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Hair, Skin, Nails
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Hair disorders

Related Terms
  • Abrasions, anal fissure, autolytic debridement, bed sore, Clostridium sp., collagen, collagen matrix, cuts, debridement, decubitus ulcer, diabetic ulcers, electrotherapy, epithelial, epithelialization phase, extravasation, gangrene, gas gangrene, human growth factors, hydrocolloid, hyperbaric oxygen, incision wounds, incontinence, infected surgical wounds, infectious arthritis, inflammatory phase, injuries, laceration, macrophages, mechanical debridement, microvascular, minor injuries, myonecrosis, necrotizing fasciitis, pressure ulcers/wound care, proliferative phase, puncture wound, remodeling phase, scrapes, scratches, sepsis, septic arthritis, skin damage caused by incontinence, skin graft healing (split thickness), skin ulcer, surgical skin flap ischemia, skin wounds, squamous, stitches, superficial, suture, vulnerary, wound care, wound healing.

  • A wound is a break in the outer layer of the skin, called the epidermis. Wounds are usually caused by cuts or scrapes. Different kinds of wounds may be treated differently from one another, depending upon how they happened and how serious they are. Other wounds include puncture wounds, lacerations (cuts), pressure sores, anal fissures, extravasations (a drug accidentally going outside of a vein causing tissue damage), skin damage caused by incontinence (lack of bladder control), skin graft healing (split thickness), diabetic ulcers, and surgical skin flap ischemia (lack of blood flow to surgically attached skin).
  • Healing is a response to the injury that sets into motion a sequence of events. With the exception of bone, all tissues heal with some external scarring. The object of proper care is to minimize the possibility of infection and scarring.
  • There are basically four phases to the healing process: the inflammatory phase, proliferative phase, remodeling phase, and epithelialization phase.
  • The inflammatory phase begins with the injury itself. In the inflammatory phase, there is bleeding, immediate narrowing of the blood vessels, clot formation, and release of various chemical substances into the wound that will begin the healing process. Specialized cells (macrophages) clear the wound of debris over the course of several days.
  • Next is the proliferative phase in which a matrix or latticework of cells forms. On this matrix, new skin cells and blood vessels will form. It is the new small blood vessels (known as capillaries) that give a healing wound its pink or purple-red appearance. These new blood vessels will supply the rebuilding cells with oxygen and nutrients to sustain the growth of the new cells and support the production of proteins (primarily collagen). The collagen acts as the framework upon which the new tissues build. Collagen is the dominant substance in the final scar.
  • The remodeling phase begins after 2-3 weeks. The framework (collagen) becomes more organized making the tissue stronger. The blood vessel density becomes less, and the wound begins to lose its pinkish color. Over the course of six months, the area increases in strength, eventually reaching 70% of the strength of uninjured skin.
  • Epithelialization is the process of laying down new skin, or epithelial, cells. The skin forms a protective barrier between the outer environment and the body. Its primary purpose is to protect against excessive water loss and bacteria. Reconstruction of this layer begins within a few hours of the injury and is complete within 24-48 hours in a clean, sutured (stitched) wound. Open wounds may take 7-10 days because the inflammatory process is prolonged, which contributes to scarring. Scarring occurs when the injury extends beyond the deep layer of the skin (into the dermis, which is the second layer of skin).

Integrative therapies
  • Unclear or conflicting scientific evidence:
  • Aloe: Transparent gel from the pulp of the meaty leaves of Aloe vera has been used topically for thousands of years to treat wounds, skin infections, burns, and numerous other dermatologic conditions. Study results of aloe on wound healing are mixed with some studies reporting positive results and others showing no benefit or potential worsening of the condition. Early studies suggest that aloe may help heal skin ulcers. High-quality studies comparing aloe alone with placebo are needed.
  • Avoid if allergic to aloe or other plants of the Liliaceae family (garlic, onions, tulips). Avoid injecting aloe. Do not apply to open skin, surgical wounds or pressure ulcers. Avoid taking by mouth with diarrhea, bowel blockage, intestinal diseases, bloody stools or hepatitis. Avoid with a history of irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), electrolyte imbalances, diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease. Avoid taking by mouth if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Alpha-lipoic acid: Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) may reduce tissue damage that is often caused by long-term exposure to high levels of oxygen. While early studies are promising, more research is needed to fully understand how ALA might work for wound healing in patients undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
  • Avoid if allergic to alpha-lipoic acid (ALA). Use cautiously with diabetes and thyroid diseases. Avoid with thiamine deficiency or alcoholism. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Arginine: Arginine, or L-arginine, is considered a semi-essential amino acid, because although it is normally synthesized in sufficient amounts by the body, supplementation is sometimes required (for example, due to inborn errors of urea synthesis, protein malnutrition, excess ammonia production, excessive lysine intake, burns, infection, peritoneal dialysis, rapid growth, or sepsis). Arginine has been suggested to improve the rate of wound healing in elderly individuals. A randomized, controlled clinical trial reported improved wound healing after surgery in head and neck cancer patients, following the use of an enteral diet supplemented with arginine and fiber. Arginine has also been used topically (on the skin) to attempt to improve wound healing. Early studies suggest that arginine may also help treat chronic anal fissures. Additional studies are needed.
