Skin Conditions

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What are skin conditions?

Skin conditions include any disease, disorder or condition that affects the skin. The skin is the largest organ of the body and is the first line of defense against invading pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses. The skin is also an important sense organ, helps retain nutrients and water, and helps regulate the body’s temperature.

Some of the most common skin conditions include:

  • Boils and carbuncles
  • Bullous eruptions
  • Dry skin
  • Folliculitis
  • Freckles
  • Hives and swelling
  • Nevi (moles) and other benign skin growths
  • Psoriasis
  • Shingles
  • Skin cancer
  • Skin tags
  • Sunburn

    Skin has significant importance in our society as a sign of health and attractiveness, so skin conditions can greatly impact self-image and self-esteem. In addition, some conditions, such as skin cancer, can be serious and life threatening. The Skin Cancer Foundation states that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in his or her lifetime (Source: Skin Cancer Foundation).

    Prompt diagnosis and treatment of skin conditions can help reduce or delay the onset of serious complications, such as loss of skin, disfigurement, spread of infection, or metastasis of cancer to other regions of the body. Seek prompt and regular medical care throughout your life to reduce the risk of serious complications of skin conditions. Seek prompt medical care if you have a change in your skin or a mole that is larger than the size of a pea, has irregular borders, seems to be growing rapidly, or has changed color. This may be an indication of skin cancer.

    Skin conditions include reactions to allergic substances. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, your child, or someone you are with, have symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction, such as hives, facial or mouth swelling, shortness of breath, or rapid breathing (more than about 16 breaths per minute for an adult).

    What are the symptoms of skin conditions?

    Skin conditions can cause a variety of symptoms that can affect a small or large area of the body and may affect other body systems. Symptoms vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.

    Skin-related symptoms of skin conditions

    Skin-related symptoms include:

    • Blistering and other sores
    • Dry, scaly, peeling or flaking skin
    • Itchy or irritated skin
    • Lumps or bumps on the skin
    • Mole that is larger than the size of a pea, has irregular borders, seems to be growing rapidly, or has changed color
    • Pigmentary changes
    • Rash or hives (raised skin bump or welt)
    • Skin thickening and scale formation
    • Temperature changes of the skin
    • Texture changes, such as raised, thickened or thin skin that tears or bruises easily

    Other symptoms of skin conditions

    Skin conditions can also cause symptoms that occur in body systems other than the skin. Symptoms include:

    • Difficulty breathing
    • Generalized itchiness
    • Nerve pain
    • Numbness or burning sensation in the lower legs and feet

      Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

      In some cases, skin conditions or their underlying causes can lead to serious and even life-threatening complications that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of the following symptoms:

      • Bluish discoloration of the lips, nails, and possibly the skin (cyanosis)
      • Change in level of consciousness, such as fainting, confusion, or decreased alertness
      • Difficulty breathing, wheezing, or shortness of breath
      • Grey coloring, pallor (extreme paleness), or mottling of skin
      • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
      • Rash that develops rapidly after taking a new medication
      • Rash that develops rapidly in association with fever or coughing in a child
      • Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or inability to breathe, labored breathing, wheezing, or choking
      • Sudden swelling of the mouth, lips or throat

        What causes skin conditions?

        There are many causes of skin disorders, including infections, malignancies, allergies, and other inflammatory conditions. Skin conditions can also be caused by physical or environmental factors, such as fire and trauma, sunlight exposure, and inherited factors.

        Skin conditions caused by allergies and inflammation

        Common skin conditions that are caused by allergic and inflammatory reactions include:

        • Allergic contact dermatitis, such as an allergy to an ointment

        • Eczema (atopic dermatitis), including chronic eczema

        • Erythema multiforme
        • Hives (allergy-related welt or rash that is often itchy)

        • Irritant contact dermatitis (inflammatory or allergic condition caused by poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac)

        • Psoriasis (chronic skin disorder marked by inflammation and raised areas of thickened skin and lesions made up of dead skin cells)

        • Rosacea (chronic inflammatory skin disorder that causes redness and other lesions on the face)

        • Scabies (allergic reaction to mite bites)

        • Seborrheic dermatitis (inflammatory skin condition that causes dandruff in adolescents and adults and cradle cap in infants)

        • Vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels)

