Monthly Archives: March 2021

We know hand dryers can circulate germs through the air. Why are they still used everywhere?


We know hand dryers can circulate germs through the air. Why are they still used everywhere?

March 29, 2021 1.20pm AEDT


  1. Christian Moro Associate Professor of Science & Medicine, Bond University
  2. Charlotte Phelps PhD Student, Bond University

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The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.


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Airborne contaminants, dirty toilet seats, mould and mildew: long before the coronavirus pandemic came around, the hygiene-focused among us knew public washrooms are grimy places.

Most adults visit the bathroom around 8-10 times a day. With an average hand-drying time of 30 seconds, we can expect between 4-5 minutes of daily dryer use per person (and more for people with an overactive bladder or similar disorders).

In an attempt to facilitate the hand washing process, are hand dryers adding to the filth by blowing contaminants around? And if so, why are they still common?

The need to dry

Drying hands is an essential part of the hand washing process. Wet hands can further the spread of microbes, since moisture facilitates their transfer from the skin to other surfaces.

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Compared to shaking your hands dry after a wash, using an air dryer or paper towel greatly reduces the number of surface bacteria that remain.

Warm air dryers remove moisture from the hands through evaporation, while jet air dryers remove it by using sheer force to disperse the droplets into the air.

Bathroom wall with both paper towels and air dryer.
Some bathrooms offer both paper towels and air dryers. Should you prioritise one of them? Christian Moro

It’s worth remembering hand dryers don’t create microbes and there’s usually only minimal bacteria on their nozzles, too. In many cases air dryers can even be fitted with filters that help clean and remove contaminants from the air.

Put a lid on it!

Nonetheless, while dryers themselves aren’t necessarily unclean, their forced air can help circulate bacteria around the space. This is why the main focus should be on preventing bacteria from surfaces ever becoming aerosolised (entering the air) in the first place.

If a toilet’s lid is left open when it’s flushed, a fine aerosolised mist of microbes enters the air. And this cloud of faecal matter can spread over an area of up to six square metres.

Research has shown even after flushing many times, a toilet can continue to emit contaminants into the air. In other words, a person infected with a virus could be spreading these germs for several hours after visiting the bathroom.

Public washrooms can therefore act as reservoirs for especially nasty bacteria, such as those which are resistant to antibiotics.

So are paper towels the solution?

Read more: Coronavirus and handwashing: research shows proper hand drying is also vital

Problems with paper

Paper towels remove water by absorption and take contaminants with them when they’re binned. However, they can cause plumbing problems if flushed down the toilet, which require time and money to fix.

Additionally, paper towels need to be continuously purchased, restocked and disposed of as waste — all of which leads to increased costs. In a worst-case scenario towels may run out, prompting people to exit without drying their hands at all.

Granted, in a hospital setting a dryer’s forced air may move microbes onto items handled by health professionals and patients, such as phones or stethoscopes. So paper towels may be a more suitable option here.

But they still don’t provide an entirely sterile environment and can be contaminated by microbes circulating in the area.

Toilet paper stuck to shoe leaves bathroom
If contaminated paper towels are discarded on the floor, people stepping on them can transfer germs via their shoes to outside areas. Shutterstock

Weighing the environmental impact

Although hand dryers do produce carbon emissions, studies have shown warm air dryers (which rely on evaporation) generate up to 70% more emissions than newer, fast jet dryers (which force out a rush of cold air).

Environmentally speaking, warm air dryers and paper towels perform roughly the same, on average.

Using recycled paper towels doesn’t seem to help much, either. This is because they can’t be recycled further, due to chemicals added to increase their absorptive properties as well as the overall energy required to manufacture them.

In the US, around six million tonnes of paper towels end up in landfill each year.

The dry debate continues

Some research has concluded paper towels make a more hygienic method for drying hands. Meanwhile, aggressive jet hand dryers seem to have shown the greatest potential for dispersing bacteria and particles over wider distances.

But there isn’t a clear winner in practise. A recent critical review concluded there wasn’t enough research weighing up both options and that until more robust studies were conducted, evidence-based public policy recommendations couldn’t be made.