  • Avoid if allergic to arginine, or with a history of stroke, liver, or kidney disease. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding. Use caution if taking blood-thinning drugs (like warfarin or Coumadin®) and blood pressure drugs or herbs or supplements with similar effects. Blood potassium levels should be monitored. L-arginine may worsen symptoms of sickle cell disease. Caution is advised in patients taking prescription drugs to control sugar levels.
  • Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy is a technique in which essential oils from plants are used with the intention of preventing or treating illness, reducing stress, or enhancing well-being. Preliminary data from one small study suggests aromatherapy may contribute to reduced pain intensity during dressing changes in wound care. Data are insufficient for forming any opinion for or against this application.
  • Essential oils should only be used on the skin in areas without irritation. Essential oils should be administered in a carrier oil to avoid toxicity. Avoid with a history of allergic dermatitis. Use cautiously if driving or operating heavy machinery. Avoid consuming essential oils. Avoid direct contact of undiluted oils with mucous membranes. Use cautiously if pregnant.
  • Ayurveda: There is some evidence that a traditional Ayurvedic treatment using specially prepared alkaline threads (ksharasutra or Ayurvedic setons) to achieve gradual cauterization may provide an effective alternative to surgery in patients being treated for anal fissures. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
  • Ayurvedic herbs should be used cautiously. Some herbs imported from India have been reported to contain high levels of toxic metals. Ayurvedic herbs can interact with other herbs, foods and drugs. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before taking. Use guggul cautiously with peptic ulcer disease. User should avoid sour food, alcohol and heavy exercise. Mahayograj guggul should not be taken for long periods of time. Pippali (Piper longum) should be taken with milk and avoided with asthma. Avoid sweet flag, and avoid amlaki (Emblica officinalis) at bedtime. Avoid Terminalia hebula (harda) if pregnant. Avoid Ayurveda with traumatic injuries, acute pain, advanced disease stages and medical conditions that require surgery.
  • Bovine cartilage: Reduction in inflammation and edema (swelling) and enhancement of the healing of wounds were effects that appeared in the medical literature of bovine cartilage during the 1950s and 1960s. In a preliminary comparison of potential wound healing effects with a commercially available ointment of 10% powdered bovine cartilage (Catrix® 10 Ointment) or Aquaphor® original formula in post-operative facial skin care with a laser resurfacing agent, Catrix® 10 Ointment was better. However, this study was a pilot study so its results need confirmation by follow-up clinical studies that clearly have the appropriate randomization and are double-blinded, given that such were in absence in this study. Also lacking in this study was a definition of primary outcome that therapeutically differentiated Catrix® 10 Ointment.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to bovine cartilage or any of its constituents. Use cautiously with cancer, renal (kidney) failure, or hepatic (liver) failure. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Calendula: Calendula (Calendula officinalis), also known as pot marigold, has been widely used on the skin to treat minor wounds, skin infections, burns, bee stings, sunburn, warts, and cancer. Calendula is commonly used topically (on the skin) to treat minor skin wounds. Reliable human research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn regarding the use of calendula for wound healing.
  • Avoid if allergic to plants in the Aster/Compositae family, such as ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies. Use cautiously in patients taking sedatives, blood pressure medications, cholesterol medications, blood sugar-altering agents, and immunomodulators. Use cautiously with diabetes and in children. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Chamomile: Chamomile (Matricaria recutita, Chamaemelum nobile) has been used medicinally for thousands of years, and is widely used in Europe. There is promising preliminary evidence supporting the topical use of chamomile for wound healing. However, the available literature is not adequate to support the use of chamomile for this indication.
  • Avoid if allergic to chamomile. Anaphylaxis, throat swelling, skin allergic reactions and shortness of breath have been reported. Chamomile eyewash can cause allergic conjunctivitis (pinkeye). Stop use two weeks before surgery/dental/diagnostic procedures with bleeding risk, and do not use immediately after these procedures. Use cautiously if driving or operating machinery. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Chitosan: There is limited evidence on the effects of chitosan in wound healing. Better studies are needed.
