I have a very real concern over a gradual increase in the number of moles on my face, neck, and body. Apart from obviously needing to be reassured from a skin malignancy point of view, is there any cosmetic way to reduce, avoid or color them?

Most moles are present at birth, under the surface of the skin. As a person gets more sun exposure, the moles become larger, more elevated and darker. Moles can exist on covered areas but they are usually much more prevalent and darker on areas that have received repeated exposure to the sun. Most moles do not require medical attention but if they are on your palms, soles or genitals, there is a greater chance of them becoming cancerous.

Any mole that shows changes must be checked. This includes changes in size, color and shape, or symptoms such as bleeding, crusting and pain. A doctor or dermatologist often can look at the surface appearance of a mole and determine if it is a problem; if there is room for suspicion, it must be excised and examined for malignancy.

Non-malignant moles can be removed for cosmetic purposes by a dermatologist or plastic surgeon. Sometimes a mole can grow back, but this is quite rare. It is very difficult to cover a mole with cosmetics. Camouflage makeup, available through theatre supply stores or the occasional cosmetic supply store, may do a reasonably good job on the flat moles but the raised ones present more of a problem. It is perhaps better not to try covering them as the raised area would still be visible and would likely result in a heavy, caked appearance.

I’m thinking of using a moisturizing cream that advertises a “cellular expansion” activity. Are these products safe and is there any long-term damage to the skin?

Moisturizers work in one of two ways. Some act as humectants which draw moisture from the air to the skin. Some humectant ingredients are propylene glycol and sorbital. Other moisturizers act as emollients. These work by sealing in the skin’s natural moisture, much as the skin’s sebum (oil) is meant to do. They form a barrier that prevents evaporation and keeps the skin, as well as the product itself, from drying out. Examples of emollient ingredients are beeswax and stearic acid.

All cosmetic ingredients are tested so the type of products you are asking about definitely are safe to use. There is no documentation available for public release on their long-term effects. However, there are those who believe that such a cream can contribute to the weakening of the cellular walls. Their thinking is that the constant stretching of the cell membranes causes a breakdown in their elastic properties, weakening the cell so that it becomes less firm. The long-term result would be a hastening in the sagging of the tissues. In this case as well we have seen no firm documentation.

In choosing a moisturizer, look for one that makes the skin soft, smooth, moist (healthy glow), softens fine lines, is absorbent, does not leave the skin sticky and is not irritating to the eyes. Some moisturizers have additional beneficial properties such as balancing the pH, toning the blood vessels, soothing the skin, or balancing the secretions. Some contain a sunscreen while others may be tinted, making a foundation makeup unnecessary.

My reliable beauty book states that a facial muscle-stimulating machine can yield a “sculptured, toned appearance.” Are such machines more beneficial than a bi-weekly 15-minute self-administered massage?

Electrical muscle-toning equipment resembles natural exercise in its effect on the muscles. Originally this type of equipment was used on the body in physiotherapy to treat damaged or denervated muscles.

The unit (usually hand-held) is placed for a specified length of time on the motor points of the facial muscles to effect muscular contractions. As a rule it takes 15 minutes to treat each side, therefore one-half hour in total per treatment. To begin with, it is done every day or every other day with results appearing in eight to 10 weeks. After that one goes on a maintenance program of two treatments each week. Such equipment is available for home use, often through skin and body care salons that specialize in body toning treatments.

Massage does not in itself actually tone muscles. It can help to relax taut muscles which in turn relaxes tense features. It also helps to improve the nutrition to the muscles and thus helps maintain them in a state of vitality. The exercise machines, then, are more beneficial in actually improving the muscle tone.

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