This echoes both the World Health Organisation’s and Centre for Disease Control’s hesitance to offer recommendations for whether drying hands with air dryers is more or less effective than using paper towels.

Read more: The great bathroom debate: paper towel or hand dryer?

Tips for a healthy bathroom regimen

While hand dryers can circulate contaminants around a space, the aim should be to stop germs from becoming aerolised in the first place. If the contaminants aren’t in the air to begin with, their dispersion from hand dryers is less of a worry.

No standing on the toilet seat.
Common sense goes a long way in bathroom hygiene. Shutterstock

Health education on this front is important. Simple recommendations include:

  • closing the toilet lid before flushing
  • wearing a mask where recommended or required, especially for those who have respiratory tract symptoms or a cough
  • coughing or clearing your throat directly into a tissue and immediately throwing it in the bin
  • washing your hands regularly with soap and water and not forgetting to dry them, as wet hands are more likely to spread bugs and diseases.

In areas where infection control and prevention are paramount, such as hospitals or food production areas, measures such as increased airflow and air filters can also help.

The bottom line

Using paper towels comes with recurring costs, logistical problems and environmental considerations. Meanwhile, air dryers can further circulate vapourised bacteria.

Managers of public washrooms have much to consider when deciding which method of hand drying to provide. In some scenarios, hand dryers do present as a better option, which is why we continue to see them in public washrooms.

Regardless of what option you choose, don’t forget drying is an essential part of the hand-washing process. Both air dryers and paper towels are, by a long way, better than using nothing at all.

Yes, COVID vaccines are front and centre. But don’t forget about your flu shot


Yes, COVID vaccines are front and centre. But don’t forget about your flu shot

March 24, 2021 5.51am AEDT


  1. Ian Barr Deputy Director, WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza

Disclosure statement

Ian Barr has shares in an influenza vaccine producing company. The Centre receives funding from the Australian Government and from other industry based sources.


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As the nights begin to close in and the temperatures cool, it’s clear winter is approaching again.

With the winter season comes the risk of the usual winter lurgies, most of which result from respiratory infections. Some of the usual suspects include rhinoviruses (the common cold), RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), and influenza.

This year, of course, we’re also contending with the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) could escape from its quarantine status and circulate alongside these other viruses.

We don’t know yet how the winter season will play out in terms of respiratory viruses. But one important way we can prepare for it is by getting a flu vaccine.

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What will winter bring?

In 2020 there was a paucity of seasonal winter viruses. Only rhinoviruses circulated widely, while the others were either vastly reduced (for example, we saw a very minimal flu season) or very delayed (RSV circulated later than usual in some states until spring or even summer).

So what’s going to happen in 2021? Will it be similar to 2020, or will it be like 2019, which saw very high levels of influenza? Or perhaps something completely different?

We simply don’t know for sure. With COVID-related restrictions having eased in all Australian states and territories — albeit to varying degrees — people are free to move around, come together in crowds, and attend schools, universities and offices.

These activities promote the transmission of respiratory viruses, which explains why we saw such different trends in the usual winter lurgies last year, when we were mixing much less.

Read more: RSV is a common winter illness in children. Why did it see a summer surge in Australia this year?

But the virus circulation needs to start from somewhere. While some viruses are happy to circulate domestically, like rhinoviruses and adenoviruses, others, like influenza, are largely transported into the country each year. So it’s possible that if Australia’s international borders remain closed through winter, we may again have a less serious flu season in 2021.

On the other hand, if borders are opened and the flu does take hold, people might have reduced immunity to the viruses given the missed season last year, and be more susceptible.

A hand holds a thermometer. There is a cup of tea and tablets on a table in the background.
Last winter we saw significantly fewer cases of the flu than usual. Shutterstock

A vaccine is your best bet

In the face of this uncertainty, the usual adage prevails: “prevention is better than cure”. The best measure we can take is to get our influenza vaccine.

