No one told me that when you become a mom, the middle-of-the-night wake-ups may not end when you get past the baby stage. My youngest is almost five, and I still have to go into his room at 3 a.m. to listen to him recount his weirdo dreams.Making matters more exhausting: After jolting awake—due to mom duty or some other nocturnal disturbance—I’ve struggled to get back to sleep. For a long time, lying awake in my bed while everyone else in my household was conked out led to anxious, distressing thoughts: I’d wonder how I could possibly get through my to-do list the following day while sleep-deprived, I’d worry that I’d never get back to sleep, or I’d ruminate on overwhelming sociopolitical issues that are impossible to solve on my own (especially from my bed). I was doing what you might expect someone who woke up way before their alarm to do: Get really stressed about the fact that they’re awake when they shouldn’t be. Also not surprisingly, that’s the exact wrong thing to do, Fiona Barwick, PhD, director of the Sleep & Circadian Health Program at Stanford University School of Medicine, tells SELF. So what should you do instead of freaking out that you’re not sleeping? We asked Dr. Barwick for her best advice on dealing with middle-of-the-night wake-ups so you can (hopefully) get back to sleep peacefully—without crying into or punching your pillow.Recognize that your brain is overreacting.As SELF previously reported, there are a lot of reasons why you might wake up at night: You’re anxious, you drank alcohol before bed, you have to pee, your partner (or dog) is snoring, you heard a loud noise outside—any manner of disruptions can pop your eyes open. “On average, adults wake up 10 to 12 times per night,” according to Dr. Barwick. If you’re awake for less than three minutes, you probably won’t remember, she says, which is why you don’t realize you’re experiencing most of these interruptions. Sometimes, though, it can be hard to get back to sleep, and that’s okay. “It doesn’t mean your sleep is broken,” Dr. Barwick says. That’s important to remember, she adds, because it’s easy to spiral into catastrophic thinking, like, I’ll never get back to sleep and my day tomorrow will be ruined! In fact, we’re primed for these spiral-y thoughts: As you fall asleep, your brain shuts down front to back, starting with your frontal lobe, a region that influences your ability to reason and regulate emotions, Dr. Barwick explains. When you wake up during the second half of the night (after the first three to four hours of sleep), you’re largely operating from your limbic system, which includes the amygdala, an area in the back of the brain that’s involved in emotional responses like fear and anxiety, as well as the hippocampus, your brain’s memory hub. As a result, your emotional volume may get turned up, says Dr. Barwick, making it easy to ruminate about a high school–era mistake, say, or the state of your inbox, or how worried you are about the declining whale population.
“After delivery, there’s this incredible change in reproductive hormones,” Katherine L. Wisner, MD, the Norman and Helen Asher Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, tells SELF. “Hormones—such as estrogen and progesterone—go from the highest they’ll ever be down to almost nothing as soon as the placenta is delivered.” And some experts believe these rapid hormonal shifts are linked to the development of PPD in people who are biologically susceptible. Plus, recovering from a vaginal delivery or a C-section is hard and can be incredibly painful. Giving birth does not always go smoothly, and some estimates suggest one-third of people who give birth experience some form of trauma while delivering their baby, which may contribute to PPD or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While trauma can include things like enduring premature labor or feeling worried about a baby’s well-being, many people report that the people in the room—their care providers, including doctors, midwives, and nurses—are responsible for these distressing experiences, say, by dismissing the severity of a birthing parent’s pain, among many other scenarios.But one of the biggest changes that will affect your day-to-day functioning as a new parent is the ability to get enough sleep. Recovering postpartum with little to no sleep is a challenge that’s underestimated by society, Dr. Wisner says. And, as you might be able to guess, studies have shown a strong correlation between sleep deprivation and emotions like depression, anxiety, and anger.In a Canadian study of nearly 300 women, published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth in 2022, 31% of moms reported feeling intense anger, while more than half said their sleep quality was poor. The researchers concluded that a parent’s sleep quality, as well as feeling angry about their infant’s sleep quality, were two major predictors of postpartum anger. A range of disparities also contributes to the rage.For Black birthing parents, in particular, the stigma anger carries can be a huge barrier