  • Avoid if allergic or sensitive to chitosan or shellfish. Use cautiously with diabetes or bleeding disorders. Use cautiously if taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that lower blood sugar or increase the risk of bleeding. Chitosan may decrease absorption of fat and fat-soluble vitamins from foods. Chitosan is not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
  • Dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO): Dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO) is a sulfur-containing organic compound. DMSO occurs naturally in vegetables, fruits, grains, and animal products. DMSO applied to the skin may prevent tissue death after extravasation of anticancer agents. It can be applied alone or with steroids. Limited available study also suggests that DSMO improves lack of blood flow in surgical skin flap ischemia. Currently, there is not enough scientific evidence available for the use of topical DMSO for diabetic ulcers.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to DMSO. Use caution with urinary tract cancer or liver and kidney dysfunction. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Eucalyptus oil: Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) oil contains 70-85% 1,8-cineole (eucalyptol), which is also present in other plant oils. Limited evidence suggests that eucalyptus essential oil may be beneficial for patients with skin ulcers when combined with antibiotics. More studies are needed to confirm these early findings.
  • Case reports describe allergic rash after exposure to eucalyptus oil, either alone or as an ingredient in creams. Avoid if allergic to eucalyptus oil or with a history of seizure, diabetes, asthma, heart disease, abnormal heart rhythms, intestinal disorders, liver disease, kidney disease, or lung disease. Use caution if driving or operating machinery. Avoid with a history of acute intermittent porphyria. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding. A strain of bacteria found on eucalyptus may cause infection. Toxicity has been reported with oral and inhaled use.
  • Gotu kola: Gotu kola, Centella asiatica (formerly known as Hydrocotyle asiatica), has a long history of use, dating back to ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. Preliminary study has demonstrated the ability of Centella asiatica extracts to promote wound healing, possibly through the stimulation of collagen synthesis. However, additional human study is needed in this area.
  • Avoid if allergic to gotu kola, asiaticoside, asiatic acid, or madecassic acid. Avoid with a history of high cholesterol, cancer, or diabetes. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Honey: Honey is a sweet, viscid fluid produced by honeybees (Apis melliflera) from the nectar of flowers. The primary studied use of honey is for wound management, particularly in promoting rapid wound healing, deodorizing, and debriding necrotic tissue. The types of wounds studied are varied; most are non-healing wounds such as chronic ulcers, postoperative wounds, and burns. Currently, there is insufficient human evidence to support the use of honey for skin graft healing. Although honey has apparent antibacterial effects, more human study is needed in this area.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to honey, pollen, celery, or bees. Honey is generally considered safe in recommended doses. Avoid honey from the genus Rhododendron because it may cause a toxic reaction. Avoid in infants younger than 12 months of age. Use cautiously with antibiotics. Potentially harmful contaminants (like C. botulinum or grayanotoxins) can be found in some types of honey and should be used cautiously in pregnant or breastfeeding women.
  • Hydrotherapy: Hydrotherapy is broadly defined as the external application of water in any form or temperature (hot, cold, steam, liquid, ice) for healing purposes. It may include immersion in a bath or body of water (such as the ocean or a pool), use of water jets, douches, application of wet towels to the skin, or water birth. These approaches have been used for the relief of various diseases and injuries, or for general well being. Hydrotherapy has been used in patients with pressure ulcers, and preliminary research suggests that daily whirlpool baths may reduce the time for wound healing. Better research is necessary in this area before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
  • There is a risk of infection from contaminated water if sanitary conditions are not maintained. Avoid sudden or prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures in baths, wraps, saunas, or other forms of hydrotherapy, particularly with heart disease, lung disease, or if pregnant. Avoid with implanted medical devices like pacemakers, defibrillators, or hepatic (liver) infusion pumps. Vigorous use of water jets should be avoided with fractures, known blood clots, bleeding disorders, severe osteoporosis, open wounds, or during pregnancy. Use cautiously with Raynaud's disease, chilblains, acrocyanosis, erythrocyanosis, and impaired temperature sensitivity, such as neuropathy. Use cautiously if pregnant or breastfeeding. Hydrotherapy should not delay the time to diagnosis or treatment with more proven techniques or therapies, and should not be used as the sole approach to illnesses. Patients with known illnesses should consult their physician(s) before starting hydrotherapy.
  • Iodine: It is not clear if healing of wounds or skin ulcers is improved with the application of topical iodine solutions. Iodine solutions may assist with sterilization as a part of a larger approach to the wound healing process.
