Skin conditions are one of the most common reasons for visiting the doctor. Your skin is the largest organ in your body. It’s also the one that is most exposed to the outside world, so it’s not surprising that skin problems are so common. A skin condition is a health problem that starts in, causes symptoms on, or can be treated through your skin. However, skin conditions can be connected to issues in other parts of your body too.
What Causes Skin Conditions?
Skin conditions are often linked to irritation, clogged pores or inflammation caused by an infection or immune disorder. Typical symptoms include rashes, redness, itchiness and skin growths. The symptoms can be very uncomfortable and may affect your appearance too.
The most common skin conditions in the UK are eczema, acne, warts, contact dermatitis and psoriasis. Approximately 20% of children is affected by eczema and about 50% of teenagers have acne, while psoriasis affects about 1.5% of the British population. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK.
Who is at Risk of Skin Conditions?
Anyone can develop a skin condition, but you may be at higher risk of some skin problems than of others. One common factor for many skin conditions is sun damage. UV light can be very harmful for our skin. Over time, it can cause problems such as solar lentigos, actinic keratoses and even skin cancer. People who have fair skin or spend a lot of time outdoors are at higher risk of these conditions, but you can protect yourself by covering up and using sunscreen. Other skin conditions seem to run in families. If you have a close relative with a condition such as psoriasis or eczema, you are more likely to be affected yourself.
A Quick Guide to Skin Conditions and Dermatology.
Learn more about the most common skin conditions in the UK and how your dermatologist can help.
Acne is very common. Most of us will have a couple of spots at some point, but some of us will have more persistent acne or deeper, cystic acne that can scar. Spots develop when our pores get clogged by oil, dead skin and bacteria. It often happens due to hormonal changes in adolescence or during the menstrual cycle. The build-up of oil can cause blackheads, whiteheads and red spots that can be full of pus. Over the counter treatments can often help with acne, but if these don’t work it’s best to see a dermatologist for stronger medication.
Actinic keratoses are patches of thickened or scaly skin that usually appear on skin that has been exposed to the sun. You’re most likely to see them on your hands, face, scalp or ears. Although they aren’t cancerous, actinic keratoses can eventually develop in squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and they can grow large and unsightly. Your dermatologist can remove actinic keratoses and you can prevent them by using sun protection.
Children’s skin is more sensitive, so rashes, contact dermatitis, allergies and eczema are very common. Children can also be more vulnerable to skin infections. A children’s dermatologist can recognise the symptoms and recommend a treatment that is suitable for your child. Treating children’s skin conditions requires plenty of patience, but an experienced dermatologist will be able to provide tips on managing the symptoms.
Cysts are small, fluid-filled lumps that are usually harmless. Most are about the size of a pea, but they can be larger. You can have a cyst anywhere on your skin. Cysts usually form because skin cells haven’t been shed as usual, but they can become infected too. A cyst should go away by itself, but if it doesn’t or it’s large, sore or oozing pus you should see a dermatologist. You should also check with a dermatologist if you’re not sure if a lump is a harmless cyst or something else. The doctor can rule out other causes, prescribe antibiotics for an infected cyst or drain it if necessary.
Eczema is one of the most common childhood skin conditions. Many children will grow out of it, but eczema can affect adults too. Atopic eczema can run in families and it is linked to the immune system. It causes patches of inflammation that appear as dry, red itchy skin. Contact dermatitis is a related skin condition that causes similar symptoms when your skin touches a particular trigger or allergen. Using moisturiser and avoiding triggers can help prevent eczema symptoms. Your dermatologist can also provide medication to tackle your eczema symptoms when they do flare up.
Genital Skin Conditions.
Genital skin conditions can be very uncomfortable and embarrassing. When you notice symptoms such as itchiness, discharge, or lesions in this delicate area, you might think that you have an STI. It’s important to get checked out just in case it is an infection that could spread to your partner. However, genital skin conditions aren’t always sexually transmitted. You can get dermatitis, cysts, lichen planus and other skin conditions in this area too. A dermatologist can identify the cause and provide treatment to relieve your symptoms.
Hair Loss / Alopecia.
Hair loss is very common in both men and women as we grow older. Male pattern baldness is particularly common, but many women find their hair growing thinner with age too. Other causes of hair loss include the immune condition alopecia areata, scarring alopecia and various skin conditions that can affect the scalp such as seborrheic dermatitis. If you’re concerned about hair loss, then it’s important to see a dermatologist quickly. The doctor will identify the cause and recommend treatments to slow down your hair loss. Sometimes the hair loss can be reversed.
Hives & Urticaria.