The flu vaccines available in Australia in 2021 under the National Immunisation Program are:

  • for children aged six months to five years — Vaxigrip Tetra® (Sanofi) and Fluarix® Tetra (GSK)
  • for children and adults aged five to 64 years — Vaxigrip Tetra®, Fluarix® Tetra and Afluria® Quad (Seqirus)
  • for adults aged 65 and over — Vaxigrip Tetra®, Fluarix® Tetra, Afluria® Quad and Fluad® Quad (Seqirus).

The Fluad® Quad vaccine, which is slightly different and more potent than the others, is the preferred vaccine for the over-65 age group. It contains a component called an adjuvant, which helps boost the immune response in elderly people.

This season’s flu vaccines are made up of four different viruses — two influenza A types and two influenza B types. The 2021 vaccines have two changes (both in the influenza A types) from the 2020 influenza vaccines.

It’s very hard to predict in advance which strains will circulate, but the World Health Organization provides guidance on this every year, and recommends which components of the vaccine should be updated accordingly.

All the influenza vaccines used in Australia are inactivated virus vaccines, meaning the virus contained in the vaccine doesn’t replicate, so you can’t get the flu from the vaccination.

Read more: Flu vaccines are updated every year. We can learn from this process as we respond to COVID variants

In addition to the flu vaccines under the National Immunisation Program, a new vaccine called Flucelvax® Quad (Seqirus) is available through retail outlets, like pharmacies, for people aged nine years and older.

This vaccine is the first influenza vaccine available in Australia which has been produced entirely in cell culture, rather than chickens eggs. This new vaccine may have some benefits over the traditional egg-based vaccines for certain people, for example those with severe egg allergies.

How effective are flu vaccines?

Flu vaccines are only moderately effective at preventing infection with influenza. On average, they offer around 60% protection across the population, although rates can often be higher in children.

While this is lower than we’d like, it’s the best measure we currently have to protect us from influenza infections. There’s also evidence it reduces the more severe consequences of being infected, such as being hospitalized or dying.

Scientists are continuing to work on new flu vaccines that may offer greater protection.

The corridor of a COVID-19 vaccination centre on the Gold Coast.
The COVID vaccine rollout might somewhat complicate the flu vaccine rollout this year. HEALTH QLD/AAP

The practicalities

This year’s vaccines are already becoming available through pharmacies and some GP clinics, and will be available under the National Immunisation Program from GPs and other providers, such as workplace immunisation programs, in April.

The flu season generally starts in earnest around June, so it’s reasonable to get your vaccine any time between now and then.

Under the National Immunisation Program, some groups are eligible to receive the influenza vaccine for free. These include:

  • adults 65 and older
  • all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians six months and older
  • children aged six months to five years
  • pregnant women
  • people with certain medical conditions.

For people who don’t fall into these groups, the vaccine costs as little as A$14.99.

Read more: You can’t get influenza from a flu shot – here’s how it works

Influenza vaccines are being rolled out this year alongside the COVID-19 vaccines. With both programs operating at the same time, there may be some confusion and logistical challenges.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation have recommended a 14-day gap between the COVID and flu vaccinations, regardless of which one you have first. This is something both individuals and providers will need to keep in mind and will mean some extra planning this year.


I will continue to work as normal through the lock down. Telephone consults are encouraged for those concerned about visiting the Medical Centre. The staff and doctors have all had their first vaccine against COVID.

Impact of progesterone on skin and hair in menopause

Impact of progesterone on skin and hair in menopause – a comprehensive review

S. Gasser , K. Heidemeyer , M. von Wolff & P. Stute Received 27 Mar 2020, Accepted 09 Oct 2020, Published online: 02 Feb 2021


In clinical practice, micronized progesterone (MP) is frequently recommended to treat signs and symptoms of skin and hair aging in menopausal women. The aim of this comprehensive review was to evaluate whether topically or systemically applied MP may effectively prevent or slow down signs of skin and hair aging. Three out of six identified studies reported an impact of MP on skin aging markers in menopausal women. Of these, two studies reported a benefit: one for topically applied MP, another for systemically applied combined menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) comprising MP as progestogen for endometrial protection. Tolerability and safety of MP were good. However, there was no study investigating the impact of MP on menopausal scalp hair. In conclusion, delay of skin aging comprises lifestyle adjustment, antioxidants, and several esthetic procedures. In menopausal women, MHT displays beneficial effects on skin aging. There is poor quality but promising scientific evidence for MP displaying anti-aging skin effects in menopausal women. However, good quality studies are needed.