  • Reactions can be severe, and deaths have occurred with exposure to iodine. Avoid iodine-based products if allergic or hypersensitive to iodine. Do no use for more than 14 days. Avoid Lugol solution and saturated solution of potassium iodide (SSKI, PIMA) with hyperkalemia (high amounts of potassium in the blood), pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), bronchitis, or tuberculosis. Use cautiously when applying to the skin because it may irritate/burn tissues. Use sodium iodide cautiously with kidney failure. Avoid sodium iodide with gastrointestinal obstruction. Iodine is safe in recommended doses for pregnant or breastfeeding women. Avoid povidone-iodine for perianal preparation during delivery or postpartum antisepsis.
  • Magnet therapy: The use of magnets to treat illness has been described historically in many civilizations. In modern times, magnetic fields play an important role in Western medicine, including use for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), pulsed electromagnetic fields, and experimental magnetic stimulatory techniques. Early scientific evidence suggests that the time to heal wounds, including ulcers, may decrease with the use of static magnets. Better quality studies are needed before a firm recommendation can be made for wound healing.
  • Avoid with implantable medical devices, such as heart pacemakers, defibrillators, insulin pumps, or hepatic artery infusion pumps. Avoid with myasthenia gravis or bleeding disorders. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding. Magnet therapy is not advised as the sole treatment for potentially serious medical conditions, and it should not delay the time to diagnosis or treatment with more proven methods. Patients are advised to discuss magnet therapy with a qualified healthcare provider before starting treatment.
  • Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5): Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) is essential to all life and is a component of Coenzyme A (CoA), a molecule that is necessary for numerous vital chemical reactions to occur in cells. Pantothenic acid is essential to the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, as well as for the synthesis of hormones and cholesterol. In animal research, oral and topical pantothenic acid has been associated with accelerated skin wound healing. However early human study results conflict. Additional evidence is necessary before a clear conclusion can be reached regarding this use of pantothenic acid or dexpanthenol.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to pantothenic acid or dexpanthenol. Avoid with gastrointestinal blockage. Pantothenic acid is generally considered safe in pregnant and breastfeeding women when taken at recommended doses.
  • Papain: Papain is an enzyme that breaks protein bonds and has been used in Africa for treating burns. In standard western medical care, papain-containing debridement agents are commonly used to remove necrotic tissue and slough in burns, postoperative wounds, pilonidal cyst wounds, carbuncles, trauma wounds, infected wounds, and chronic lesions, such as pressure ulcers, and varicose and diabetic ulcers. According to reviews and clinical trials, papain may be very useful for wound debridement and for stimulating wound healing. More high-quality research is needed in this area.
  • Use cautiously in patients sensitive to papain. Use cautiously in patients being treated for prostatitis. Use Wobenzym®, which contains papain, cautiously, especially in those with bleeding disorders or taking anticoagulants or antiplatelets. Use cautiously as an adjuvant to radiation therapy. Avoid in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease. Avoid in patients using immunosuppressive therapy.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy techniques, such as laser treatment, have been used to clean and heal wounds. Early evidence also suggests that high voltage stimulation or pulsed electrical stimulation may speed the healing of some types of skin ulcers. More research with similar outcome measures is needed to better understand the role of physical therapy for wound care.
  • Not all physical therapy programs are suited for everyone, and patients should discuss their medical history with a qualified healthcare professional before beginning any treatments. Physical therapy may aggravate pre-existing conditions. Persistent pain and fractures of unknown origin have been reported. Physical therapy may increase the duration of pain or cause limitation of motion. Pain and anxiety may occur during the rehabilitation of patients with burns. Both morning stiffness and bone erosion have been reported in the literature although causality is unclear. Erectile dysfunction has also been reported. Physical therapy has been used in pregnancy and although reports of major adverse effects are lacking in the available literature, caution is advised nonetheless. All therapies during pregnancy and breastfeeding should be discussed with a licensed obstetrician/gynecologist before initiation.
  • Psyllium: Psyllium, also referred to as ispaghula, is derived from the husks of the seeds of Plantago ovata. Psyllium contains a high level of soluble dietary fiber, and is the chief ingredient in many commonly used bulk laxatives. Results from human study suggest that psyllium may reduce the number of surgeries necessary to heal anal fissures. Further evidence is necessary.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to psyllium, ispaghula, or English plantains (Plantago lanceolata). Avoid in patients with esophageal disorders, gastrointestinal atony, fecal impaction, gastrointestinal tract narrowing, swallowing difficulties, and previous bowel surgery. Avoid ingestion of psyllium-containing products in individuals with repeated or prolonged psyllium exposure who have not manifested allergic or hypersensitive symptoms. Prescription drugs should be taken one hour before or two hours after psyllium. Adequate fluid intake is required when taking psyllium-containing products. Use cautiously with blood thinners, antidiabetic agents, carbamazepine, lithium, potassium-sparing diuretics, salicylates, tetracyclines, nitrofurantoin, calcium, iron, vitamin B12, other laxatives, tricyclic antidepressants (amitriptyline, doxepin, and imipramine), antigout agents, anti-inflammatory agents, hydrophilic agents, and chitosan. Use cautiously with diabetes and kidney dysfunction. Use cautiously if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Rose hip: Rose hips are the fruits that develop from the blossoms of the wild rose (Rosa spp.). They are typically orange to red in color, but some species may be purple or black. When applied topically, the volatile oils of aromatic plants may have physiological effects that will facilitate wound healing. Rose hips contain several vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, vitamin B1, vitamin E, calcium, zinc, and carotenoids, which could potentially promote wound healing when applied to the skin. Much larger and high quality clinical trials are needed to establish the therapeutic efficacy of rose hip and rose oil preparations in the topical treatment of surgical wounds and ulcers.
