the fungus dermophyte which infects and inflames hair shafts and causes the production of dead, flaky skin cells resembling dandruff, while lichen planus is another scalp-affecting fungal infection. Folliculitis, commonly caused by the bacteria staphylococcus aureus, is another type of infection that can cause itching and discomfort.

Other Causes

A number of other, more unusual factors can also cause your scalp to become itchy such as a head louse infection, also known as pediculosis capitis, too much stress in your daily life, a sunburn that causes damage on the scalp and results in the buildup of itchy, dead cells or the development of acne on the scalp.

The article What is Causing Your Itchy Scalp? on Daily Glow further expands on the causes mentioned above:

Dandruff is the most common culprit to blame for an itchy scalp. “The medical condition of dandruff is caused by an overgrowth of yeast,” says Jessica Wu, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Southern California Medical School and the author of Feed Your Face. The yeast normally live on your scalp and in other hairy areas, such as the eyebrows, the ears, and men’s beards. “With changes in body chemistry, the yeast overgrow and feed on your dead skin cells and oils,” says Dr. Wu, “which causes the itching and flaking.”

To properly control dandruff, you need to eliminate its fungal component without creating more irritation and redness, says Ilyse Lefkowicz, M.D., a dermatologist for Head & Shoulders North America.

For mild cases, Wu suggests using an over-the-counter shampoo that contains selenium, zinc pyrithione, or tea tree oil, all of which help control yeast. “If your scalp is not itchy but more flaky, then try a salicylic acid shampoo to reduce buildup,” she says. More stubborn cases may require a prescription antifungal shampoo or cortisone foam, or, for especially severe cases, anti-yeast pills, Wu says.

Scalp itch can also result from trips to the hair salon, says cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson, vice president of research and innovation for Englewood Lab. “Repeated chemical hair treatments like permanent color, relaxers, and keratin treatments can sap your scalp of moisture,” she says.

Another culprit could be a daily blow-drying habit, says Dr. Lefkowicz. The excessive heat can irritate and dry out the scalp. “Avoid using the hair dryer at its hottest setting, especially when hair is very wet,” she says. “That’s actually the hair’s most fragile state.”

An itchy scalp can also be an allergic reaction to certain hair products, says Wu. “Some products, such as hair sprays, contain ingredients that tighten as they dry,” she says. “This causes a slight pulling sensation on the scalp, leading to itchiness.”

Don’t Scratch — Moisturize Instead

Sometimes the root of the problem is environmental, Lefkowicz says. “Other factors that contribute to scalp irritations include exposure to cool environments with low humidity, and the effects of wind and sun.”

According to Lefkowicz, the way back to a healthy scalp (and healthy, shiny hair) begins with upping the moisture. Avoid hot water when washing your hair, she says, because it can strip the natural oils from your scalp, making it very dry and sensitive.

“Look for moisturizing and protective ingredients like dimethicone, a silicone compound that smooths the hair surface, making it shiny,” Lefkowicz says. She also recommends using a good conditioner to soothe the scalp and leave hair moisturized.

When to Worry About an Itchy Scalp

Sometimes an itchy scalp can be a red flag signaling other, more serious medical conditions. If your scalp develops thick, scaly patches that hurt, crack, or bleed, Wu says, you may have psoriasis — a chronic autoimmune disease that appears on the skin. If, along with the itchiness, your hair is falling out or breaking, you may have ringworm. If any oozing occurs, or a crust develops or pus appears on the scalp, you could be suffering from a staph infection. Your safest bet is to consult your doctor with any concerns about an itchy scalp.

As mentioned in the information above (and from my personal experience which I shared) an itchy scalp can be treated with OTC hair products. But if you feel that you might have scalp psoriasis for instance please see a doctor since prescription products might be needed to treat this condition and offer you relief.

For some people simply being vigilant about exfoliating and moisturizing their scalp can offer the needed relief that they need from a dry and itchy scalp. Allure explains how to go about exfoliating your scalp:

You can try at-home scalp exfoliants, such as Kiehl’s Deep Micro-Exfoliating Scalp Treatment or Rescue EMS Exfoliating Shampoo, or if you’re feeling crafty, you can also create your own. Start with a clarifying shampoo (we likeFekkai Apple Cider Clarifying Shampoo) mixed with an equal amount of natural exfoliant such as cornmeal or ground almonds. Add a few drops of your preferred essential oil—peppermint stimulates blood flow, lavender and vitamin E soothe, and tea tree acts as an antiseptic to fight dandruff. Massage the mixture into your scalp for three minutes, rinse, condition, and voilà! If you don’t shampoo frequently or have oily hair, exfoliate every other week. Otherwise, you just need to do it once a month to maintain a healthy scalp.

If you have any tips on how to treat a dry, itchy scalp please share below. Just remember – there are numerous solutions to this very frustrating problem so there is no need to suffer long-term.

Further Reading:

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