Covid Vaccine.

I had my Astra- Zeneca Covid Vaccine shot yesterday. Twenty four hour later I have had minimal side effects. A bit tired, and some muscle aches. Women tend to react more than men, and the staff were vaccinated earlier this week and had more pain, swelling at the injections side, fatigue and some headaches. Those symptoms are receding now. My view is that this is a small price to pay to avoid getting Covid. In future you are most likely not going to be able to travel anywhere without a signed certificate of having completed a course of one of the Covid Vaccines.

Best preventive ‘medicine,’ and it’s not what you think

ew AJM article cites best preventive ‘medicine,’ and it’s not what you think

Alistair Gardiner|March 16, 2021

When it comes to preventive medicine, you might think of healthy behaviors like eating well, taking vitamins, getting enough sleep, or seeing your doctor or dentist for regular check-ups. So it may surprise you to learn that a recent article in the American Journal of Medicine (AJM) has identified the best preventive “medicine” for a variety of maladies.Man running with dog in park

Here’s one surprising form of preventive “medicine” every doctor should know about.

The “medicine” in question? Dogs. Yes, you read that right. Dogs. 

According to the article, our pet dogs offer us more than companionship and joy—they provide a whole range of health benefits. 

Our furry friends became the first animals we domesticated between 20,000-40,000 years ago; today, there are roughly 89 million pet dogs in the United States. According to a 2019/2020 pet owner survey, more than 63 million households in the United States have at least one dog.   

And that’s a healthy trend, according to research. 

“Whether [dogs] are terrestrial angels without wings (as many believe) or a highly-evolved species of wolf with an instinctive love of humans, their well-documented mental and physical health benefits should strongly encourage physicians to recommend dog ownership to their patients,” the author wrote.

Evidence is robust enough that the CDC has jumped on the canine bandwagon, noting that having a dog is linked to lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, decreased triglyceride levels, less loneliness, and more. 

Here’s a look at the research behind why dog ownership is great for physical and mental health.


Sometimes dogs leave us no choice but to get up and go—and such physical activity can be great for our health. According to the AJM article, more than half of all preventable deaths result from poor lifestyle choices, and lack of physical inactivity is at the top of that list.

Research shows that exercising regularly can significantly reduce all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and cancer mortality. Working out has been shown to help combat or prevent 26 chronic conditions, including hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline, and others. 

Evidence indicates that dog ownership is strongly associated with lowering risks of cardiovascular conditions and mortality. In short, having a dog means more frequent walks. 

“Credible evidence demonstrates that owning a dog, with its walking obligation, is strongly associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular conditions and death (hazard ratio = 0.77, 95% confidence interval = 0.73-0.80),” wrote the author. 

In fact, studies show that dog owners are four times more likely to achieve the 150 minutes per week of physical activity that’s recommended as a minimum by the US government’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.  

Past studies have reached the same conclusion. One review published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health examined 29 studies and found that roughly two-thirds of dog owners walk an average of 160 minutes per week and a median of four times per week. Another study, published in BMC Public Health, suggested that those who have a dog walk an average of 22 minutes more per day than those who don’t—and they sit around less, too. 


Rates of some immune-related conditions (from asthma to multiple sclerosis) are still on the rise, likely as a result of improvements in sanitation, vaccines, and antibiotics—eliminating some of the microorganisms that have kept our immune systems in balance. According to the author of the AJM article, this appears to have resulted in a trend of overstimulated immune systems, which mistakenly attack proteins like pollen or peanuts, or even the body’s own tissues. As it stands, around one in five children live with asthma and allergies, or autoimmune disorders like Crohn disease, lupus, MS, and others. 