  • Use cautiously in patients who are avoiding immune system stimulants. Use cautiously in patients who are taking anticoagulant or anti-platelet aggregating agents, antibiotics, antineoplastics, antiretrovirals, anti-inflammatory agents, "Long-Life CiLi", antilipemics, aluminum-containing antacids, salicylates, or laxatives. Avoid in patients who are allergic to rose hips, rose pollen, its constituents, or members of the Rosaceae family.
  • TENS: Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a non-invasive technique in which a low-voltage electrical current is delivered through wires from a small power unit to electrodes located on the skin. Electrodes are temporarily attached with paste in various patterns, depending on the specific condition and treatment goals. TENS is often used to treat pain, as an alternative or addition to pain medications. Therapy sessions may last from minutes to hours. TENS is often used in conjunction with acupuncture therapy. TENS has been tested for its effects on blood flow to skin flaps used in plastic surgery procedures such as breast reconstruction. TENS has also been evaluated in patients with skin ulcers, diabetic foot ulcers, and chronic ulcers of various causes. More research is needed in this area.
  • Avoid with implantable devices, like defibrillators, pacemakers, intravenous infusion pumps, or hepatic artery infusion pumps. Use cautiously with decreased sensation, like neuropathy, and with seizure disorders. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Therapeutic touch: Although some studies report an improvement in wound healing with therapeutic touch, others show no benefits.
  • Therapeutic touch is believed to be safe for most people. Therapeutic touch should not be used for potentially serious conditions in place of more proven therapies. Avoid with fever or inflammation, and on body areas with cancer.
  • Vitamin A: In preliminary study, retinol palmitate significantly reduced rectal symptoms of radiation proctopathy, perhaps because of wound healing effects. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to vitamin A. Vitamin A toxicity can occur if taken at high dosages. Use cautiously with liver disease or alcoholism. Smokers who consume alcohol and beta-carotene may be at an increased risk for lung cancer or heart disease. Vitamin A appears to be safe in pregnant women if taken at recommended doses; however, vitamin A excess, as well as deficiency, has been associated with birth defects. Excessive doses of vitamin A have been associated with central nervous system malformations. Use cautiously if breastfeeding because the benefits or dangers to nursing infants are not clearly established.
  • Zinc: Although zinc is frequently cited as having beneficial effects on healing of incision wounds, few studies have investigated this use. Further research is needed. There are conflicting findings regarding the potential benefit of zinc for healing leg ulcers. Available studies reported no or few adverse effects.
  • Preliminary evidence suggests that topical zinc oxide oil may help manage perianal and buttock skin damage in incontinent patients. Further research is needed to better understand the role of zinc for treatment of skin damage caused by incontinence.
  • Zinc is generally considered to be safe when taken at the recommended dosages. Avoid zinc chloride since studies have not been done on its safety or effectiveness. Avoid with kidney disease. Use cautiously if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Fair negative scientific evidence:
  • Aloe: A well-designed human trial found no benefit of topical acemannan hydrogel (a component of aloe gel) in the treatment of pressure ulcers.
  • Avoid if allergic to aloe or other plants of the Liliaceae family (garlic, onions, tulips). Avoid injecting aloe. Do not apply to open skin, surgical wounds or pressure ulcers. Avoid taking by mouth with diarrhea, bowel blockage, intestinal diseases, bloody stools or hepatitis. Avoid with a history of irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), electrolyte imbalances, diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease. Avoid taking by mouth if pregnant or breastfeeding.

  • In order to prevent wounds from occurring, healthcare providers recommend that individuals: take care when using sharp objects such as knives, scissors, saws, and trimmers; wear shoes or boots on the feet; use helmets when riding a bicycle; use helmets, kneepads, wrist protectors, and elbow pads when using in-line skates or skateboards; and avoid picking up broken pieces of glass and handling razor blades.
