We all have them—those pesky beauty problems we've managed to keep under cover all winter, only to have them reveal themselves again when it's time to change into shorter skirts and sleeveless shirts. This year, relax. With the help of our experts, you can tackle varicose veins, stretch marks, and cellulite naturally—and stop running from bathing suit season.
What are they? Twisted, enlarged blood vessels most commonly found in the legs and feet, varicose veins are caused by blood pooling when valves malfunction and veins lose the elasticity needed to propel blood back to the heart. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, varicose veins afflict more than 50 percent of American women and 40 percent of American men.
Prevent them: According to recent studies (Current Vascular Pharmacology, 2005, vol. 3, no. 1), flavonoids can help maintain vein elasticity, preventing varicose veins. Stock up on flavonoids by eating plenty of dark-colored berries, such as blueberries or blackberries, recommends Keegan Sheridan, a naturopathic physician in Beverly Hills, California. Other ways to keep varicose veins from forming is to avoid tight clothing, leg crossing, and long periods of sitting; exercise regularly; and put your feet up.
Treat them: Compression stockings, which are designed to help propel blood back to the heart, are a traditional over-the-counter treatment, but you can also take horse chestnut seed extract orally to improve vein elasticity and tone, or apply astringent witch hazel topically to improve the condition, says Patricia Gaines, a naturopathic physician in Tempe, Arizona, and the chair of botanical medicine at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2006, vol. 1). Most varicose veins are only a cosmetic worry, but if they give you considerable pain or discomfort, see a doctor. Some can form blood clots, sores, or ulcers and may require more rigorous treatment or surgical removal.
What are they? Stretch marks—red or white marks most commonly found on the abdomen, hips, and chest—are caused by the rapid stretching of the skin through growth spurts, weight gain, or pregnancy. More than 90 percent of women develop stretch marks during the sixth or seventh months of pregnancy.
Prevent them: "Keeping up good oils in your body, like fish oils, helps the skin stay lubricated and gives those cells that are stretching the ability to stay healthy," says Jennifer Johnson, a naturopathic physician in Connecticut who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology. She recommends pharmaceutical-grade fish oils uncontaminated by heavy metals, such as those made by Nordic Naturals or Carlson. Johnson also suggests rigorously rubbing a moisturizer containing cocoa butter, like Jason Cocoa Butter Hand and Body Lotion, on the afflicted area at least once a day, both to intensively moisturize and to improve circulation.
Treat them: Stretch marks won't disappear overnight, but they can fade over time. To temporarily hide them, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends a sunless tanning product. For a nonstreaky option, try Kiss My Face Instant Sunless Tanner With Walnut Extract. Also, you can rub vitamin E directly on the stretch marks to help them heal faster and reduce the scars.
What is it? Cellulite, a fancy name for the dimpled fat beneath your skin, is like a persistent, ubiquitous garden weed. It's not pretty, it's hard to get rid of, and it's common—about 80 percent of women have it, estimates the American Academy of Dermatology. For women, cellulite is the body's way of storing fat for pregnancy, but how much you have depends on such far-reaching factors as genetic predisposition, age, rapid weight gain or loss, and the thickness of your skin.
Prevent it: The best ways to prevent cellulite are the simplest. According to the National Institutes of Health, they include eating a healthy diet with fruits and veggies so you don't consume excess calories and fat, avoiding rapid weight gain and loss, exercising, and staying hydrated to prevent excess cellulite from forming.
Treat it: To help treat cellulite, Heather Smith, owner of the Bella Fiore Day Spa in Denver, recommends a six-week holistic program that combines exercise and a diet rich with fruits and veggies, plus massage and herbal creams. Although no controlled studies have proven the long-term effectiveness of anticellulite creams, they can temporarily mask the appearance of cellulite by stimulating blood flow to the problem area. Gaines recommends drinking stimulating caffeine or applying Zia Natural Ultimate Body Firming Treatment, which contains gotu kola, an herb that increases connective tissue strength and decreases capillary permeability.
Durango, Colorado-based freelance writer Kate Siber has no problem eating lots of berries to prevent varicose veins. She often writes about fitness and travel for publications like Outside, Men's Journal, and The New York Times.