Dogs, however, could be the antidote to this. The author noted that dogs share a number of “favorable microorganisms,” which live on their fur and in their mouths, with children. Exposure to these microbes can help protect against allergic diseases. The article cites a study that examined children living on farms, in close proximity to bacteria in barns and on animals, and found that these kids were far less likely to develop allergies or autoimmune diseases in comparison to nonrural children. 

Mental health

Even prior to the lockdowns and social restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic, mental health issues were prevalent, the author noted. Before COVID-19, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine reported that more than a third of adults 45 years and older felt lonely, and a quarter of those 65 or older were considered socially isolated. These conditions don’t just impact people’s emotional states, they can impact physical health, too. According to the AJM article, “loneliness and social isolation are significantly associated with a 50% increased risk of dementia, 29% increased risk of heart disease, 32% increased risk of stroke, and a greater risk of all causes of premature death.”

The companionship of living with a dog can help mitigate this. The author noted that dog ownership is associated with reduced rates of depression and can particularly help for subgroups like single individuals, homeless youth, older individuals who’ve lost a spouse, and elderly women.

For example, service dogs have been assigned to those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and there’s plenty of evidence that this practice helps, the author wrote. PTSD can lead to depression, substance abuse, and suicidal tendencies, and it impacts roughly 14% of all military veterans returning from war zones. Research has shown that having a service dog can significantly reduce the symptoms of PTSD and can lead to increased social interaction in general. 

Blood clots: five reasons they may happen

Blood clots: five reasons they may happen

March 17, 2021 4.45am AEDT •Updated March 17, 2021 5.12am AEDT


  1. Adam Taylor Professor and Director of the Clinical Anatomy Learning Centre, Lancaster University

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Adam Taylor is affiliated with the Anatomical Society.


Lancaster University

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A digital rendering of a blood clot travelling through a vein.
Blood clots can form in the lungs, brain, heart, or veins. SciePro/Shutterstock

There’s been a lot of concern in recent days about blood clots, particularly after reports from Germany of people developing cerebral vein thrombosis – a blood clot in the brain – after receiving the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. Other European countries have raised concerns about potentially increased risks of pulmonary embolisms and deep-vein thrombosis following vaccination.

However, AstraZeneca says there is currently no evidence that clots are associated with the vaccine, and the number of blood clots reported after having the vaccine is no greater than what would occur normally.

Clotting, also known as the coagulation system, is an extremely important function in the human body. Clotting helps prevent excessive blood loss both inside and outside the body when our skin, internal organs or vessels get damaged.

But though it may be a normal and essential process, if a clot becomes dislodged from where it has formed, it can become dangerous – especially if it becomes lodged in an organ, or in an artery that’s too narrow for it to fit through. This is typically known as an embolus. This can block arterial blood flow, which is essential to vital organs and may result in a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs), ischaemic stroke (clot in the brain) or a heart attack. They can also block veins, such as a deep vein thrombosis in the legs – known as a thrombus.

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Many things can increase a person’s chance of developing a blood clot. Here are five:

1. Obesity

People who are obese are more than twice as likely to develop a thrombus (blood clot in the leg) compared with people of a normal weight. This is because obesity causes chronic inflammation and reduced fibrinolysis (ability to breakdown clots).

Chronic inflammation also happens as a result of having less nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide is a molecule that protects the specialised endothelium (the blood vessel’s lining) and prevents cells from sticking to the endothelial surface. Even at an early age, people who are obese have significantly lower levels of nitric oxide. It’s this reduced amount of nitric oxide in obese people that increases damage to the lining of blood vessels, in turn, increasing the risk of clots forming.

2. Smoking

Smoking increases the risk of blood clots forming by up to threefold.

As with obesity, smoking reduces the amount of nitric oxide in the body and encourages the blood to stick together to form clots. This process is driven in part by significantly increased levels of fibrinogen, an important component in clotting, present in the blood of smokers. Chemicals in cigarettes also cause platelets in the blood to stick together. Together, these factors make the blood thicker, making it harder for the heart to pump it around the body, in turn, damaging the inner lining of the blood vessels.