to seeking necessary mental health support. “Anger and rage are widely under-recognized. There’s a natural shying away of emotions in fear of being the stereotype of the ‘Angry Black Woman,’” Lauren Elliott, the CEO and founder of Candlelit Therapy, a perinatal mental health care service for underserved new and expectant parents, tells SELF. “Black maternal health is in extreme crisis.”There are a host of systemic issues that prevent Black people and other people of color from receiving proper mental health care. Birth parents of color experience higher-than-average rates of postpartum depression, and yet, they are less likely to be diagnosed, less likely to know that the symptoms they’re experiencing are related to PPD, and are therefore less likely to be properly treated, according to a report from the Center for American Progress.“Black women are less likely to be screened in pregnancy for depression and anxiety,” Elliott says. The consequences of these disparities can be devastating. As SELF previously reported, Black and Indigenous women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A “detoxifying” skin care treatment, a relaxing act of self-love, a pampering practice for your pet—if TikTok is to be believed, the benefits of an Epsom salt bath are practically endless. But, trendy as they are, the chemical compounds are old as hell: The salts are named after the English town of Epsom where they were discovered in the early 17th century, and they were subsequently extracted and studied for their potential medicinal properties.1Though they were once considered a high-society luxury, Epsom salt is now super accessible to the masses—it’s sold in bags or boxes at most drugstores and supermarkets, usually for less than $10, and your mom probably has some under her bathroom sink. And while Epsom salt has been connected to all sorts of wellness benefits, it’s probably most known for its alleged pain-relieving properties. You may have seen a fitness influencer suggest an Epsom salt bath to relieve muscle aches after a tough training day or long run, or perhaps your pregnant friend has been trying an Epsom soak to soothe their sore feet.But just because a wellness practice is trendy doesn’t make it legit. Below, experts explain what you should know about the potential benefits of Epsom salt baths (and Epsom salts in general)—and which claims you should take with, ahem, a grain of salt.What is Epsom salt? | Benefits of Epsom salt baths | Epsom salt for sore muscles | Benefits for skin care | Potential risks | How to make an Epsom salt bathWhat exactly is Epsom salt?Epsom salt is a form of magnesium called magnesium sulfate, Chris D’Adamo, PhD, associate director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, tells SELF. Magnesium plays a role in more than 300 enzyme reactions in the body that affect muscle and nerve function, blood sugar and pressure regulation, bone growth, electrolyte function, energy production, and more. The primary source of magnesium for most people is food—leafy greens, fish, legumes, and whole grains are all high in the important mineral.In terms of its medical applications, hospitals sometimes use Epsom salt to treat patients, Dr. D’Adamo says. Doctors may inject intravenous (IV) magnesium sulfate for pain and blood pressure regulation, for example, particularly among pregnant people with preeclampsia, he says.2 And health care practitioners also sometimes use IV and oral magnesium sulfate supplements to treat chronic pain conditions, including migraine, or to address magnesium deficiencies, he adds.3Considering that magnesium in general is extremely important for keeping your body running in top form (and there’s research to suggest that a good proportion of people have lower-than-optimal levels of the mineral) and magnesium sulfate, specifically, is commonly used as a medical treatment, it’s not a stretch to think that an Epsom salt bath may do your body good. Which leads us to…Back to topAre there any proven benefits of Epsom salt baths?First, it’s worth knowing that there are some benefits to taking any bath. It can help your sleep, for one thing, and not just because it’s soothing and de-stressing (which it can be). Warm water also increases your core body temperature, so when you get out of the tub (or shower), your body temperature begins to drop, which signals to your brain that it’s time for rest. (That’s also why sleep experts recommend snoozing in a cool room.) In fact, research suggests that a 10-minute soak in the tub (or warm shower) one to two hours before bedtime can help you fall asleep faster and feel as if you’ve had a better night’s rest.4But what about the benefits of an Epsom salt bath, specifically? To reap any potential perks—beyond the soothing nature of the warm water—you’d need to be able to get the magnesium into your body in some way, where it can then create physiological changes. That could be either by absorbing the magnesium in the bathwater through your skin or inhaling it from the steam of the hot water, says Dr. D’Adamo.
