When we think of our organs, we tend to think of those housed inside our bodies — our hearts, brains, lungs, livers, and so on. But there’s one organ — the largest of all, in fact, making up around 15% of our total body weight — that we wear on the outside: our skin.
We often take this particular organ for granted, but it goes through a lot — for one thing, we lose somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 skin cells every minute of every day, while it’s also prone to cuts and grazes, sun damage, and a range of infections and conditions.
In this blog, we’ll explore the latter — from everyday acne to shingles, what are the most common skin conditions we encounter, and how can we treat them effectively when we do?
Often assumed to be something that’s experienced exclusively by teenagers going through puberty, acne can in fact continue into later life (we often refer to this as adult or post-adolescent acne). Affecting up to 50 million Americans and around 15% of adult women, acne is a common condition that causes spots or pimples to develop on the skin.
These spots aren’t just confined to the face, either (another acne myth), with many people experiencing them on the back, chest and neck. The condition is usually triggered by changes in hormone levels — hence why it’s so common in pubescent teens — and is characterized by flare-ups: symptoms tend to spike and fall periodically.
Treatments for acne include:
- Topical skin treatments such as Differinor Skinoren.
- Oral antibiotics such as Tetralysal or Oxytetracycline.
- Over-the-counter skin cleansers or moisturizing lotions.
- Lifestyle changes such as reducing stress, staying hydrated, reducing your use of makeup, getting more sleep, and following a healthy diet.
Also referred to as atopic dermatitis, eczema is a common skin condition that affects upwards of 30 million Americans, and is particularly prevalent in infants and young children. Its symptoms include dry, itchy skin, flakiness, and often redness and swelling, and it can appear anywhere on the skin — though it’s common on the hands, elbows, neck and feet.
Eczema is often genetic — meaning you’re more likely to have it if it’s common in your family — but there can also be environmental and emotional triggers: exposure to irritants such as harsh soaps or air pollutants can lead to flare-ups, as can emotional factors such as stress and anxiety.
Treatments for eczema include:
- Skin emollients (moisturizers), which include creams, ointments, and lotions.
- Steroid treatments (known as topical corticosteroids) such as Hydrocortisone.
- Lifestyle changes such as using non-harsh soaps and cosmetics, avoiding very hot baths or showers, and using a humidifier to add moisture to the air.
Often confused with acne, rosacea is a long-term skin condition that is more common in women than men (around 3 to 4 times more common, in fact). It typically causes redness and visible blood vessels to appear on the face, often accompanied by small, red bumps, resembling pimples. You can try red light therapy for rosacea with great results.
While the exact cause of rosacea isn’t known, there are several factors which can trigger flare-ups: these triggers include exposure to hot or cold temperatures or strong winds, eating spicy foods, consuming alcohol or caffeine, experiencing stress, or going through hormonal changes such as the menopause — rosacea is fairly common in menopausal women.
Treatments for rosacea include:
- Topical gels or creams such as Metronidazole.
- Eye drops (if you suffer from ocular rosacea, which cues itching and redness of the eyes)
- Lifestyle changes such as avoiding known triggers, managing stress, using hypoallergenic skin products, and keeping the face and eyelids clean.
Psoriasis shares symptoms with many other skin conditions, and is occasionally mistaken for eczema, rosacea, or a fungal skin infection. It’s caused by your body overproducing skin cells and is thought to be related to a reduced immune system. Flare-ups typically involve the skin becoming red, dry and itchy, often with flaky, scaly patches.
Like many other skin conditions, psoriasis is usually triggered by environmental, emotional or hormonal factors, including alcohol, injury, stress, or the menopause. It can also flare up in response to certain medicines such as Ibuprofen or blood pressure medication.
Treatments for psoriasis include:
- Skin emollients (moisturizers) such as E45 Cream.
- Topical corticosteroids such as Hydrocortisone.
- Coal Tar shampoos (to treat psoriasis of the scalp).
- Lifestyle changes such as avoiding cold, dry weather, using a humidifier in your home, and trimming your nails to avoid scratching or picking the skin.
Around 1 in 3 Americans will develop shingles (which is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox) in their lifetime, with the skin condition typically causing a painful rash to develop on the side of the body or face. The rash usually consists of blisters, which will scab over within a few days — although the condition may take up to 4 weeks to fully clear up.
In most cases, the rash appears as a single strip around one side of the body (usually near the torso), while others may experience it on the face. Unlike any of the aforementioned skin conditions, shingles is often accompanied by symptoms such as a fever, headache, and all-over body ‘chills’.
Treatments for shingles include:
- Antiviral medications such as Acyclovir and Famciclovir.
- Painkillers such as Paracetomol, to ease the pain.
- A cold compress (for example, wrapping a bag of frozen peas in a dish towel or cloth).
- Frequent cleaning of the rash to reduce the risk of infection.