3. Flying and inactivity

Travelling long distances in aircraft, or being immobilised for a long period after major surgery, can increase the risk of blood clots in the form of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – blood clots in the legs. The typical incidence of DVT is one in 1,000, but it increases up to threefold on flights longer than three hours.

Person holding their leg in pain.
Sitting on a flight can increase risk of blood clots in legs. Boyloso/ Shutterstock

Because the blood is not flowing as much, the cells and proteins in blood settle out and form clumps. When the person starts moving again, these clots can move around the body and block a blood vessel if they are not broken down. Increased body mass index, age and smoking increase the risk of developing DVT from inactivity or on flights.

4. Trauma and cancer

As many as one in four people who have had major trauma, which causes damage to blood vessels – such as if large bones have been broken – develop clots. In such cases, the clot formation is linked to both the injuries to the blood vessels themselves, as well as the often prolonged bed rest associated with treatment and recovery.

Similarly, people with cancer are five to seven times more likely to develop blood clots. This is because some cancers produce increasing amounts of coagulation factors that promote clotting. Cancer also damages healthy tissues, which causes them to swell and clot.

5. Contraceptive pill

Women taking the combined oral contraceptive pill containing artificial oestrogen and progesterone have been found to have a small increased risk of blood clots. Other oral contraceptives show similar levels of increase, with about 6-17 extra events per 10,000 women treated depending on the drug used, compared with women who don’t take the oral contraceptive.

The ingredients in contraceptives increase the levels of several clotting factors circulating in the blood, which increases the odds of blood forming clots in veins.


Research also shows that COVID-19 patients have significantly elevated levels of a molecule that forms when clots are present. This is because COVID-19 attacks the endothelial cells lining blood vessels, causing an increase in clots throughout the body and presenting as a vascular disease. One study also found between 2%-9% of COVID-19 patients develop pulmonary emboli (blood clots in the lungs). And COVID-19 patients are between three to six times more likely to develop blood clots in the veins compared with the rest of the population. Other factors – such as bed rest and age – may increase the risk of blood clots in COVID-19.

But while many factors can increase a person’s risk of blood clots, there’s still no evidence to suggest a link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots.

Message from Dr Holloway

Out receptionists and telephone system is likely to be very busy this week due to inquiries about the Covid Vaccine. I will ring you if any of you have problems getting through to me for your telephone consult.

A randomized clinical trial comparing vaginal laser therapy to vaginal estrogen therapy in women with genitourinary syndrome of menopause: The VeLVET Trial.

Menopause. 2020 Jan;27(1):50-56. doi: 10.1097/GME.0000000000001416.

A randomized clinical trial comparing vaginal laser therapy to vaginal estrogen therapy in women with genitourinary syndrome of menopause: The VeLVET Trial.

Paraiso MFR1, Ferrando CA1, Sokol ER2, Rardin CR3, Matthews CA4, Karram MM5, Iglesia CB6.

Author information



The aim of the study was to compare 6-month efficacy and safety for treatment of vaginal dryness/genitourinary syndrome of menopause in women undergoing fractionated CO2 vaginal laser therapy to women using estrogen vaginal cream.


This multicenter, randomized trial compared fractionated CO2 laser to estrogen cream at 6 institutions. We included menopausal women with significant vaginal atrophy symptoms and we excluded women with prolapse below stage 2, recent pelvic surgery, prior mesh surgery, active genital infection, history of estrogen sensitive malignancy, and other autoimmune conditions. The primary outcome was the visual analog scale vaginal dryness score. Secondary outcomes included evaluation of vaginal atrophy, quality of life symptoms, assessment of sexual function, and urinary symptoms. Adverse events (AEs) and patient global impression of improvement (PGI-I) and satisfaction were also assessed.