Hives or urticaria are also known as nettle rash because they cause the same kind of symptoms. Hives are usually a red, raised, itchy rash that often appears suddenly. The rash may disappear quickly or stay on your skin for days. Hives are often a sign of an allergy, but they can also happen if your skin is irritated by something. If you’re not sure what caused your hives or they aren’t going away, you should see a dermatologist. Treatment can help to relieve the symptoms and working out the trigger will help you to avoid it in the future.
Lichen planus is a common rash that is most often seen in the over 40s. It usually causes small clusters of slightly raised red spots on your skin. We don’t understand exactly why it happens, but lichen planus is probably linked to your immune system. It isn’t contagious, but it can still be important to see a dermatologist to confirm the cause of your rash. The doctor will be able to recommend treatment to relive any itchiness too.
Moles are usually small, brown and fairly circular spots. A mole is a patch on your skin that has more of the pigment producing cells than usual. Most moles are harmless, but if you notice any changes in your moles you should see a dermatologist. Changes in size, shape, colour, symmetry or other features could be signs of skin cancer. Moles can easily be removed by a dermatologist if there is a chance of skin cancer or for cosmetic reasons.
Solar lentigos and freckles.
Solar lentigos and freckles are small dark patches where your skin is producing extra pigment. Solar lentigos are more common in older people and happen due to gradual sun damage over the years. Freckles also grow darker when exposed to the sun, but they’re common in children and adults. Solar lentigos and freckles are harmless, but they can be signs that you need to use more sunscreen. You can ask a dermatologist for treatments to fade solar lentigos and freckles if you’re unhappy with them.
Malignant melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and it can be deadly if it is not treated. Melanoma often develops in moles and can cause changes in their size, shape, colour and appearance. However, changes in other patches of your skin can also be caused by melanoma so it’s important to get them checked out. A dermatologist can remove a suspicious mole or possible skin cancer. As long as the melanoma is removed early, the entire cancer can be eliminated before it spreads.
Psoriasis is a lifelong condition, but the symptoms can come and go over time. Psoriasis is related to your immune system and it happens when too many cells build up on the surface of your skin. Red patches and silvery scales on your skin are the most common symptom of psoriasis. However, it can also affect your nails and cause complications such as psoriatic arthritis. The symptoms are often triggered by specific things such as skin injuries or stress. We don’t have a cure for psoriasis yet, but there are various treatment options your dermatologist can provide to relieve the symptoms. Medicated creams, phototherapy and lifestyle changes such as better stress management can all help with psoriasis.
Scabies is a skin condition caused by a tiny parasitic mite. It is most common in younger and older people but can affect anyone. The scabies mites can spread easily through skin contact so it often affects whole families. The most obvious symptom of scabies is itching, but you may also notice a rash of small red dots. Scratching and irritation can also create an eczema-like rash. Dermatologists can provide medication to get rid of the scabies mites. Everyone who is in close contact with the affected person should get treated at the same time, just in case.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC).
Squamous cell carcinomas are a type of non-melanoma skin cancer that usually appear on exposed areas of skin as a result of long-term sun damage. An SCC generally looks like a raised, scaly or crusty lump on your skin. The risk of an SCC spreading is small, but it’s still important to have it removed by a dermatologist. If you ignore the SCC it will grow bigger and could eventually cause problems. Getting a non-melanoma skin cancer removed can also be important for cosmetic reasons as the growths can be very visible.
Warts & Verrucas.
Warts and verrucas are very common. A wart is a lump of thickened skin that happens due to a viral infection in your skin. A verruca is just a flattened wart on the sole of your foot. Warts and verrucas are usually harmless, but they can be a bit uncomfortable. Over the counter treatments will often help, but if these don’t work then you can ask a dermatologist to remove them for you.
Skin cancer includes several different forms of cancer that start in different types of cell in the skin. Melanoma begins in the melanocytes, while BCC and SCC are named after their original cell types. Skin cancer is often linked to sun damage, which can cause changes in your DNA. The damaged cells can start to divide more than they should, creating a tumour. Getting early treatment from a dermatologist is essential if you think you might have skin cancer. The doctor can usually remove the growth to prevent it from getting bigger or spreading. Protecting your skin from the sun can prevent skin cancer.
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC).
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. It accounts for more than 80% of skin cancers diagnosed in the UK. BCCs are usually found on areas that have been exposed to the sun such as the ears, face and neck. A BCC can look like a pearly lump, scaly patch or a scab that doesn’t heal. BCCs grow slowly but they do need to be removed by a dermatologist as there is still a small risk they will spread.
Did you know?
Most moles are not a cause for concern and present a purely cosmetic problem. However, moles can occasionally undergo changes that lead to them becoming cancerous.
Acne is a common condition characterised by blackheads, whiteheads and cysts. It affects the greasy and hair-bearing areas such as the face, chest and back.