If avoiding infection is your goal, wearing full-butt undies (bikinis, briefs, hipsters) with a breathable cotton crotch is best, Dr. Yamaguchi says. Or opt for seamless full styles, which tend to be made of synthetic fabric but are still better than a thong in this case because they’re not, well, shoved up your crotch. Whatever you wear, make sure your pair fits well and is not overly tight, Dr. Yamaguchi advises—again, to avoid chafing and spreading potentially harmful bacteria.But if you don’t want to deal with undie lines or you’re just not a full-bottom person, then going commando is a healthier habit to ward off infection. Yes, a tight pair of yoga pants could also trap sweat, but they’re also not rubbing against your anus and then vagina as you move, Dr. Yamaguchi says. Ideally, the crotch of the pants will be made of moisture-wicking fabric, adds Dr. Dweck, since, again, bacteria thrive in a moist environment.The vulva-friendly way to wear yoga pantsOf course, there are a lot of factors that could potentially lead to a vaginal infection or irritation, but making health-conscious underwear choices is an easy way to decrease your risk of both, Dr. Dweck says. Here are a few more gyno-approved tips to keep in mind:Swap undies. If you’re going from work to the gym, are currently wearing a thong, and want to continue wearing a thong, change into a new one, advises Dr. Yamaguchi. A clean pair ensures that the back strip of fabric is free from bacteria from your rectum prior to working out.Change ASAP. Regardless of what underwear you wore (or didn’t wear!) to exercise, “get out of your wet workout garments as soon as you’re able to” in order to help avoid irritation or a possible infection, Dr. Dweck says. And if you’re showering after your workout, be sure to towel yourself off well for the same reasons.Clean up with mild soap. Speaking of showering, washing the sweat and bacteria away from your vulva after a workout can also keep it happy, but if yours is on the sensitive side (i.e., you regularly experience irritation or infection), Dr. Dweck recommends sticking with mild soap and water. Check the label and look for words like “mild,” “gentle,” or “sensitive”—and avoid fragrance if you can, since added scents can be irritating, she says. (Also worth noting: Soap should only be used around your vulva—it should never go inside your vagina. That usually doesn’t end well!)Let your vulva breathe. After your shower, change into underwear (thong or otherwise) that has a cotton or moisture-wicking crotch. It’s also ideal to wear clothes that are on the looser side to let the area breathe, Dr. Dweck says—this helps keep moisture away from your vulva. What you want to avoid is showering and then putting your sweaty yoga pants back on, she adds.Don’t worry if you forget. If you’re about to work out or halfway through your routine and realize you’re wearing a thong under your yoga pants, it’s okay. Just try to remember next time—and don’t sweat it. (Har, har.) “You are not going to permanently ruin your vagina by wearing a thong to a hot yoga class,” Dr. Yamaguchi says.Related:
If you’re wondering how to get rid of heat rash—in all its itchy, prickly, sting-y glory—we feel for you. The irritating condition is one of the major downsides of warmer weather (add it to the long list of annoying summer skin problems—lookin’ at you, mosquito bites and sunburn).If you’re a parent, you may be more in tune with heat rash, as it’s often seen in young kids. “While heat rash can happen at any age, it’s more commonly seen in babies and toddlers than in adults, since their sweat glands are not yet mature,” Noëlle Sherber, MD, board-certified dermatologist and clinical associate professor of dermatology at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, tells SELF.Still, heat rash happens to adults too. Here, experts explain what it is, what it looks like, and, most importantly, how to get rid of heat rash and prevent it from cropping up to begin with.What is heat rash? | What does a heat rash look like? | How to get rid of heat rash | How to prevent heat rash | What if heat rash doesn’t go away?What is heat rash?When you step out into the heat—especially if the humidity is up—the 2 to 4 million sweat glands all over your body trigger the secretion of a fluid that evaporates from your skin and cools you down, according to the International Hyperhidrosis Society. Most of your sweat ducts are eccrine glands that pump out a clear and odorless fluid. (Your apocrine sweat glands, on the other hand—mostly found in the skin of the armpits and groin—produce a fluid that, well, stinks.)Sometimes this sweating process can go sideways, leading to heat rash. “Heat rash typically occurs when you’re in a hot and humid environment and sweat glands become obstructed,” Sonal Shah, MD, board-certified dermatologist and clinical associate professor in the department of dermatology at Case Western Reserve University, tells SELF. “Normally, when sweat is excreted, it goes onto the surface of your skin, but when blocked, it can leak out underneath the skin where it becomes trapped, causing inflammation,” she explains.Once sweat is trapped under the surface of your skin, heat rash may begin to appear. Heat rash is also called prickly heat and miliaria, but it can also be dubbed a “sweat rash” colloquially. No matter what you call it, the rash can occur in response to any hot environment. However, exercising in the heat is the perfect storm for excessive sweating that can cause heat rash, Dr. Shah says. “When you’re doing a lot of physical activity, you’re really working those sweat glands,” she says. “Plus, sports bras