Sixty-nine women were enrolled in this trial before enrollment was closed due to the Federal Drug Administration requiring the sponsor to obtain and maintain an Investigational Device Exemption. Of the 69 participants enrolled, 62 completed the 6-month protocol; 30 women were randomized to the laser and 32 to estrogen cream from June 2016 to September 2017. Demographics did not differ between groups except the laser group was less parous (0 [range 0-4] vs 2 [0-6], P = 0.04). On patient global impression, 85.8% of laser participants rated their improvement as “better or much better” and 78.5% reported being either “satisfied or very satisfied” compared to 70% and 73.3% in the estrogen group; this was not statistically different between groups. On linear regression, mean difference in female sexual function index scores was no longer statistically significant; and, vaginal maturation index scores remained higher in the estrogen group (adj P value 0.02); although, baseline and 6-month follow-up vaginal maturation index data were only available for 34 participants (16 laser, 18 estrogen).


At 6 months, fractionated CO2 vaginal laser and vaginal estrogen treatment resulted in similar improvement in genitourinary syndrome of menopause symptoms as well as urinary and sexual function. Overall, 70% to 80% of participants were satisfied or very satisfied with either treatment and there were no serious adverse events. : Video Summary:

Essential Oils May Be Wreaking Havoc on Your Skin

skin deep

Essential Oils May Be Wreaking Havoc on Your Skin

When it comes to clean beauty, “natural” isn’t always best. Here’s what’s safe and beneficial, and what’s best to avoid.

  • Recent Article from The New York Times.

Credit…Chloe Zola

By Jessica Schiffer

  • March 11, 2021

When Kristen Fanarakis emerged from a facial at an all-natural salon in Atlanta, her face did not have the fresh, glossy glow she had hoped for.

“My face was basically falling off,” she said, noting that the result was closer to what happens after a Fraxel laser treatment, which can leaves patients with red, shedding skin for days. “I looked Frankenstein-ish.”

It wasn’t a normal reaction for Ms. Fanarakis, the 44-year-old founder of a clothing brand. She has what she describes as “strong Greek skin” that can withstand regular chemical peels and ample retinol usage. What her skin apparently couldn’t withstand was the papaya and pumpkin essential oils used during the facial.

“Skin care is a science, so assuming that something ‘natural’ is better is risky,” she said. “There are plenty of compounds out in nature that are bad for us.”

That sentiment is growing amid an unregulated “clean” beauty boom in which many new brands position themselves as better for skin simply on the basis of their natural, nontoxic ingredients. Essential oils, often added to products for fragrance or for their antibacterial properties, have become particularly controversial as they’ve grown in popularity, with companies like doTerra and Young Living raking in billions of dollars on sales of the oils.

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Dermatologists have long argued that essential oils are risky for skin, but customers are starting to catch on in the wake of unexpected and sometimes painful skin reactions. Last March, an article on the satirical website Reductress, titled “Essential Oils to Cure Your Rash From That Other Essential Oil,” offered a succinct summary of the backlash.

Dr. Annie Gonzalez, a dermatologist in Miami, has seen an uptick in essential oil reactions, calling them one of the leading causes of allergic contact dermatitis. The situation has worsened during the pandemic, she said, because people are experimenting with essential oil remedies while stuck at home.

“It’s becoming more problematic because people are using undiluted forms of these oils to make their own product,” Dr. Gonzalez said.

Lab-prepared products, however, can be just as problematic.

Last February, Gabrielle Puig, a 21-year-old student at George Washington University, decided to test out the Jet Lag mask from Summer Fridays, a much-hyped skin-care brand from the influencer Marianna Hewitt, to soothe her dry skin. Minutes after application, her face started stinging and tingling in a way that seemed counterproductive.

“I immediately took it off, and my skin was more red and irritated than ever before,” Ms. Puig said. After reviewing the ingredient list, she became convinced that the peppermint and citrus oils were the culprits.

In January, Summer Fridays posted an apology to customers after receiving a slew of negative reviews that mentioned rashes and hives as side effects. While the brand attributed the reactions to a product batch being compromised by a third-party manufacturer, it noted that it would be working to remove essential oils from its products “to mitigate any future potential for irritation.”

Why Essential Oils Are So Risky

To understand why essential oils can be risky for skin, it helps to understand what they are and are not. Extracted from flowers, bark, stems, leaves, roots and select fruits via either distillation or cold-pressing, essential oils are highly concentrated chemical components that contain a plant’s essence or smell.

