When it comes to pregnancy, many people want the news as soon as possible, and a trip to the doctor’s office isn’t always practical. This is where a home pregnancy test comes into the picture. And for couples trying for “perfect timing” to increase the odds of becoming pregnant, a fertility monitoring kit to track ovulation can be helpful. Our guide to home pregnancy and ovulation tests will help you pick the best product to meet your needs. Keep the following in mind as you consider which and fertility tracking products:
- If you’re trying to become pregnant for the first time, a visit with your doctor to ensure you’re in good health and getting the proper nutrition needed to support a healthy pregnancy is a good idea.
- Home pregnancy tests work by detecting the presence of hCG in the urine of a pregnant woman. Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is a hormone produced by the developing embryo just after a sperm fertilizes an egg. It is later produced by the placenta—the tissue that develops to nourish a growing baby. Urine hCG levels begin to increase quickly following implantation, which is when the embryo secures itself to the lining of the uterus. Urine hCG levels double about every two to three days after implantation for about ten weeks.
- Different brands of pregnancy tests have different levels of sensitivity. For example, a pregnancy test that can detect 20 units of hCG per milliliter (ml) of urine will detect a pregnancy sooner than a test that can detect the hormone only after the concentration has reached 100 units of hCG per ml of urine. This is why women can get a “false negative”—a pregnancy test indicating she isn’t pregnant when she is. It also explains why some pregnancy tests cost more than others. The more sensitive tests tend to be more expensive. Because urine hCG levels increase over time, the longer you wait to take a pregnancy test after a missed period, the more likely the test will detect hCG if you are pregnant.
- Many pregnancy tests suggest testing urine first thing in the morning, when urine is most concentrated. This can improve the odds of detecting a pregnancy.
- Urine pregnancy tests at the doctor’s office are similar to tests found in the pharmacy. If you must know whether you are pregnant as early as possible, a blood test at the doctor’s office is the best option.
What they are: Pregnancy urine stick tests include a stick that is placed into a stream of urine. After a few minutes, the test will display lines, dots, or colors to indicate whether you are pregnant or not pregnant. If the test detects hCG in your urine, it will indicate you are pregnant.
Why to buy: These tests are easy to use and relatively inexpensive. To get the most sensitive test, pick the one that detects the lowest level of hCG in urine.
Things to consider: Some people do not want to “interpret” the test. They may question whether they are seeing the lines, dots, or colors on the stick that indicate pregnancy.
What they are: Digital urine stick tests are similar to regular urine sticks, except the stick displays the words “pregnant” or “not pregnant,” rather than other symbolization.
Why to buy: These tests are easy to use and, unlike regular urine stick tests, there is no guessing when you read the results. The digital display clearly indicates whether you are pregnant or not.
Things to consider: Digital urine stick tests are more expensive than other urine stick tests. As with regular urine sticks, the lower the level of hCG the test can detect, the more sensitive it will be.
What they are: Ovulation kits include either several strips, which are placed into a container of urine, or several sticks, which are placed into the urine stream. You can read the tests after five minutes. Strips and sticks provide similar accuracy, so use whichever test you prefer.
Why to buy: Ovulation kits can help you increase the chances of becoming pregnant. By letting you know exactly when you are ovulating, the test lets you know your most fertile time in your menstrual cycle; this is the time you are most likely to become pregnant.
Things to consider: Ovulation kits can be pricey, so you may want to try charting your ovulation for a few months using other methods first. Ask your doctor or nurse how to use an ovulation calendar, track your daily temperatures (with a special thermometer), and/or examine your vaginal discharge to approximately track ovulation. Once you do this, you’ll have an idea of how best to use an ovulation kit once you purchase it. Ovulation kits work by detecting luteinizing hormone (LH) in the urine. Urine will be tested for several days around the time a woman believes she is ovulating. Just before ovulation, LH levels surge, so if you detect a higher-than-average level of LH on a particular day, you know that you are about to ovulate. For most women, a positive ovulation test result means she is fertile—more likely to become pregnant—over the next three days. Peak fertility is usually around 36 hours after the LH surge. Most ovulation kits suggest testing urine mid-afternoon. This can improve the odds of detecting the surge in LH which indicates you are about to ovulate. Ovulation kits may not work well if a woman has a health condition that affects levels of reproductive hormones, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome. It may be more difficult to use an ovulation kit to accurately predict ovulation if your periods are very irregular. To understand how to track ovulation, remember that “day 1” of a woman’s cycle is the first day of her period. So if a woman ovulates on “day 14,” this means she is ovulating 14 days after she first starts her period.
What they are: Combination kits offer both ovulation tests and pregnancy tests all in one. This allows you to make one purchase and have what you need for one complete menstrual cycle when you are trying to get pregnant.
Why to buy: You’ll only need one trip to the drug store and one purchase to get both portions of the pregnancy picture—how best to become pregnant (the ovulation test) and whether you’ve been successful (the pregnancy test).
Things to consider: Complete kits can be expensive, so read all instructions carefully so that you maximize your chances of getting good results from each test. If you have any questions, call the manufacturer’s number or visit their website. These companies want you to have success with their products, so they are more than happy to help!
Walking is a fun and relatively easy way to get heart-healthy cardio while burning fat and calories. To maintain a healthy weight and stay active, try walking about 10,000 steps each day (approximately five miles). Do you want to lose a few extra pounds? Just step up the amount of walking each day. Whatever your goals, a pedometer is an easy way to keep track of your steps on the road to success.
Remember to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program, especially if you are overweight or managing a health condition.
What they are:A pedometer is a small device, usually worn on your belt or clipped to a pocket, which counts how many steps you take in a day. There are two types:
- Pendulum: Placement of a pendulum pedometer is vital for accuracy and they must remain in a vertical position on the hip or waist band.
- Piezoelectric accelerometers: These can be placed anywhere on the front of the body, and some can even be kept in a pocket or on a neck lanyard and still provide accurate step counts.
Most pedometers weigh only a few ounces and include a security strap to attach to clothing to prevent you from losing it.