  • If bedridden or immobile with diabetes, circulation problems, incontinence, or mental disabilities, healthcare providers recommend that the individual be checked for pressure sores every day. Also, look for reddened areas that, when pressed, do not turn white. Also look for blisters, sores, or craters. In addition, take the following steps: change position at least every two hours to relieve pressure; use items that can help reduce pressure such as pillows, sheepskin, foam padding, and powders from medical supply stores; eat healthy, well-balanced meals; exercise daily, including range-of-motion exercises for immobile patients; and keep skin clean and dry. Incontinent people need to take extra steps to limit moisture.
  • Individuals with diabetes should check their feet daily for blisters, sores, or other wounds in order to prevent serious infection and possibly amputation.

Author information
  • This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (

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  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. .
  3. Arnold M, Barbul A. Nutrition and wound healing. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2006;117(7 Suppl):42S-58S.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. .
  5. Dini V, Bertone M, Romanelli M. Prevention and management of pressure ulcers. Dermatol Ther. 2006;19(6):356-64.
  6. Langemo D, Anderson J, Hanson D, et al. Nutritional considerations in wound care. Adv Skin Wound Care. 2006;19(6):297-8, 300, 303.
  7. de Laat EH, Schoonhoven L, Pickkers P, et al. Epidemiology, risk and prevention of pressure ulcers in critically ill patients: a literature review. J Wound Care. 2006;15(6):269-75.
  8. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. .
  9. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. .
  10. Pieper B, Sieggreen M, Nordstrom CK, et al. Discharge knowledge and concerns of patients going home with a wound. J Wound Ostomy Continence Nurs. 2007;34(3):245-53; quiz 254-5.
  11. Wu SC, Driver VR, Wrobel JS, et al. Foot ulcers in the diabetic patient, prevention and treatment. Vasc Health Risk Manag. 2007;3(1):65-76.

Alopecia (hair loss)
  • Overview: Symptoms of alopecia vary among patients. Patients may experience subtle hair thinning, extensive hair loss, or baldness. Balding may be regional or more generalized. Males, females, and children can experience alopecia.
  • If hair loss is excessive, it may lead to baldness. Hair loss and baldness can occur for a number of different reasons.
  • Causes: There are two main types of hair loss: alopecia areata and androgenetica alopecia.
  • Alopecia areata is an immune system disorder. Normally, the immune system helps protect the body against disease and infection. However, the immune system in patients with alopecia areata mistakes the openings in the skin where hair grows, called hair follicles, as harmful invaders. As a result, the immune system launches an attack against the hair follicles, causing hair loss.
  • Androgenetica alopecia is an inherited form of baldness. This means the condition is passed down through families. An estimated 60% of patients with androgenetica alopecia are male. Androgenetica alopecia in men is also called male-pattern baldness or hair loss.
  • Other causes: Hair loss may be temporary or permanent. It is normal for some hair to fall out as a result of aging. This type of hair loss is permanent. Newborns experience temporary hair loss during the first several months of life. They lose their baby hair, also called vellus, when they are several months old. This baby hair is replaced with more permanent hair. Other common causes of temporary hair loss include illnesses, surgery, medications, medical treatments (such as chemotherapy), pregnancy, poorly performed hair treatments (such as dying or bleaching), and poor nutrition.
  • Symptoms: Patients with alopecia areata usually lose small round patches of hair on the scalp, face, and chest. Other parts of the body, including the eyelashes, eyebrows, and genitals, may also be affected.
  • Males with androgenetica alopecia may experience hair loss during adolescence. This type of hair loss usually starts at the temples and crown of the head. Eventually, the patient may become partially or completely bald. Females with androgenetic alopecia usually experience hair loss at the front, sides, or top of the head. Unlike males, females rarely develop complete baldness. Females usually only experience hair thinning.
  • Some patients with hair loss may have a difficult time coping with their appearance and may experience a decrease in their quality of life or suffer from low self-esteem. These patients may benefit from medical or non-medical hair replacements. Treatment may include hair pieces, surgery, or medications.
  • Patients who experience hair loss have an increased risk of developing sunburn, especially if they have light or fair skin.
  • Diagnosis: In most cases, alopecia does not require testing for a diagnosis. The healthcare provider can usually determine the cause of hair loss after a physical examination and medical history. If there is a family history of alopecia, androgenetica alopecia is suspected. The healthcare provider will also ask questions about recent infections, new medications, diet, and hair treatments (such as dying or bleaching) to determine if such factors are causing hair loss. If alopecia areata is suspected, a fluorescent antinuclear antibody (FANA) test may be used to confirm a diagnosis.