“They require a high amount of plant material for processing, so they usually have much higher active ingredient concentrations than we’re used to,” said David Petrillo, a cosmetic chemist in Los Angeles. They are much more concentrated than popular oils like coconut and argan, for instance, which are considered “carrier” oils that are milder and are often used to dilute stronger essential oils.

While inhaling certain essential oils has been shown to affect the central nervous system and stimulate the brain to release neurotransmitters like serotonin that help with mood regulation, they’ve also been shown to disrupt the normal functioning of hormones. When it comes to the skin, some experts say that in small concentrations they offer antibacterial benefits, but many believe that beyond giving a product a nice scent, they do more harm than good.

“Using them on your skin almost insures that some of it will get into your bloodstream,” Dr. Petrillo said, listing a skin-crawling list of common side effects, including redness, chemical burns, headaches, swelling and blisters. And although many brands maintain that the antibacterial properties of essential oils aid in fighting acne, they can actually worsen breakouts.

“A lot of our clients with acne are using ‘cleaner’ skin-care brands that can actually clog pores because of the oils and botanicals they’re formulated with,” said Sofie Pavitt, an aesthetician in New York.

Although it’s possible to experience an allergic reaction to any essential oil, some are known to be riskier than others. Citrus oils, including lemon, orange and bergamot, are particularly dangerous, as they can be phototoxic, meaning they react to UV light and can cause skin to burn and blister. Cinnamon bark, clove, lemongrass, oregano, peppermint and jasmine oils are also known to cause irritation.

But the essential oil that most commonly wreaks havoc is also one of the most recommended by naturopaths and natural skin-care enthusiasts.

“Tea tree oil wins the prize,” Dr. Gonzalez said. “I see so many patients with acne or fungus who are convinced that tea tree oil is a miracle remedy for pretty much everything.” Using too much undiluted tea tree oil purchased at the drugstore for face masks, or for spot treatments, patients end up worsening their skin condition and develop tinea incognito, a fungal infection that’s masked and often exacerbated by the application of a topical agent.

“It makes it even harder for me to diagnose the primary issue, and it becomes more complicated to fix because you now have to repair the skin barrier that has been compromised by the use of these oils,” Dr. Gonzalez said.

How to Experiment With Clean Beauty, Safely

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to essential oils, and blacklisting them from your routine doesn’t have to be the answer. “Most of what we use in the beauty industry is really in that gray zone, where some people can use it without a problem and other people can’t,” Dr. Gonzalez said. “I always tell patients that it really depends on the dosage, the concentration and the source.”

Experts recommend looking for diluted concentrations of 0.5 to 1 percent or lower, preferably mixed with a less reactive carrier oil like argan or coconut. Since many brands don’t list concentrations, a simple smell test will do: If it’s very fragrant, it’s more likely to irritate your skin.

Your safest bet, Dr. Gonzalez said, is to do a patch test on the inside of your arm and let it sit, unwashed, for 48 hours to see how your skin reacts. People with underlying skin conditions like psoriasis, rosacea or eczema should be particularly cautious.

If you happen to fall in the sensitive camp but still want to experiment with “clean” beauty, a growing number of products explicitly avoid essential oils. Drunk Elephant lists them in its “suspicious six” ingredients to be wary of and keeps them out of its products.

Marie Veronique, a veteran brand in the clean beauty space, sells an essential oil-free line created in partnership with the San Francisco facialist Kristina Holey. And the skin-care line Peet Rivko was created by Johanna Peet specifically to address the lack of clean options for sensitive skin, the line positioned as the high-design version of the gentle drugstore stalwarts Cetaphil and CeraVe.

While a soothing line without fragrance isn’t a sexy sell, consumers (particularly Gen Z) are getting savvier about ingredients and the risks involved in the products they use.

“The idea that, just because something is natural it’s not necessarily better for your skin, is gaining more traction,” Ms. Peet said. “But as with many things in the beauty industry, it needs to be repeated many times before people fully get the message.”