This is an area of very sensitive skin. When shaving, use a safety razor and cut against the grain, using gentle and even pressure with each stroke. Where there is too much pressure, the hairs are cut slightly below the surface of the skin. Then, as the hair grows, the sharp shaved end can cut into the surrounding skin causing the inflamed reaction and ingrowth.

To shave, make sure the area is wet and primed with soap or sensitive- skin shaving cream. For very sensitive skins, apply an olive oil or moisturizing cream beforehand. If there is any bleeding from the follicles afterward, immediately dab on some rubbing alcohol to disinfect and reapply for a couple of days. At the first sign of an ingrown hair, dab on some rubbing alcohol again and continue until the inflammation has disappeared. Do not pull out the hair until the inflammation has subsided as the inflamed follicle can close in over a new hair growing in, causing further problems. Practical alternatives to shaving the bikini area are waxing and electrolysis.

I am five months pregnant and I have developed brownish marks on my face, especially around my eyebrow area. My doctor says this will go away after the baby comes. Can you tell me any more about this?

This is a condition known as chloasma – a flat brownish, mottled pigmentation on the face associated with the hormonal changes of pregnancy. It can also be caused by the birth control pill, repeated sun damage, or a chemical reaction between the sun and certain perfumed products on the body. In the case of pregnancy, the condition usually disappears within a few months following delivery. As the condition is exacerbated by exposure to sunlight, wear a sun hat, use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more and avoid direct sunlight. These guidelines should be followed on a long-term basis as the condition may continue to reappear with each exposure to the sun, year after year. In the occasional case, the mask does not disappear with delivery. In such cases, a desquammation treatment by a dermatologist may prove effective.

I am 63 and in the past couple of years I have noticed that one of my large toenails has thickened. What causes this and what can I do about it?

The general condition of your finger and toe nails can give some indications as to the state of your health. Systemic diseases, lung problems, coronary disease and others can give rise to raised toenails or nail flaking and crumbling. But an isolated thickening or discoloration would more likely be the result of a local fungus, psoriasis, ringworm, etc. Severe or repeated injury to an area, wearing tight shoes and socks over a period of time, sports injuries, banging against the toe box of a tennis shoe etc., can also cause damage to the toenail and change its appearance. A foot specialist may thin the nail with an instrument similar to a small sander so topical medication can penetrate and so there is more room for the toe in the shoe. Check with your doctor for professional treatment.

I am prone to very bad acne on my face even though I am 42. I have been using topical cortisone which my doctor recommended about seven or eight years ago. A friend tells me that there are side effects with this. Could you tell me what they are?

There are some possible side effects from the use of cortisone. It is important to note, however, that there are many different cortisones of varying strengths. Even the most potent ones won’t do much harm if they are used sparingly for a limited time only. Long-time users such as yourself might have more problems. The possible side effects are: dry skin, secondary infections, (purple stretch marks), increased or decreased pigmentation, increased hair on the face or body, irritation, thinning of the skin tissue, appearance of small dilated veins. Since you have been using the medication for a long time, perhaps you should discuss your concerns with your doctor and ask about changing the treatment.

Is there anything that can be used to prevent freckling?

Freckles are isolated patches of pigmentation in the skin. They are a defence mechanism, darkening on exposure to the sun to protect the skin. You cannot acquire a tan without having the freckles darken. Freckles can be peeled with liquid nitrogen by a dermatologist, but the color will reappear when you go into the sun again.

I love to wear hats but my hair always gets flattened and I’m too embarrassed to take the hat off. How can I prevent this?

Your hair will have more volume if you apply a mousse when styling it. When you remove the hat you can restore the volume of the hair using your fingers or a round brush, depending upon the style.