Why to buy: Pedometers are an easy way to track your daily exercise and overall health. Beyond counting steps, many pedometers track the distance in miles, amount of time you’ve been active, and total calories burned.
Things to consider: When choosing a pedometer, consider the size of the display screen and the ease of reading results. Pendulum-style pedometers are generally less expensive than accelerometers, but the counting of incidental steps can be frustrating. Advantages of accelerometer pedometers are there are no moving parts and they remain silent as they record every step you take. Remember you’ll need to set your average step length or stride length in order for the pedometer to be accurate. Read the instructions on your pedometer carefully; most ask for the step length and explain how to measure it properly. Also note that some pedometers reset at midnight so you’re ready to go each morning, while others require you to manually reset them. Look at whether you need to change the batteries regularly or if it’s rechargeable through a USB connection to your computer.
What they are: Monitors that help you measure steps plus other tracking, such as heart rate, calories burned, and so on.
Why to buy: Pedometers with features that track heart rate and so on are handy for keeping an eye on your cardiovascular health, too. More advanced models include a memory function to save your accomplishments and some can upload data to a website, so you can easily track your results online and share with your doctors and friends.
Things to consider: When investing in tools to support your health goals, sometimes simplest is best, but other times it can be helpful to combine goals and look for a device that will give you other helpful information, such as heart rate or trackable online information.
Even the most informed shopper can be challenged by the prospect of choosing a multivitamin. Between the different ingredients, numerous brands, and conflicting information, it’s hard to know what’s best for you and your family. Our guide gives you the A, B, C’s—and D’s and K’s—of selecting the right multivitamin to meet your family’s needs. Keep the following in mind when selecting multivitamins:
- Supplements are not meant as replacements for a healthy diet. Getting good nutrition from food is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, however, supplements may help cover nutritional gaps.
- Prenatal multivitamins are a must for pregnant women or women who are trying to become pregnant. Due to their high levels of certain nutrients, prenatal vitamins are only appropriate for pregnant or nursing women, and women trying to become pregnant.
- Some multivitamins may contain extra ingredients to rev up metabolism or increase energy, such as caffeine, green tea extract, and guaraná. Consult a knowledgeable healthcare provider regarding whether these are safe and beneficial for you.
- Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking a multivitamin, especially if you are taking medications or are considering a multivitamin that contains herbs. Nutritional and herbal supplement ingredients may interact with over-the-counter and prescription medications and may not be safe for some people.
- Consider other relevant lifestyle factors when selecting a multivitamin. For example, if you’re especially active, try a multivitamin formulated for athletes. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, a multivitamin without animal ingredients, such as gelatin, that provides extras you may not be getting from food, is a good option.
- Some multivitamins do not meet complete needs for all vitamins and minerals, so consider additional supplements if appropriate. For example, many women take extra calcium and vitamin D for bone health.
- Natural multivitamins tend to be more expensive than synthetic or “manufactured” versions. For many nutrients, the natural and synthetic forms are identical, so paying extra may not make sense for some people. For other nutrients, however, such as vitamin E and beta-carotene, the natural forms may provide health benefits you wouldn’t get otherwise.
What they are: Gender-specific multivitamins are formulated to address men and women’s different nutritional needs.
Why to buy: Basic multivitamins may not provide enough of certain nutrients or too much of others for some men and women.
Things to consider: Gender-specific multivitamins may or may not address age-specific nutrient needs. Read labels carefully and pick a product that meets not just your nutrient needs by gender, but also by age.
What they are: Multivitamins formulated for children address the different nutrient needs of kids, based on age. Formulas are available for babies, toddlers, school age children, and adolescents.
Why to buy: Children require less of some nutrients and more of others to nourish growing bodies. Children’s multivitamins address these unique needs and are available in chewable and liquid forms, making them easier for kids to take.
Things to consider: Adult multivitamins aren’t meant for kids, so stick to age-appropriate children’s multivitamins. Avoid artificial colors, flavors, and added sugars—things many parents do not want to give their children.
What they are: Often sold as “senior” or “silver” multivitamins, these formulas address nutrition needs that change with advancing age.
Why to buy: Seniors need more of some nutrients and less of others. For example, after age 70, the recommended amount of vitamin D increases from 600 IU to 800 IU.
Things to consider: Ask your doctor if medications you take affect your nutrition needs or your body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients. Also ask if it’s safe to take your vitamins at the same time as your medications. Some nutrients and medications can interact with one another, and taking them separately is important for health.
What they are: Prenatal multivitamins provide necessary extras for a healthy pregnancy, such as additional folic acid, other B vitamins, vitamin C, iron, and zinc.
Why to buy: Regular multivitamins do not provide enough of critical nutrients to ensure healthy development of your baby. Shortages of certain nutrients can increase the risk of serious birth defects, so a prenatal multivitamin is a smart choice if your trying to become, or already are, pregnant.
Things to consider: If you are trying to get pregnant, be sure to start your supplements beforehand as nutrition may protect your baby best before you even know you’re pregnant. After your baby arrives, ask your doctor for advice on whether to continue taking your prenatal vitamin or whether to switch to a different formula for women who are breast-feeding. If you aren’t breastfeeding, you can go back to your usual age-appropriate multivitamin for women.
The amount of body and facial hair we consider appropriate and attractive is shaped largely by culture. And if we happen to live in a culture that values less hair, we have many choices for removing it. Our guide will help you determine which hair-removal products meet your budget, goals, and comfort level. Here are some points to keep in mind when selecting hair-removal products:
- Women, if you notice a sudden, significant change in your body hair's texture, color, or quantity, consult your doctor. This can signal a hormone imbalance or polycystic ovarian syndrome, both of which are treatable.
- Hair on different parts of the body can be thick, thin, coarse, or fine; a product designed to remove hair from one part of the body or face may not be appropriate for use in other areas.
- Be realistic about how much inconvenience and discomfort you’re willing to tolerate when choosing a hair-removal method. Waxing and epilators, which mechanically remove multiple hairs at a time—pulling them out by the root—give longer-lasting results, but the process can be painful for some people.