  • Treatment: It is normal for infants to lose their hair, and it should not raise concern. If other factors, such as hair treatments, are causing hair loss, the condition is temporary, and the hair will begin to grow back over time. If a medication (such as birth control pills) or medical treatment (such as chemotherapy) is causing hair loss, the hair will grow back once the treatment is completed. If a doctor confirms that poor nutrition or an illness is causing hair loss, the hair will grow back once the underlying cause is treated. There is currently no cure for alopecia areata or androgenetica alopecia. Although some patients with alopecia areata or androgenetica alopecia prefer to let the hair loss run its course, treatments are available.
  • Individuals may choose non-medical treatments, such as wigs or hairpieces, to replace lost hair.
  • Several treatments, such as hair replacement/restoration surgery and hair transplants, are available to replace lost hair. Hair replacement surgery is used to fill in balding areas with a patient's own hair, and hair transplant surgery involves transplanting hair from an area of thick growth to bald areas.
  • In addition, medications, such as spironolactone (Aldactone®), minoxidil (Rogaine®), finasteride (Propecia®), finasteride (Proscar®), and cimetidine (Tagamet®), may help prevent or minimize hair loss.
  • If patients with alopecia areata decide to pursue pharmacological treatment, they typically receive drugs called corticosteroids for the rest of their lives. These drugs help reduce the body's immune response, which limits the number of hair follicles that are attacked. Patients may receive injections with corticosteroids, such as betamethasone (Celestone®), into the scalp. Patients typically receive these injections monthly. Some patients with extensive hair loss may take corticosteroid pills. Corticosteroid creams and ointments, such as betamethasone (Diprolene®), have been applied to affected areas of the skin. However, creams and ointments are generally less effective than injections.
  • Patients who are bald or have bald patches of skin on the scalp should put sunblock on the scalp to prevent sunburn and skin cancer. Patients should choose a sunblock with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. The sunblock should offer protection against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Patients with hair loss should wear hats in the sun and try to minimize sun exposure, if possible. An umbrella or parasol may also be beneficial.

  • Overview: Dandruff is characterized by dry, flaky, and itchy skin on the scalp. It is estimated that 15-20% of people worldwide have dandruff.
  • Causes: A yeast-like fungus on the scalp, called malassezia, causes dandruff. This fungus, which feeds on the oils secreted by the hair follicles, is normally found on most healthy adults. Dandruff develops if the organism grows uncontrollably. Scientists have not discovered what causes an overgrowth of the fungus. It has been suggested that changes in hormone levels, stress, illnesses, neurological disorders (such as Parkinson's disease), a weakened immune system, increased oil production, and increased sensitivity to the malassezia fungus may lead to the development of dandruff.
  • Symptoms: Dandruff causes dry, itchy, and excessive flaking of skin on the scalp. White flakes of skin may be visible on clothing.
  • Diagnosis: A medical diagnosis is not required for dandruff.
  • Treatment: Patients can purchase medicated shampoos to treat dandruff. For instance, zinc pyrithione shampoos (Selsun Salon® or Head & Shoulders®), tar-based shampoos (Neutrogena® or T/Gel®), salicylic acid shampoos (Ionil T®), selenium sulfide shampoos (Selsun Blue®), and ketoconazole shampoos (Nizoral®) have been used to treat dandruff.

  • Overview: Hirsutism occurs when a woman develops excessive amounts of dark coarse hair on parts of the body where men usually grow hair, including the face (cheeks, upper lip, and chin), back, and chest. Researchers estimate that about 10% of Americans have hirsutism.
  • Causes: Hirsutism may develop if a woman has too many male hormones, called androgens. This is the case for about half of all women who have hirsutism. There are many conditions that may lead to high levels of androgens, including polycystic ovary syndrome, an adrenal gland disorder called Cushing's syndrome, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, and, in rare cases, tumors. Some medications that have androgenic activity, such as danazol (Danocrine®), may also lead to hirsutism.
  • Other cases of hirsutism are genetically inherited. The hair follicles of these individuals are unusually sensitive to androgens. The inherited form of hirsutism is most common in southern European and South Asian countries.
  • In some cases, there is no identifiable cause of the disorder. This is commonly called idiopathic hirsutism.
  • Symptoms: Coarse, dark hair develops on areas of the body, such as the face, back, and chest. If the condition is caused by high levels of androgens, women may also experience acne, decreased breast size, enlarged clitoris, increased muscle mass, amenorrhea (absence of menstruation), and deepening of the voice.
  • Diagnosis: A healthcare provider first takes a detailed medical and family history. During a physical examination, the doctor looks for excessive hair growth. The doctor may also look for additional physical symptoms that indicate an androgen imbalance, such as acne, decreased breast size, enlarged clitoris, increased muscle mass, amenorrhea (absence of menstruation), and deepening of the voice.