or athletic leggings are not typically made of the most breathable fabrics.”Heat rash often happens when you’re outside in hot weather, but it can affect you when you’re indoors too. As long as you’re sweating and something (like tight-fitting clothing or being wrapped up in blankets in bed) is blocking that sweat from properly releasing onto the surface of your skin and evaporating, heat rash can occur. “Hot and humid weather is a risk for heat rash, but don’t forget that it can also happen if you’re sweating at night in your bed,” Alyx Cali Rosen Aigen, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with the University of Miami Health System, tells SELF.Back to topWhat does a heat rash look like?A heat rash has a distinctive appearance, but when trying to determine whether or not you have one, it’s also important to think about the circumstances of the skin rash, Dr. Aigen says. For example, did you spend a lot of time outside on an unusually hot day? Did you go to an outdoor boot camp in the blazing sun? Did you wake up soaked from sweat in bed? You get the picture. This is what to look for with heat rash:
Also important to note: While retinoids, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), and hydroquinone don’t cause photoallergic reactions, they are three of the most common ingredients that make skin more sun-sensitive, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, which could increase your risk of sunburn. Oxybenzone, an ingredient found in many chemical-based sunscreens, can also make skin more sensitive the sun’s rays, 2018 research in the Spanish medical journal Actas Dermo-Sifiliográficas shows.⁵Polymorphous light eruption (PMLE)The first warm days of spring coax you outside. The temperature’s comfortable. The sun is shining down on you in all its life-giving glory and you’re soaking it up. But later that day, in what feels like a cruel twist of fate, an itchy, maybe red (depending on your skin tone) rash appears on your arms, legs, and the backs of your hands. What the hell?“PMLE is a delayed hypersensitivity where the sun triggers an inflammatory reaction in skin that occurs a few hours after the exposure,” Megan Rogge, MD, assistant professor in the department of dermatology at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, tells SELF. PMLE is benign (meaning it is not harmful), but because it can be really itchy and possibly red, it of course impacts how you feel.PMLE is common, affecting up to 15% of people, per Cleveland Clinic. This sun allergy typically happens at the start of the spring or summer (or when you go on a warm vacay for spring break). PMLE only affects your skin in the short-term: Skin quickly builds up a tolerance to the sun and you won’t have to worry about the rash for the rest of the season. That said, it will likely reoccur at the start of each spring. “PMLE can last a lifetime, however, you may outgrow it over many years,” Dr. Rogge explains. Experts aren’t sure why, exactly, it may become less severe over time, though.If you live in a temperate climate with a traditional winter and summer, you’re more at risk, notes the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.⁶ Conversely, if you live in a sunny, warm place year-round, you’re less vulnerable to PMLE, since your skin is already acclimated. And because your face, specifically, is typically exposed throughout the year, it’s less likely to develop this type of rash from the sun.Solar urticariaIf you get hives when you go out in the sun, you may have solar urticaria. “This is a type of immune response that triggers cells to release histamine almost immediately upon sun exposure,” Dr. Rogge explains. If you have this skin condition, you’ll see red wheals or hives appear in as quickly as five to 10 minutes.Back to topWhat are sun allergy symptoms?If it’s from PMLE will usually show up on your lower arms, legs, or backs of hands, Dr. Hale says. In this case, your skin will appear patchy, and may have subtle pink or fluid-filled bumps. If you have a lighter skin tone, this rash will likely appear red. Darker skin tones may develop bumps or a rash that’s more hyperpigmented (or darker), and your skin will also feel sensitive when you’re in the sun, adds Dr. Massick. Sometimes, the PMLE rash can also appear as plaques, which are raised, scaly patches of skin.4
As “natural” oils continue to dominate the skin-care scene, there’s been a surge in curiosity about castor oil benefits for skin and hair. The thick vegetable oil, extracted from the bean of the tropical castor plant, has been a staple in many American households for generations (it’s a common hair and scalp moisturizer in many Black communities, for example). Since ancient Egyptian times, people have also tried drinking castor oil in an attempt to induce labor—and some people still consume it for this purpose today, though the scientific jury is still out on how well this might actually work.Castor oil, which contains a moisturizing fatty acid called ricinoleic acid, is most commonly applied topically to skin and hair for potential beauty perks—from glowing skin to hair growth (more on that below). You’ll find it included in some skin-care products and cosmetics, as well, but it’s typically used as a supporting ingredient rather than the featured beauty booster. (Translation: You’re probably not buying lipstick for the castor oil.)The major draw of castor oil? In its 100% pure form, it’s a single-ingredient product, which is appealing to the growing number of consumers seeking “clean” beauty products, Jill Waibel, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and owner of Miami and Dermatology Laser