What they are: Hair-removal lotions, gels, and creams are applied to the skin, left on for a few minutes to dissolve hair, then wiped and rinsed away. Products to remove hair from different areas of the body and face are available. Some products contain soothing ingredients such as aloe to lessen the risk of skin irritation.
Why to buy: Hair-removal lotions, gels, and creams are easy to use and relatively inexpensive. For some people, these products cause less skin irritation than shaving, because hair is dissolved, which eliminates blunt ends and reduces the risk of razor bumps and ingrown hairs.
Things to consider: All gel, cream, and lotion hair-removal products contain chemicals that dissolve hair. If you have sensitive skin, hair-removal lotions, gels, and creams may cause irritation. To minimize this risk, choose a product formulated for sensitive skin, leave on the minimum amount of time suggested in the instructions, and use only in the areas indicated on the package. Do a small patch test on the area from which you plan to remove hair to ensure any new product doesn’t cause a rash or other skin reaction. Hair-removal products can bleach or discolor towels, bathmats, and clothing, so use caution when applying.
What they are: Waxes are spread over the area intended for hair removal and a cloth strip is pressed onto the wax. The end of the strip is grabbed and the entire strip is removed in one fast motion. The wax holds onto the hairs, pulling them out.
Why to buy: Waxing leaves a smooth, long lasting result. Most waxing kits are inexpensive, and you can choose from waxes that require gentle heating prior to use, or “cold waxes,” which can be applied straight out of the package. Over time, less and less hair tends to grow back in areas that are repeatedly waxed.
Things to consider: Many people find waxing painful, because each hair is removed by the root. If you’re new to waxing, use caution; some people accidentally remove the top layer of skin on the first try, which can leave skin painful and raw. If a few stray hairs remain after waxing, using tweezers to remove them is safer than rewaxing the same area. With hot wax kits, do not overheat the wax as you can burn your skin. Some people find that taking an anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin or ibuprofen about 30 minutes before waxing can lessen the pain.
What they are: Epilators are small, handheld devices that are slowly rubbed along the skin. They use rotating discs or wire coils to grab multiple hairs at a time, pulling them out by the root.
Why to buy: Good-quality epilators can be expensive, but they will last a long time and most brands offer a warranty. Epilators give a longer-lasting result than many other hair removal methods. Over time, less and less hair tends to grow back in areas where you repeatedly use the epilator.
Things to consider: Removing hair with an epilator can be painful. Read product reviews to determine which product works best with the minimum amount of discomfort. If you are comfortable with waxing, chances are good that you will find an epilator easy to use as well. Some people find that taking an anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin or ibuprofen about 30 minutes before using an epilator can lessen the pain.
What they are: Trimmers are products designed to trim hair in a specific area of the body or face, such as the beard area, the nose, or the ears. They come in many shapes and sizes designed to easily access each specific area to be trimmed.
Why to buy: Trimmers are ideal for areas over which you don’t want total hair removal. For example, trimmers can keep a beard or hair cut looking neat, or prevent ear or nose hairs from being visible to others.
Things to consider: Trimmers run the gamut from very basic to more elaborate models, with attachments, variable speeds, and other features. Plan to spend more money if you want a trimmer with multiple features. Trimmers require cleaning, and blades may need to be replaced periodically to keep the trimmer in good working order. Online product reviews can help you determine which models are most reliable.
It’s important to avoid excessive sun exposure, because it is linked to photoaging—the process through which skin becomes wrinkled, rough, dry, or discolored with age—and it increases skin cancer risk. But for outdoor types, caring for skin after a day at the beach or barbecue is an important part of fun in the sun. Whether you need to sooth a sunburn or moisturize to keep your glow, our guide to after-sun skin care will help you find the right products. Keep the following points in mind as you consider after-sun skin care products:
- Always use sunscreen when out in the sun to prevent sunburns and skin damage.
- If you accidentally end up with a serious sunburn, ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice. Taking an anti-inflammatory pain reliever and applying ice packs or cool compresses can ease the suffering.
- If you or a family member experience fever or chills after time in the sun or after getting a sunburn, seek medical attention. This can signal a serious problem such as sun poisoning, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke.
What they are: After-sun skin care lotions tend to be thick, hydrating products that can seal moisture back into parched skin.
Why to buy: If you enjoy lots of outdoor time, an after-sun lotion may help keep your skin soft and supple.
Things to consider: These products come both with and without fragrance; if you have sensitive skin, opt for one without. These products are heavier than typical lotions, so use sparingly if you tend to have body acne.
What they are: After-sun skin care gels, wipes, and sprays typically are designed for sun-exposed or sunburned skin. They may contain aloe, chamomile, or other sunburn soothers.
Why to buy: Gels, wipes, and sprays are easier to apply than lotions and may be less irritating to sensitive sunburned skin. Gels, wipes, and sprays can be lighter than lotions, so they don’t tend to “seal in” the heat of sunburned skin—a good thing for anyone with a sunburn.
Things to consider: If your main goal is moisturizing, stick with a lotion.
What they are: Tan extenders are highly moisturizing and may contain ingredients that are designed to slow down the turnover and shedding of surface skin cells.
Why to buy: A tan is within the top few layers of skin; slowing down how quickly your body sheds those outer skin layers can lengthen the time you remain tan.
Things to consider: Some tan extenders come in bottles that look similar to sunscreens, but tan extenders are not designed to block the sun’s harmful rays. Read labels carefully to avoid accidentally using a tan extender as a sunscreen, which may lead to a nasty sunburn.
Many things motivate people to quit tobacco: being a good role model, wanting to reduce others’ exposure to second hand smoke, saving money, and wanting to feel better and improve health. Whatever your reason, keep in mind that quitting cold turkey is the least successful method for kicking cigarettes for good. Fortunately, many over-the-counter and prescription quit aids have been developed that may significantly improve your odds of success. As you figure out which quit-smoking aids best meet your needs, keep the following in mind:
- Some treatments to stop smoking are covered by health insurance. Check with your carrier to see.
