Dermatologists Answer Embarrassing Questions – Ask a Derm Anything

“Do you have any other questions?” your dermatologist asks as you’re wrapping up your session. You smile, and politely shake your head, knowing full well that you do have questions—Ask them about the raging pimple on your butt! your brain screamsbut, embarrassed, you just head for the door.

And we totally get it. Certain skin issues can be weird, icky, sometimes mortifying things to address, and working up the nerve to talk to your dermatologist can be a tall order. That’s why we did the embarrassing work for you, with the expertise of dermatologist Jeannette Graf, M.D.

How can I control excessive sweating?

Here’s an insider secret: When deodorant companies make claims that their formula stops 99.9% of sweat, participants in the related clinical trial are usually applying the stuff twice a day, not just in the morning, post-shower, like the rest of us. “When you’re applying deodorant twice a day, the aluminum or zirconium they use to stop sweat is actually helping to plug up the sweat gland, which is superficial, to stop the flow of sweat to the surface,” Dr. Graf explains.

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First things first, make sure the area in question is completely dry after showering, then use the formula once in the morning, and again later in the day. “The more you use the deodorant, the more it plugs up those superficially occurring sweat glands,” she says. Over-the-counter aluminum chloride pads can also be helpful, and for an at-home remedy, a small amount of corn starch can do wonders for absorbing moisture.

I just noticed I have a skin tag. Is this normal? Where did it come from?

Skin tags are harmless growths (they vary in shape and size) that form on your body seemingly out of nowhere. “Skin tags are so normal, and are the most benign things anyone could have,” says Dr. Graf. “If you look at where you get them, they always tend to pop up in places where things rub up against your skin frequently.” Think: your neck, where there is friction from a shirt or necklace, your underarms where you shave, or where the underwire of your bra presses against your skin. Visiting your dermatologist to have them removed is an option, though over-the-counter solutions that allow you to freeze off the skin tag work just as well, according to Dr. Graf.

Can I treat acne on my body the same way I treat acne on my face?

Find a surprise pimple right on your butt cheek or hanging out in your armpit? We’ve been there. Luckily, the formulas that put in work for facial breakouts can also be used in areas where the sun doesn’t frequently shine. Two quick things to note: If you use a benzoyl peroxide-based formula, keep in mind that the peroxide can stain or lighten your clothes or bedsheets, so rinse it off with soap before wearing darker colors. Also, refrain from going to town in the shower with your loofah and cleanser. “It makes sense that your first reaction would be to exfoliate the area, but too much scrubbing can irritate your skin and make the breakout worse,” says Dr. Graf.

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In some areas where your skin experiences high friction due to shaving (hello, armpit and bikini line), an ingrown hair can easily be mistaken for body acne, but rest assured, it can also be treated in the same way. “It’s the same mechanism,” Dr. Graf says. “Something is trapped under the skin, and needs to be freed, so the products you use can help with that.” Try to refrain from shaving the area until after the bump has healed to avoid any potential irritation.

What’s the deal with that single, reappearing hair that keeps growing out of my chin?

We’ve named ours Harold. He likes to make appearances from time to time, and according to Dr. Graf, three easy solutions are to carefully tweeze the hair out, snip it at the base, or get an electrolysis treatment to zap it once and for all. Later days, Harold.

“This happens largely because of genetic or hormonal reasons,” she explains. “If you have irregular periods, or your body has a higher level of androgens, this sometimes causes that single hair that keeps coming back. It’s completely normal, and very safe to remove.” Phew.

So, I have hair on my upper lip. Is it true that it will grow back thicker and darker if I shave it off?

You can consider that old wives’ tale officially debunked. Not only is the hair on your upper lip totally fine to shave off, but Dr. Graf notes that, with treatments like dermaplaning, an exfoliating treatment the hair actually grows back at a slower rate, and is more sparse when it does come in. “You can also get those tiny eyebrow razors to take care of it if you want a more targeted solution,” she says. If the hair is particularly thick, electrolysis is also an option, as is taking up your eyebrow technician on her offer when she asks if you want your upper lip waxed or threaded. No shame there!

How can I *actually* get rid of the gnarly blackheads on my nose?

Ah, blackheads. The great equalizer. Fun fact, though: Those little guys you thought you eliminated with the pore strip and actual blackheads are not one and the same. While that trusty strip might help to remove blackheads, the gunk that reappears post-strip is actually just sebum collecting in your pores. Sexy, right? Sebum, an oily substance found in your skin, isn’t harmful—actually it helps protect your skin and maintain moisture— but if it kicks into overdrive it can cause trouble. Think: blackheads and acne.

“A blackhead is the beginning of acne, where dead keratin and oil gets into your pore, clogs it, and causes the pore to grow,” Dr. Graf explains. While the sebum in your pores hasn’t quite gotten to that point yet, luckily, a little salicylic acid goes a long way to resolve both issues. Consider incorporating a salicylic acid-based cleanser or toner into your routine to counteract oil production. “Salicylic acid is fat soluble, and because oil is made of fats, the salicylic acid gets into the pore and helps to break the oil down,” says Dr. Graf. Charcoal-based masks can also help, as the charcoal draws the oil out of your pores.

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