Sometimes it may seem like our skin has a mind of its own - one day it can be baby soft and calm, and the next day it can erupt in rashes and whiteheads. 

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From hormones to allergies, there may be a number of reasons why your skin may be giving you problems. We speak to dermatologist Dr Nomphelo Gantsho about how you can manage your skin emergencies and what may be causing them. 

Mild allergic reaction 

Cause:

Dr Nomphelo says an allergic reaction occurs when the immune system overreacts to a harmless substance known as an allergen. She says in some people, substances such as pollen, certain foods, latex, mold, pet dander, dust mites or insect stings are allergens, so it’s best to avoid the triggers.

What you can try: 

  • Triggers - Know the cause and avoid the cause of the allergic reaction
  • Medication to treat allergies - You can take over the counter antihistamines
  • Pure olive oil - According to Dr Nomphelo, olive oil helps in healing and promotes skin renewal, given it is packed with vitamin E and antioxidants. She says it also soothes the skin and reduces itching.
  • Oatmeal - When it comes to alleviating skin irritation and inflammation, oatmeal serves as an effective option due to its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties. 
  • Chamomile - This, according to Dr Nomphelo, is very helpful in treating rashes. She says it relieves itching, soothes the skin, reduces inflammation and helps healing thanks to its anti-irritant and anti-inflammatory properties – and its antibacterial, anti-fungal and antiviral effects.

Breakouts caused by certain foods (blackheads and whiteheads) 

Cause:

Many factors contribute to the development of acne, including sebum and keratin production, acne-causing bacteria, hormones, blocked pores and inflammation, says Dr Nomphelo.

But these are the factors to pay attention to:

Sugar consumption - She says this contributes a 30% greater risk of developing acne and regular consumption of pastries and cakes have a 20% risk. Dr Nomphelo adds that insulin produces androgen hormones, which increases insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) and that contributes to acne development.

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Dairy - According to Dr Nomphelo, milk and its products also leads to acne breakouts because cow's milk contains amino acids that stimulate the liver to produce more IGF-1, which has been linked to the development of acne.

What you can try:

Aloe vera - this has antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and emollient properties. Dr Nomphelo says it is excellent for treating a number of skin ailments including rashes and soothing the skin.

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She adds that recent evidence suggests that dietary factors, such as insulin and glycemic index, may also be associated with acne.

Dr Nomphelo recommends foods with a high glycemic index such as  white bread, sugary soft drinks, cakes, doughnuts, pastries, candies, sugary breakfast cereals and other processed foods be avoided.

Hormonal acne

Cause:

Dr Nomphelo says breakouts during hormonal changes are due to a decrease in oestrogen levels and an increase in androgen levels and that there are a few thing you can try to manage it. 

What you can try:

  • Apple cider vinegar - According to Dr Nomphelo, this has the ability to fight bacteria associated with acne. She says the organic acids in apple cider vinegar may help kill acne-causing bacteria and reduce the appearance of scars, but applying it to the skin may cause burns or irritation, so it should be used carefully.
  • Supplements - she says Zinc supplements three times a day can also help reduce acne.
  • Tea tree oil - a small amount (5%) of tea tree oil to the skin effectively reduces acne
  • Healthy lifestyle - Regular exercise, eating healthy (a healthy diet is one form of natural treatment for hormonal acne) and avoid stress (multiple studies have linked stress to an increase in acne severity)

When pregnant, Dr Nomphelo advises that you always check what is safe during pregnancy. 

Heat rash

Cause:

Dr Nomphelo says a heat rash develops when sweat ducts trap perspiration under your skin. 

What you can try:

  • Cold compression - Heat rash usually eases up after the skin is cooled down, bathing in cool water can help with this. 
  • Oatmeal - this can be effective at reducing itching and inflammation, it's a useful home remedy for heat rash and a number of other skin conditions.

Dr Nomphelo says depending on how severe the rash was initially and how effectively it is being treated, a heat rash can disappear in a few days. 

Persistent clogged pores

Cause:

According to Dr Nomphelo, clogged pores happen when oil-producing glands in skin begin to produce higher than usual amounts of sebum. Another cause may be dead skin cells and dirt trapped in the opening, causing pores to become clogged.

What you can try: 

  • Sugar - Dr Nomphelo says this is an excellent exfoliating agent that helps unclog your skin
  • Honey - This keeps your pores clear and unclogged
  • Steaming - This is one of the most inexpensive and effective methods to unclog pores, according to Dr Nomphelo
  • Fresh lemon juice - This can help clear clogged pores and it can also reduce oiliness and exfoliate the skin but also needs to be used with caution for those with sensitive skin

In cases where a rash doesn’t go away within a week of starting treatment, your over the counter treatment is not working, if the problem is getting worse, or if the rash seems infected, you should consult a doctor. 

Dr Nomphelo says the earlier you consult with a doctor, the better because some of the tried remedies can lead to more damage.

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After having managed your skin emergency, there are ways you can help manage your chances of future breakouts.

The best practices to keep in mind are the following: 

  • Exercise promotes healthy blood circulation, the increase in blood flow helps nourish the skin cells
  • Drink lots of water
  • Healthy eating
  • Green tea is very high in antioxidants, and drinking it can promote good health
  • Use an antioxidant on your skin to prevent signs of ageing. Dr Nomphelo says the antioxidants studied are vitamin B3, linoleic (omega-6) fatty acid and sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP), which is a vitamin C derivative
  • Honey and cinnamon are excellent sources of antioxidants
  • Papaya is yet another natural exfoliating agent, it can clear clogged pores and leave you with soft skin when used as a mask.
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