- Some products are available both over the counter (behind the pharmacy counter) and with a prescription. Ask your health insurance about whether you need a prescription for coverage or reimbursement.
- Try, try, and try again. People who successfully quit smoking rarely do so on the first attempt. If you’ve tried before without success, don’t be discouraged. Consider a different quit aid—the nicotine patch instead of gum, or adding in a prescription medication—and evaluate what worked and didn’t work to keep you on track during past attempts to quit.
- Start with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist. They can offer invaluable advice and connect you with programs for people trying to quit, including support groups and other resources. Consider taking advantage of these supports, because most people do best when they combine quit-smoking products with behavior change programs.
- When selecting a product, consider your current medications and health conditions. Consult your doctor or pharmacist if unsure about whether any particular smoking cessation product is safe for you.
- Use nicotine replacement carefully and follow all package directions. Some people load up on patches, gum, and sprays yet continue to smoke at the same time. This can overload your system with nicotine, resulting in jitters, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, and trouble sleeping. Some products can be used together, so ask your doctor or pharmacist what’s best for you.
What they are: Nicotine patches are similar to an adhesive bandage; you place one on your skin and it releases a constant amount of nicotine into the body while you wear it. They come in different sizes, with larger sizes delivering more nicotine.
Why to buy: Nicotine replacement patches are available over the counter or with a prescription, and typically cost less per day than a pack of cigarettes. Patches are convenient and easy to use and can be removed during sleep to lessen the likelihood of insomnia. Due to the constant, slow release of nicotine, you are not likely to develop a craving for a patch; it doesn’t provide the intense delivery of a cigarette.
Things to consider: Unlike smoking, which delivers a large dose of nicotine to your body within seconds, nicotine from a patch can take up to three hours to get into the body. For this reason, putting on a patch when a cigarette craving strikes is not effective. The nicotine patch reduces smoking withdrawal symptoms, such as lack of concentration and irritability.
What they are: Nicotine replacement gums are available over the counter or with a prescription and typically cost much less per day than a pack of cigarettes. Gum comes in different strengths to provide the amount of nicotine you need, based on your previous smoking habits.
Why to buy: Gums are relatively convenient and easy to use, although you must remember to keep yours with you, because it must be chewed frequently to deliver enough nicotine to manage cravings. Though it cannot get nicotine into your body quite as quickly as a cigarette, gum delivers nicotine within minutes, which is far faster than a patch.
Things to consider: Nicotine gum should not be used with cigarettes and you should not eat or drink for 15 minutes before or while using the gum. To chew enough gum to quell cravings, most people need between 15 and 30 pieces per day, chewed off and on for about 30 minutes. Nicotine gum should not be chewed continuously like regular gum and should never be swallowed. It is chewed a few times to break it down and then placed in between your gum and cheek for 10 or 15 minutes, chewed again for a bit, then put back into the cheek. Continuous chewing may cause stomachaches.
What they are: Nicotine replacement lozenges and lollipops are available over the counter or with a prescription. They may cost a bit more than patches or gum, but typically less than a pack of cigarettes. Lozenges and lollipops come in different strengths to provide the amount of nicotine you need, based on your previous smoking habits.
Why to buy: Some people don’t like to chew gum and prefer sucking on a candy to replace nicotine when quitting smoking. These products are relatively convenient, but you must remember to keep them on hand to use throughout the day. Lozenges and lollipops deliver nicotine within a few minutes, similar to gum.
Things to consider: Nicotine lozenges and lollipops should not be used with cigarettes and you should not eat or drink for 15 minutes before or while they are in your mouth. Nicotine lozenges and lollipops should not be chewed or swallowed as this can lead to heartburn and stomachaches. Some people find these products irritate the mouth and throat.
What they are: These products deliver nicotine through a spray into the nose or are inhaled through the mouth. They are available by prescription only.
Why to buy: Nicotine nasal sprays and inhalers deliver nicotine as quickly as a cigarette, making them particularly helpful for people who are highly dependent on tobacco. For the person who smokes more than a pack of cigarettes per day, these products may be very effective.
Things to consider: You need a prescription to obtain a nicotine spray or inhaler. Sprays cost about the same as gums and patches, but inhalers can be more expensive. They may be covered by insurance, which can help reduce the cost.
What they are: Two different non-nicotine prescription medications may help people quit smoking by reducing the desire to smoke.. These are bupropion (brand name Zyban) and varenicline (brand name Chantix).
Why to buy: These medications may significantly increase the quit smoking success rate beyond using nicotine replacement alone. They can be used in conjunction with nicotine replacement, further increasing success rates of quitting.
Things to consider: Like all prescription medications, these drugs can have side effects. Many people tolerate them well, but some people experience very serious side effects, particularly from varenicline, which in some people causes hostility, agitation, anger, aggression, depressed mood, anxiety, paranoia, confusion, mania, or suicidal thoughts or actions. These can develop when a person begins taking the medication, after several weeks of treatment, or after stopping the varenicline. Insurance may not cover the cost of these medications.
Excessive sun exposure causes photoaging—a cumulative process through which our skin becomes wrinkled, rough, dry, and discolored. Even more concerning is that too much exposure can cause skin cancer. Yet, time in the sun is often part of a healthy and active lifestyle, and our bodies need sun in order to make vitamin D, a biomolecule with many essential functions. Fortunately, an array of sunscreen products are available that can help protect your skin when spending time outdoors. Keep the following points in mind as you consider sunscreen products:
- Even if you are trying to get a small amount of sun exposure to allow your body to make vitamin D—experts agree that 15 minutes of early morning or late afternoon sun is plenty for most people—minimize or avoid midday sun, when rays are the strongest (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.).
- When in the midday sun, wear a broad-brimmed hat and cover skin with clothing, whenever possible. A plain white t-shirt offers an SPF of about 8 (not much). Darker colors typically offer more protection.
- Use a water-resistant sunscreen if swimming or sweating.
- Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, or more often, according to activity level and label directions.
- If your skin is never exposed to sunlight without sunscreen, consider taking a vitamin D supplement to avoid deficiency.