Institute, tells SELF.However, even though castor oil comes from a plant and has been around for thousands of years, we don’t know a ton about it. “Like most ‘molecules of the moment,’ which is what I call trending skin-care ingredients, castor oil’s benefits are backed by some science,” S. Tyler Hollmig, M.D., associate professor and director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at The University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School, tells SELF. Overall, limited research shows that the ricinoleic acid in castor oil may have antimicrobial1 and anti-inflammatory2 properties (which could, theoretically, be helpful for skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis). But we still need more data, Dr. Hollmig says, as castor oil’s potential benefits for skin have mainly been found in a lab test tube. For example, a 2012 study in the journal ISRN Pharmacology found that the castor oil plant exhibited antioxidant properties, something that could, on paper, be beneficial for skin care, as antioxidants can prevent free radicals from accelerating skin aging.3Test tube studies are a good starting point and help researchers know if they’re on the right path with a specific ingredient, but it’s a far cry from applying castor oil to a variety of people and measuring the results in a randomized controlled trial. “As such, it’s difficult to draw conclusions on how influential these potentially beneficial properties will be on our actual skin,” Dr. Hollmig explains.That doesn’t take castor oil out of the beauty game, though. The oil may still give a boost to your skin and hair in a variety of ways:It can seriously increase moisture.In the wintertime, both the cold, dry air outside and the hot, dry air indoors draw moisture out of your body (including your skin)—which is why you may notice that your complexion is flaky and dull, rather than smooth and dewy, in the colder months, says Dr. Waibel. Castor oil, rich in fatty acids, acts as a humectant, meaning it will trap water in your skin. And since castor and other skin-care oils create a barrier that prevents moisture from evaporating from your skin, says Dr. Hollmig, you can also try layering castor oil on top of a moisturizer for an extra hydration boost. That said, while castor oil may be one option for skin hydration, he notes that it’s not the only solution, as coconut oil, petroleum jelly, and mineral oil also act as humectants with similar moisturizing effects.
Colden’s first two yearly mammograms were clear. On the third, there was a spot, but she was told by her doctor that things looked okay and it wasn’t cancer—she just had lumpy breasts.“There’s this inner feeling you have,” she says. “Something was inside me saying that’s not right.” Her sister’s doctor had told her the exact same thing, but Colden was so happy to hear she didn’t have cancer, she didn’t follow up.A year later, she went back for a mammogram, and that’s when her doctors found it: Stage 0 breast cancer, meaning only abnormal cells had been found.6 She was 42. “Now, looking back, I always tell women that if something doesn’t feel right, get a second opinion.”Despite the diagnosis, Colden remained calm. “I’m a religious person,” she says. “In my prayer, I said ‘Lord, if you will be my pilot on this journey, I’ll be your copilot.’” She immediately felt a sense of peace.After her recovery, she decided to share that calming presence with other women going through breast cancer at a support group through Roswell Park Cancer Center, where she had treatment. “I say, it’s going to be a long road. If you don’t want to travel it alone, I’m right there with you.”And she means it. Sometimes that involves talking with someone at 3 a.m. when the pain from chemotherapy hits. Other times it means sending food delivery boxes to the homes of people with breast cancer who can’t muster the strength to leave. “My sister did a lot of support work before she got really sick,” she says. “This is her vision.”5. “I quit my life and started a new one as an advocate.”Ricki Fairley, 65, was in the security line at the airport for a work trip when she got a call from her doctor. They’d found a peanut-like lump under her nipple that turned out to be cancer.Fairley, who was 55 at the time, said “I don’t have time for this right now. I’ll call you when I get to my destination.” A couple days later, she found out she had Stage 3A triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), and it was really aggressive. TNBC has fewer targeted therapy treatment options, often spreads beyond the breast, and is more likely to recur.7 Black women have nearly three times the risk of triple negative breast cancer8.Her diagnosis woke her up. “It made me realize that I needed to get all of the ‘cancers’ out of my life.” During treatment that first year, which involved a double mastectomy, aggressive chemotherapy, and radiation, she quit her job and started her own company. Then she filed for divorce and, later, sold her house. “I quit my life and started a new one, and changed everything,” she says. “I had to learn that my peace is non-negotiable. I really think that stress caused my breast cancer.”A year later, her life changed again. She was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, and was told she had two years to live. After finding out her current doctor had only treated two previous cases of TNBC, and both women had died in eight months, she found a new doctor, who was well-versed in current research and treatments for TNBC. She beat cancer a second time. “I remember sitting at my daughter’s graduation thinking ‘OK, I made it. What’s next for me?’”