        Skin conditions caused by infections

        Common skin conditions that are caused by viral, fungal, parasitic and bacterial infections include:

        • Abscess (collection of pus under the skin caused by infection)
        • Boil (caused by a bacterial infection within a hair follicle)
        • Cellulitis (invasive infection of the skin and surrounding tissues)
        • Erysipelas
        • Hand foot and mouth disease
        • Impetigo (oozing blisters caused by group A Streptococcus pyogenes or Staphylococcus aureus)
        • Lice (parasite that lives in human hair and feeds on blood from the scalp, causing itching and inflammation)
        • MRSA skin infection (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection)
        • Ringworm (fungal skin infection, also called tinea, that causes jock itch, athlete’s foot, and itching on other areas on the body)
        • Shingles (painful disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus which causes severe nerve pain and a skin rash)

          Skin conditions resulting from other causes

          Other common skin conditions or causes include:

          • Acne (blackheads, whiteheads, pustules, and other lesions caused by clogged pores)

          • Burn (caused by hot water and air, chemicals, fire, or electricity)

          • Hair loss (the appearance of thinner hair or bald patches on the scalp, eyebrows and eyelash areas, or total hair loss on the body)

          • Inflammation from an insect bite

          • Itchy skin caused by lack of moisture and excessive dryness

          • Nutritional deficiencies

          • Skin cancer (cancer that forms in the tissues of the skin)

          • Skin lacerations and contusions from injury and trauma, such as scrapes, cuts, and being hit or bumping into hard objects

          • Sunburn

          What are the risk factors for skin conditions?

          Certain factors increase the risk of developing a skin condition, although not all people with risk factors will develop problems. Risk factors include:

          • Contact with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac

          • Exposure to chemicals or other substances that may injure or irritate the skin

          • Exposure to dry weather (hot and cold)

          • Exposure to UV light, either from the sun or tanning beds

          • Personal or family history of allergies

          • Personal or family history of autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes

          • Personal or family history of certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis, which tends to run in families

          • Poor hygiene

          • Sex with multiple partners (increases the likelihood of developing genital herpes)

          Reducing your risk of skin conditions

          Most people will develop a skin condition at some point in their life. However, avoiding certain activities can help minimize your chances of developing some conditions. Ways you can reduce your risk include:

          • Avoiding sun exposure and tanning beds

          • Maintaining clean skin without excessive water use, which dries out the skin

          • Seeking regular medical care and following your treatment plan for allergies and other skin conditions

          • Wearing protective clothing when hiking through areas that contain poison oak and other irritants

          How are skin conditions treated?

          Treatment of skin conditions varies depending on the type and stage of the skin condition and other factors.

          Treatment of skin conditions caused by allergies and inflammation

          Skin conditions caused by allergies and inflammation can be treated with the following measures:

          • Allergy shots to prevent allergic reactions

          • Anti-inflammatory medications

          • Heavy moisturizers for the skin

          • Hospitalization and intravenous medications in cases of serious allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis

          • Identifying and avoiding allergens and substances that irritate the skin

          Treatment of infectious skin conditions

          Skin conditions caused by an infection can be treated with the following measures:

          What are the potential complications of skin conditions?

          Complications of skin conditions vary depending on the underlying injury, disease, disorder or condition. In addition to your physical health, skin conditions can greatly impact your self-image and self-esteem. You can help minimize your risk of serious physical and psychological complications of skin conditions by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you.

          Specific complications of skin conditions may include:

          • Adverse effects of treatment
          • Discoloration of the skin
          • Embarrassment and low self-esteem
          • Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)
          • Organ failure or dysfunction
          • Permanent scarring or skin discoloration
          • Recurrence of skin cancer
          • Respiratory arrest from anaphylactic shock
          • Social isolation
          • Spread of cancer
          • Spread of infection to the bone, spinal cord, brain, blood, heart, and other organs
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            Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
            Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 20
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            THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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            2. Skin rashes and other changes. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/tools/symptom/545.html. Accessed September 30, 2013.
            3. Dermatology A to Z. American Academy of Dermatology. http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z.
            4. Skin Conditions. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/skinconditions.html.
            5. Ferri FF (Ed.) Ferri’s Fast Facts in Dermatology. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier, 2011.