- Sunscreens that only block ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation are fine for preventing sunburn, but don't protect against skin cancer or early photoaging.
- Sunscreens that block both UVA and UVB radiation and have an SPF of 15 or higher are labeled “broad spectrum” and may help protect against more of the harmful effects of sunlight.
- Healthcare professionals generally recommend a broad-spectrum SPF of 30 or higher.
SPF—“sun protection factor”—is a measure of the time it would take a person to burn in the sun without sunscreen vs. the time it would take them to burn with sunscreen. The scale is not linear, so SPF 30 does not offer twice the protection of SPF 15: SPF 15 blocks about 94% of UV rays, SPF 30 blocks 97%, and SPF 45 product blocks 98% of rays, but only for a couple of hours. After that, all sunscreens, regardless of SPF, must be reapplied for full protection.
Another kind of burn risk
Spray-on sunscreens often contain flammable ingredients. Several incidents of significant burns in people wearing spray-on sunscreens near open flames have led the FDA to issue a warning about the use of these products, directing people to stay away from flames, sparks, and ignition sources while applying and wearing spray-on sunscreens.
What they are: Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients that react with the sun’s radiation as it hits your skin, preventing the rays from harming skin.
Why to buy: Chemical sunscreens are found in many water-resistant products because they tend to have more “staying power” than other sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens tend to be less expensive and come in easy-to-apply options, such as lotions, gels, sprays, wipes, and sticks.
Things to consider: Some people have allergic reactions to certain chemical sunscreen ingredients. Common offenders include PABA, cinnamates, oxybenzone, and salicylates. If you’ve had skin reactions to chemical sunscreens, try a brand that is free of the chemicals to which you've reacted (if known). Also, try fragrance- and oil-free products to minimize skin reactions.
When sunscreens wash off the skin, they enter the environment. Some chemicals used in sunscreens have been shown to damage coral, and to accumulate in fish and other marine life, where they act as hormone disrupters.
In 2011, the FDA expressed concerns about spray-on sunscreens, especially for children, since it is unclear whether this method of application leads to inhalation of unsafe chemicals, or adequately protects against sun damage.
What they are: Physical sunscreens contain finely ground mineral particles, such as zinc and titanium salts, that form a physical “shield” against the sun’s radiation. The two most common physical sunscreen ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
Why to buy: Physical sunscreens are less likely to cause skin irritation and rashes than chemical sunscreens, making them an attractive option for young kids and adults with sensitive skin. For consumers who prefer to reduce chemical exposure, many health experts advise using physical sunscreens and many pediatricians recommend them for children under two years.
Things to consider: Physical sunscreens, when properly applied, usually give a white appearance to the skin. To reduce this effect, some manufacturers have developed more transparent zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sunscreens using so-called nanoparticles. Although concerns have arisen regarding the potential harms of nanoparticles of zinc and titanium salts, the research so far indicates that they do not pose health dangers.
Physical sunscreens are likely to cost more by volume than chemical sunscreens. In addition, some people find that physical sunscreens “sweat off” more easily, which means they have to be reapplied more frequently to ensure protection.
Keep in mind that even physical sunscreens can contain fragrances or oils, both of which may irritate skin.
What they are: All-natural sunscreens contain only physical sun-blocking ingredients, and may contain herbs and other plant extracts to soothe the skin as well. They do not contain synthetic chemicals, fragrances, or oils.
Why to buy: For those who have children with extremely sensitive skin or very young children, all-natural sunscreens can be a good option.
Things to consider: Because these sunscreens contain physical sun-blocking agents, all of the concerns associated with physical sunscreens apply to all-natural sunscreens. All-natural sunscreens are not as resistant to water and sweat, so a single application may not provide enough protection for a long day at the beach or pool. Be sure to reapply them often to maximize the benefits.
What they are: Long-wear and water-resistant sunscreens are designed to offer the best protection in active situations, such as during exercise or when swimming. Product labels will tell you whether they have been rated for 40 or 80 minutes of protection. After that time they must be reapplied for full sun protection.
Why to buy: For active people, long-wear and water-resistant products may be the only type of sunscreen that truly protects against sun damage. If you tend to sweat a lot or like to swim, these products can be a good option.
Things to consider: Many people find long-wear sunscreens feel “sticky” or “greasy” on the skin. While this may be annoying, this is the reason these products can stand up to sweat and water while still offering sun protection. Labeling requirements allow a product to be called water “resistant,” but not “water-proof” or “sweat-proof.”
What they are: Sunscreens marketed for kids can contain chemical or physical sun-blocking ingredients, or sometimes a combination of the two. These products are usually designed to be safer and gentler on the skin, and often do not contain the chemical ingredients most likely to cause irritation or allergic reactions or pose health harms (PABA, cinnamates, oxybenzone, and salicylates).
Why to buy: Try a kid-friendly sunscreen for your family, especially for children younger than 12 years. The most kid-friendly products contain only physical sun-blocking ingredients.
Things to consider: There are no regulations guiding the use of the words “children,” “kids,” and “family” in product names or marketing—in some cases, these products are no different than those marketed for general use. Sunscreens marketed as kid-friendly tend to cost more, so be sure the formula is truly gentle and safe.
Sunscreens are not recommended for babies under six months old. Babies should be protected from the sun by keeping them in the shade or covered up if they have to be in the sun.
Many people track body weight to ensure they stay in a healthy range, and for the millions of people who go on a weight-loss diet each year, a good-quality scale is an essential tool. As you choose a scale, keep the following in mind.
- Health insurance may cover the cost of a home scale, or you may be able to use a health savings account to pay for one. Call your insurance provider to find out before making your purchase.
- Place the scale on a flat, hard surface for the most accurate readings.
- Heavier weight that makes it difficult for scales to shift around can be an indication of higher quality.
- Before purchasing, weigh yourself five times in a row. If you get the same number all five times, the scale has good precision.
- To check accuracy, compare weight from your home scale against weight on an upright scale at a doctor’s office. These numbers should be the same or very close to one another.