  • Blood tests may be performed to see if the patient has high levels of certain hormones in the blood, including testosterone and androgen. This helps the healthcare provider determine if high levels of androgens are causing the condition. An ultrasound may also be performed to determine if there are tumors or cysts on the ovaries or adrenal glands.
  • If high levels of androgens are detected, additional tests may be performed to determine the underlying cause. For instance, a computerized tomography (CT) scan of the adrenal glands may be performed to determine if an adrenal gland disorder, called Cushing's syndrome, is causing the disorder.
  • Treatment: A combination of self-care and medical therapies has been shown to effectively treat many patients with hirsutism.
  • Plucking, shaving, waxing, and threading may be used to remove unwanted hair. However, these procedures do not have long-lasting effects. Some women bleach their unwanted hair in order to make it less noticeable.
  • Patients may also undergo a procedure called electrolysis to permanently remove unwanted hair. During the procedure, a tiny needle is inserted into each hair follicle. An electrical pulse is used to destroy the hair follicle. Although this treatment is effective, it is painful and time consuming. There are some anesthetic creams available to help reduce the pain. Side effects of this treatment generally include lightening or darkening of the treated skin. In rare cases, it may cause scarring.
  • Laser therapy may also be used to remove unwanted hair. This therapy uses an intensely powerful beam of light to destroy hair follicles and prevent hair from growing. Treatment may last anywhere from a few minutes to hours, depending on the amount of hair that is being removed. Some patients may not grow any hair for long periods of time. Others may need to undergo repeat treatments from time to time. Because the laser beams are attracted to pigment, people with light skin and dark hair might benefit the most from this treatment. Laser therapy may be uncomfortable for some patients. Side effects may include color changes in the skin, redness and swelling on the treated areas, and sometimes burns on the skin.
  • Some patients may benefit from birth control pills or other medications that contain female hormones (estrogen and progestin), such as Cenestin®, Enjuvia®, or Gynodiol®. These medications stop the ovaries from producing androgen.
  • Medications, called anti-androgens, may also be beneficial. Anti-androgens, such as spironolactone (Aldactone®), prevent androgens from attaching to receptors in the body.
  • A prescription-strength cream, called elfornithine (Vaniqa®), is designed to reduce the growth of facial hair in women. The medication is applied to areas of the face that have unwanted hair. It may take up to two months before results are seen. This is because it slows the growth of new hair, but does not get rid of existing hair. The hair will start to grow back within eight weeks of stopping treatment. Common side effects include tingling or stinging sensations on the treated skin or a rash.

  • Overview: Poliosis is a condition that is characterized by a small patch of white hair. Poliosis can develop at any age and may affect hair on any part of the body. In some cases, poliosis may be a sign of an underlying medical condition.
  • Causes: Poliosis may be present at birth or occur later in life. Some cases are genetically inherited and are not a cause for concern.
  • Poliosis may also occur if the patient suffers from autoimmunity. This happens when the immune system, which is supposed to fight against disease an infection, mistakenly destroys the pigment cells in a localized area. This causes patches of white, colorless hair to grow.
  • Poliosis may also be a sign of underlying medical conditions, such as Marfan's syndrome, Waardenburg's syndrome, or a skin disorder called vitiligo.
  • Symptoms: Individuals with poliosis have white patches of hair that may develop anywhere on the body. However, most patients develop white patches on the front of the hairline.
  • Diagnosis: A healthcare provider will take a detailed medical and family history. A blood test may be performed to determine if an autoimmune or genetic disorder is causing the symptoms. A sample of skin may also be analyzed to determine if the patient has a skin disorder, such as vitiligo.
  • Treatment: There is currently no cure for poliosis. Individuals can choose to dye their hair so it matches their normal hair color. They may also style their hair in a way that covers or hides the white patch of hair.

Premature graying
  • Overview: Premature graying occurs when more than half of the hair on the head is white before the age of 40. Other hair on the body, including the facial, pubic, chest, and back hair, may also turn gray. Although the condition may be upsetting for some people, it is not a cause for concern.
  • Causes: Premature graying is an inherited condition that is passed down among families. People with family histories of premature graying have an increased risk of developing the condition.
  • Symptoms: The hair located near the temples is most likely to turn gray first. The gray hair may spread around the sides and to the crown over time. Other hair on the body, including facial, pubic, chest, and back hair may turn gray. Facial hair may also turn gray early, but chest and pubic hair usually turns gray a few years after the hair on the scalp does.
  • Diagnosis: A medical diagnosis is not necessary for premature graying.
  • Treatment: There is no cure for premature graying. Individuals can choose to dye their hair.

Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.

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