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Doctor Breaks Down Pros And Cons Of DIY Dermatology

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – People will try all kinds of things on their skin for acne, spots, rashes and stings.

"I use tea tree oil," one person said. "I put it right on if I have a pimple or anything."

"One my eyes," another person said. "Any puffiness or inflammation underneath the eyes, I've used tea bags before."

There may be something to these household fixes.

For instance, how about Vick's Vapor Rub for toenail fungus? People who put it on their toenails can notice improvement. The eucalyptus oil and camphor have some anti-fungal properties.

"It also has some petrolatum, or turpentine oil, which seems to bring the anti-fungal properties through the nail plate to the fungal infection," said Dr. Brian Horvath of Horvath Dermatology.

You'll need patients for this one though. Turns out you have to use it twice a day for a year to see results. Prescription pills are more effective, but there are drawbacks there too.

"The pill is processed by your liver, so it can cause some issues with liver damage and you have to watch your alcohol use around the medication," said Horvath.

How about wet tea bags for dark circles under the eyes? As the skin loses volume, the space under the eyes fills with fluid and appears dark from dilated blood vessels.

"Cold tea bags seem to help, because the cold reduced the swelling underneath the eyes and the caffeine in the tea bag constricts the blood vessels, and helps with discoloration," Horvath said.

Hyaluronic acid or creams containing caffeine or retinol can also help. Of course, sleep helps too.

A viral skin infection called molluscum contagiosum is particularly common in children. They can have dozens, even hundreds of bumps. These can last years.

It can be treated with freezing sprays, but they can burn, which is tough for small children.

Turns out, vinegar has anti-microbial properties.

"You can take some apple cider vinegar and a cotton ball, put it over the lesion with a band aid and keep it covered for two hours every day," Horvath said.

For acne, you can use many tried and true prescription creams, but they're expensive and they can dry out your skin.

So putting oil on your face may not be your first thought, but for mild cases a specific type of oil could help.

"Tea tree oil is s natural solvent that breaks down some of the dead skin cells," Horvath said. "It helps to open up the pores, it also kills bacteria that can sometimes worsen acne."

The sun will bring darks spots to the face and hands. The sun also brings lemons brimming with lemon juice – a natural spot fighter.

"Lemon juice has citric acid, which is a very strong alpha hydroxyl acid, an exfoliant that breaks down, removes the dead old skin cells," Horvath said. "New younger skin, that is not as dark in color, takes its place."

Creams containing hydroquinone are often used for dark spots. This chemical blocks pigment production in the skin, but it can bleach areas that aren't dark too.

Got poison ivy? Try baking soda. It neutralizes the oil from the plant that causes the rash. You can take a bath with it immediately if you know you just came into contact with it.

Or if you already have the rash, mix the baking soda with some vinegar to make a soothing paste to rub out the itch.

For insect bites, sugar cubes. Rubbing the bite area with sugar cubes can decrease swelling and pain.

There are also things you don't want to try.

"They would soak their skin in gasoline when they had poison ivy," said Horvath. "I do not recommend that and I do not think it helped them very much."

Also, people can develop unsightly thinning of the skin from mail order products.
"There were a number of creams coming from overseas that had some active ingredients that weren't listed on the bottles, there were strong topical steroid creams," said Horvath.

These remedies range from essentially harmless to risky. So if you're going to try DIY dermatology, use some common sense. Start in a small area, and just treat a few spots. And if you end up doing something not so smart, you should consult your doctor for an appointment.

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