- Many things cause short-term weight fluctuations, including how much and what you’ve eaten, whether you’ve exercised recently, whether you’re properly hydrated, what you’re wearing, and time of day. Weigh yourself once per week or less if you’re trying to lose weight; daily fluctuations can lead to dieting frustration.
What they are: Mechanical, or analog, scales have a dial readout displaying weight in pounds and kilograms.
Why to buy: Mechanical scales tend to be less expensive, don’t require a battery, may come with extra large numbers for ease of use, and are the simplest to use.
Things to consider: Over time, mechanical scales may consistently add or subtract a few pounds. Most come with a tension knob to adjust the scale as required
What they are: These scales give a digital (and sometimes audio) readout of weight.
Why to buy: Digital scales may have features to allow storing and tracking weight over time, may have the ability to switch between pounds and kilograms, and may provide voice readouts of weight. If several family members are using one scale, consider a model with a multiple-user memory function.
Things to consider: If you’re concerned about cost and ease of use, a mechanical scale may be a better choice. Digital scales require batteries, which need to be replaced when they wear out, so consider buying a rechargeable set for best value.
What they are: Digital scales with full features can measure and track body weight, body mass index, percent body fat and lean body mass, hydration status, and bone mass.
Why to buy: These models are a good choice for those who want the most information about weight and related measures. Tracking fat and lean body mass can motivate some people to more consistently follow a healthy diet and exercise plan.
Things to consider: Extra features often mean higher cost. These models provide an idea of fat and lean mass, bone mass, and hydration, but are not always completely accurate. You should not rely on results from these scales to make important medical decisions. Digital scales require batteries, which need to be replaced when they wear out, so consider buying a rechargeable set for best value.
From the summer months when we are outdoors in wind and sun, to wintertime when indoor heating and frigid temperatures result in overly dry air, we’ve all experienced flaky skin and dry patches. Finding the right products to nourish dry skin is key to keeping your outermost layer happy and healthy. Keep the following points in mind as you consider skin moisturizers:
- If you’ve never had severely dry skin in the past and develop it suddenly, talk to your doctor about this. Overly dry skin can signal other health issues such as hormone imbalances or an underactive thyroid gland, which require medical attention.
- Many people confuse rosacea, a chronic condition involving facial skin inflammation, which can appear as redness, broken blood vessels, or acne-like skin eruptions, with true acne. Rosacea may look like acne that needs to be dried out with acne products, but a moisturizing rosacea-specialty product is a better option.
- If you’re pregnant, avoid moisturizing products that contain vitamin A–derived substances, such as retinol, retinal, or retinoids. These are not safe for use during pregnancy, and prescription vitamin A versions may even cause birth defects.
What they are: Facial moisturizers are designed specifically for use on delicate facial skin. Some may be designed for specific areas of the face, such as around the eyes or mouth.
Why to buy: Facial moisturizers are the right option to properly hydrate facial skin and keep it supple. Hand creams and other body moisturizing products tend to be too heavy; resist the temptation to use these instead of face-specific products.
Things to consider: Pay attention to labels and use only as directed. For example, many products are not designed for use on eyelids or close to the eyes, and will sting if applied to these areas. Pick products to meet your needs. Facial moisturizers range from items to treat very dry faces to light moisturizers for acne-prone skin. Expensive may not be better. Ask your doctor or friends and family members for suggestions.
What they are: Body moisturizers come in lotions and thick creams and tend to be heavier than facial products and lighter than hand and foot moisturizers. They often contain humectants—substances to seal moisture into skin, and come with or without fragrance.
Why to buy: Body moisturizers provide the right weight to keep you feeling soft and velvety all over. Many like to keep a good body moisturizer around so it’s always there to use when needed. Some people use them year round, while others only need them during specific dry seasons.
Things to consider: Fragrances in lotions and creams are the most common culprit for allergic reactions. If you’ve had problems with moisturizers in the past, try a product formulated for sensitive skin or that is fragrance-free.
What they are: Moisturizers for hands and feet tend to be the heaviest, most moisturizing products available. Skin on hands and feet is thicker, tougher, and may be more exposed than other areas; these body parts may need a heartier product.
Why to buy: These products are reasonably priced and can address serious dryness, such as cracked heels and chapped, irritated hands. They provide the deepest moisturizing for the areas that need it.
Things to consider: These products are best for thicker, tougher skin, so avoid using on the face or other sensitive body areas where they may clog pores.
What they are: Specialty moisturizers for dry patches are formulated to address a specific concern, such as dry elbows or knees. These products may contain substances that speed up cell turnover in the skin, so the outer layers of dead skin are shed more quickly. This allows the moisturizer to penetrate to where it is most needed.
Why to buy: If you have a very dry body area, especially elbows, knees, heels, or hands, a specialty product can help get the problem under control.
Things to consider: As with hand and feet moisturizers, these products are formulated for very tough, dry skin. They often do not work well on delicate facial skin.
Characterized by difficulty falling asleep, waking up often, and poor-quality sleep, insomnia can take a toll on health and leave a person exhausted and cranky. If you have trouble sleeping, an occasional over-the-counter sleep aid may help you get the sleep you need. This buying guide will help you find a sleep aid to fit your health goals, lifestyle, and budget. Keep the following additional points in mind as you choose a product:
- Everyone has a sleepless night here or there, but if persistent insomnia is new for you, talk to your doctor. It may signal a more serious health problem.
- When selecting a product, consider medications you use and health conditions you have. Consult your doctor or pharmacist if unsure about whether any particular sleep aid is safe for you.
- If you have a history of mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, do not use sleep aids without first discussing it with your doctor. Some of these products may intensify mental health issues and many can interfere with medications used to manage mental health issues.
- Use sleep aids carefully, follow all package directions, and always compare ingredients to avoid accidentally taking two medications together that contain the same active ingredients.
- Do not use sleep aids and alcohol together. Alcohol increases the sedative effects of over-the-counter sleep medications; combining the two can lead to dizziness or fainting.
- Over-the-counter medications work best when taken occasionally. When taken long-term, these medications can lose their effectiveness and also cause some dependency.
What they are: There are two over-the-counter medications approved for use as sleep aids to manage occasional insomnia:
- Diphenhydramine. The active ingredient in the antihistamine Benadryl, this medication also is found in brand name sleep aids such as Tylenol PM and Sominex, as well as numerous generic sleep aids.
- Doxylamine. The active ingredient in Unisom, doxylamine also is found in generic sleep aids.
Why to buy: Diphenhydramine and doxylamine effectively induce drowsiness and lead to uninterrupted sleep for many people. These products come in many forms, including soft gels, tablets, caplets, and chewables. Soft gels and chewables are faster acting than tablets.
Things to consider: You should not take diphenhydramine or doxylamine if you are pregnant or breast-feeding, or if you have glaucoma, heart problems, enlarged prostate, or ulcers. Additionally, do not take doxylamine if you have or have had asthma or bronchitis. Some people feel groggy the next day after taking these medications. For very few people, especially children, diphenhydramine and doxylamine may cause agitation and alertness, which will not help insomnia!
What they are: Natural sleep aids include dietary supplements, herbs, and other non-medication substances. Common natural sleep aids include:
- Melatonin. A hormone naturally produced by the body to induce sleep, which can be taken as a dietary supplement as well
- Valerian, chamomile, lemon balm, and passionflower. Herbs believed to have sleep-inducing and relaxation properties
- Kava kava. An herb with relaxation properties, which is no longer recommended by many health care providers due to potential problems with liver toxicity
- Theanine. A substance found in green tea that can promote relaxation and sleep.
- Magnesium. A mineral that the body uses to relax muscles
- Lavender. An aromatherapy herb (smelled, not taken orally) that may promote relaxation and restfulness
- Hops. A plant best known as a flavoring component for beer, which can be used as a dietary supplement to manage insomnia
- L-tryptophan. An amino acid (a building block for protein) that may improve sleep for some people
Why to buy: Some of these herbs and dietary supplements have research to support that they may be helpful for managing insomnia, including melatonin, valerian, chamomile, passionflower, theanine, magnesium, hops, and L-tryptophan. They may be less likely to cause next-day grogginess than over-the-counter sleep medications.
Things to consider: Natural does not always mean safe. All dietary supplements and herbs should be carefully reviewed with your healthcare provider or pharmacist. If you are managing a health condition, this will help to ensure a supplement is safe to combine with medications you are using. Use plant- and herb-based natural sleep aids with caution if you have hay fever or seasonal allergies; some of these products may cause allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. Natural sleep aids may not be safe for people with a history of mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression. If in doubt, talk to your doctor first. Magnesium can have laxative effects, so start with a low dose to assess your tolerance to this mineral.
What they are: Stop-snoring products are designed to decrease bothersome snoring, either through physically opening breathing passageways, or by changing how the muscles in the mouth and throat are contracting or relaxing. Mouthpieces and nasal clips and strips are used to open breathing passages. Homeopathic, herbal, and other natural substances are taken orally or sprayed into the throat to ease snoring.
Why to buy: Some people find stop-snoring products to be helpful. They are relatively inexpensive and the products designed to physically open breathing passages are safe for nearly everyone.
Things to consider: Snoring can signal a serious health condition, such as sleep apnea. If you’ve developed snoring recently, if your snoring is severe, or if you are groggy most of the time during the day, talk to your doctor before you try to self-treat snoring.
Many people feel they look their best when they have that “just back from the beach” glow. Unfortunately, the real-deal tan may come with risks of skin damage, premature aging, or even skin cancer. To get some color and stay safe, our self-tanning guide will help you make some informed decisions. And keep the following in mind when selecting self-tanners:
- Self-tanning products do not provide protection against the sun’s burning rays. Only sunscreen products with SPF—sun protection factor—provide sun protection.
- If you use a self-tanner, the color of your skin is not an indication that you have a “base-tan.” You will still burn in the sun as if your skin had not been previously exposed.
- The key ingredient in all self tanners and sunless tanning products is dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, which is used alone or combined with other tanning components, such as erythrulose, and reacts with surface skin cells to develop into a tan to light brown color.
- The color is only deposited in the outermost layer of skin cells. Most of these skin cells are dead and will be shed within a few days. To make your tan last, exfoliate your skin prior to applying self tanner and moisturize after the tanner dries, to seal in the color.
- DHA is the key ingredient in all self-tanners is the same. The difference in cost is due to other product features, such as added skin-soothing ingredients or pleasant fragrances.
- Different products give slightly different color tones, so if one product leaves you feeling too “orangey,” try a different product or switch to a product designed to give less color next time around.
- To remove too-intense color, gently exfoliate skin with a washcloth or exfoliating brush.
- Self-tanning products can stain hands, clothing, sheets, towels, and bathmats, so use with caution. Follow the label instructions carefully.
- Before using any new product, do a patch test on a small area to ensure the product agrees with your skin.
What they are: Face self-tanners come as gels, lotions, creams, and towelettes. They deposit DHA, the key “tanning ingredient,” onto the skin. Products for the face often give a more subtle color than those designed for the body. Face self-tanners tend to be of thinner consistency and come in oil-free and non-comedogenic (non-acne-causing) varieties, to minimize the risk of skin breakouts.
Why to buy: Any tan that you achieve naturally, with sun exposure, causes skin damage; a self-tanner is the only “safe tan.” Products are available that develop into a variety of colors, from light to dark tan, so you can customize the color. Many products can be applied for several days in a row, so the color deepens slowly over time, allowing you to control the end result.
Things to consider: Fragrance is one of the most common culprits in causing negative skin reactions to new products. If you have sensitive skin, opt for an unscented product with the fewest ingredients. If you get no sun, you may want to consider taking a vitamin D supplement to avoid deficiency.
What they are: Body self-tanners come as oils, gels, lotions, creams, and towelettes. They are used to deposit DHA, the key “tanning” ingredient, onto the skin. Products for the body often give more color than those that are designed for the face. Body self-tanner lotions and creams often have a thicker consistency, since body skin tends to be dryer than face skin.
Why to buy: As with the face, the only safe tan on the body is one that comes from a self-tanner. Sun exposure to achieve a tan can increase the risk of premature skin aging and skin cancer. Products come in such a wide variety of forms so that nearly everyone can find a product that works well and gives the desired color result.
Things to consider: Exfoliating and shaving, both of which may remove the outermost layer of skin cells, will speed up how quickly your tan fades. Try exfoliating and shaving your legs before applying self-tanning products to get the longest-lasting result. Moisturizing frequently will prolong the length of your self-applied tan as well.
A clean mouth contributes to overall wellness, while having white, bright teeth can help you project a healthy image. Along with regular brushing and flossing, a teeth-whitening product can make your smile shine. Read on for tips to finding the best one for you, and keep the following points in mind as you consider your options:
- If you have a toothache or your gums are sore, red, swollen, or bleed after brushing and flossing, consult your dentist. These symptoms can signal serious health problems that require medical care.
- Teeth-whitening products cannot take the place of regular brushing and flossing.
- Never swallow mouth rinses, toothpaste, or any tooth-whitening product.
- Some tooth-whitening products contain alcohol or a form of alcohol such as sorbitol or xylitol. These substances can be drying, so avoid them if dry mouth is an issue for you.
- Sorbitol and xylitol are toxic to dogs; even small amounts can be life threatening. If your four-legged friend gets into your dental care products, take him to the veterinarian immediately.
- Some teeth -whitening products increase tooth sensitivity.
What they are: Teeth-whitening toothpaste, brushes, and mouth rinses are designed to remove stains and lighten and brighten teeth. Common ingredients include carbamide hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide. Whitening brushes may come in packs and each brush may be designed for single use.
Why to buy: These products can effectively remove surface stains from teeth and are relatively inexpensive. They are quick and easy to use.
Things to consider: Some tooth-whitening products can increase tooth sensitivity. If this is a problem for you, try a combination product that both whitens and lessens sensitivity, or alternate a tooth whitening product with a product for people with sensitive teeth.
What they are: These products typically contain the same whitening ingredients as toothpastes, brushes, and mouth rinses, but may have them in higher concentrations. They also may contain additional ingredients to increase the penetration of whitening substances into the teeth, which can remove tougher stains.
Strips are applied daily and left on the teeth for a period of time, while pens and syringes are used to “paint” the whitening product onto the teeth. Specialty kits may contain several options to get whitening ingredients onto teeth or may target a particular problem, such as tobacco stains.
Why to buy: These products tend to be more effective than toothpastes and mouth rinses, they work quickly, and may result in a whiter, brighter end result.
Things to consider: Whitening strips, pens, syringes, and kits cost more than toothpastes and mouth rinses and they may cause more problems with sensitivity because they are left on the teeth longer.
What they are: Your dentist can do in-office teeth lightening procedures that work faster and give more dramatic whitening than over-the-counter products. Your dentist may use trays that are specially molded to fit your teeth. A lightening solution is applied to the teeth with the tray and left on for a period of time. You’ll be sent home with the trays and additional lightening solution to continue the process.
Why to try: In-office teeth whitening procedures are more effective than over-the-counter products and they work very quickly.
Things to consider: In-office procedures tend to be expensive, often costing hundreds of dollars, and they are usually not covered by insurance. As with over-the-counter products, in-office procedures can contribute to sensitive teeth. Your dentist may be able to lessen post-whitening sensitivity with special products applied in-office or to be used at home.
- Busy lives can make it challenging for many women to maintain a balanced diet—so look to various supplements to help support a healthy lifestyle. Did you know that heart disease is the number one killer of women? Many women’s supplements include folic acid and other important, heart-healthy nutrients. At different ages and life stages women have particular health and nutritional needs. To make sure you’re getting what you need, talk with your doctor.
What they are: Prenatal vitamins and multivitamins are specially formulated for women, packed with nutrients such as vitamin E, calcium, folic acid, and iron. Based on where you are in life, look for multivitamins with targeted nutrient combinations for teens, pregnant women, and seniors.
Why to buy: A simple way to supplement your diet, women’s multivitamins contain a cross-section of the most important nutrients you need each day, generally in one or two easy-to-take doses. Most women’s formulas include calcium and vitamin D, both vital for bone health, as well as vitamin B6 and folic acid for heart health. During pregnancy and breast-feeding, many doctors recommend taking a prenatal vitamin with supportive nutrients for both mom and baby.
Things to consider: Talk with your doctor before adding supplements to your self-care routine, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, or currently taking medications. Vitamins should be taken with food and water to avoid stomach upset and help your body best absorb the nutrients. Be sure to read product labels so you know exactly what you’re taking and how best to use it. Vegetarians should note that capsules are often made from animal gelatin, so look for vegetarian capsules or consider hard tablets as a better option.
What they are: Over-the-counter menopause formulas include various combinations of vitamins and herbs shown to be helpful for managing menopause symptoms. Tablets, capsules, and even chewable formulas are available.
Why to buy: As women’s bodies change, their nutritional requirements do too. Explore phytoestrogens found in soy and flaxseed, soy and red clover isoflavones, evening primrose oil, black cohosh, and other nutrients shown to be helpful for reducing menopause symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings.
Things to consider: If menopause symptoms are keeping you awake, look for nighttime formulas that include melatonin, valerian, and other naturally calming ingredients.
What they are: Creams and lotions offer women nourishing and moisturizing ingredients like Aloe vera and lanolin—often enhanced with nutrients like vitamins A, C, and E, lycopene, and green tea.
Why to buy: Keep your skin hydrated and healthy with a variety of moisture-rich lotions and creams. Experts believe certain nutrients and antioxidants may help slow the effects of aging on your body. Most anti-aging products claim to support healthy tissue growth and help fight off free radicals.
Things to consider: Keep in mind that vitamins are better absorbed through the digestive system rather than the skin and there is little evidence to support the benefits of directly applying vitamins to the skin. Most anti-aging claims are not backed by much science. If you have sensitive skin, try hypo-allergenic and unscented creams and lotions.