6 Common skin conditions - what causes them and what you can do

6 Common skin conditions

Did you know that your skin is your body’s largest organ and that there are hundreds of conditions that can affect it?

So what are the most common skin conditions, and how can you treat them? Here you will find information on the following common skin conditions:

  • Moles
  • Psoriasis
  • Eczema
  • Acne
  • Warts and verrucas
  • Cold sores

If your skin is inflamed or changes texture and colour, it can be concerning. Whilst some of these symptoms are completely harmless, others can be a sign of something more serious.

So if you’re worried about a skin problem, see a doctor.

Skin mole

Image of melanoma

What are moles?

Normal moles are small, evenly coloured spots on the skin.

Most people have moles and they are usually harmless. But it’s important to recognise when a mole might be something more serious, like cancer.

You should see a doctor if you notice any changes to a mole including differences in size, shape, or colour.

A useful guide to follow is the ABCDE rule and you should see a doctor if you notice any of the following:

  • A - Asymmetry: One half of a mole does not match the other
  • B - Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred
  • C - Colour: The colour is not the same all over and may include different shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue
  • D - Diameter: It is larger than 6 millimeters across
  • E - Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or colour

What causes cancerous moles?

Cancerous moles tend to occur when some cells in the skin start developing abnormally.

And although the exact cause is unknown, there are certain risk factors that increase your chances of skin cancer. These include having:

  • Pale skin that burns easily
  • Red or blonde hair
  • Lots of moles or freckles
  • A family member who has had melanoma

Skin cancer treatment

Treatment is dependent on the type of skin cancer you have, but more often than not surgery is the first line of action.

In more severe cases additional treatments may be needed to get rid of the cancer, or to stop it from returning.

You can’t always prevent melanoma but you can reduce your risk by:

  • Not getting sunburnt
  • Avoiding the sun when it’s at its strongest
  • Covering skin with clothes
  • Regularly applying a high-factor sunscreen (minimum SPF15)
IMPORTANT

You should be checking your skin once a month for any new or abnormal moles because an early diagnosis increases the chances of a successful treatment

Psoriasis

Image of psoriasis

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a common skin condition that affects over 125 million people worldwide.

The most common type of psoriasis is plaque psoriasis - it actually accounts for 80-90% of all cases.

This type of psoriasis can appear anywhere on your body and it results in red lesions covered in silver scales.

You can also develop psoriasis in specific areas of your body, for example scalp psoriasis, where you may notice flakes in your hair and on your shoulders.

Some people also develop conditions in association with psoriasis, such as psoriatic arthritis. This is the inflammation of joints affected by psoriasis, and it’s estimated that 30% of people with psoriasis will also develop this condition.

What causes psoriasis?

It is thought to be caused by an autoimmune response, which is when your immune system attacks your own healthy cells.

This reaction results in the rapid buildup of skin cells, which causes a scaling on the skin’s surface.

However, no autoantigen that could be responsible has been found yet.

Other risk factors of psoriasis include smoking, obesity, certain medications, infections, and genetics. In fact, you are 10% more likely to develop psoriasis if one of your parents has it, and your risk increases to 50% if both parents have it.

Although there is no cure for psoriasis, there are treatments to reduce the skin inflammation it causes.

Psoriasis treatment

The best treatment varies by individual but the three types available are:

  • Topical treatments
  • Light treatments
  • Systemic medications

Topical treatments

Topical treatments tend to be the first response to treating psoriasis because they slow down the growth of excessive skin cells.

Steroid topical treatments are most commonly prescribed and they reduce the redness and swelling.

Other treatments that you can use include: anthralin, synthetic vitamin D3, and vitamin A.

Some people find that this is all they need to control the condition but others find the condition returns soon after treatment ends.

Light treatments

Exposing skin to ultraviolet light on a regular basis, under medical supervision, can help to treat psoriasis.

This is not the same as a sunbed. Sunbeds are not recommended and can increase your risk of getting melanoma by 59%.

Usually ultraviolet B (UVB) phototherapy is used, but in more severe cases psoralen plus ultraviolet A (PUVA) phototherapy might be prescribed instead.

Often a combination of light therapy and other treatments is the most effective.

Systemic medications

These are oral and injected medications that work throughout the entire body, and they are often prescribed when other forms of treatment haven’t worked.

There are lots of options available, and some have serious side effects, so it’s best to speak to your doctor about whether systemic treatments are right for you.

Eczema

Image of eczema

What is eczema?

Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that causes itchy skin.

It affects people of all ages, but most commonly children - in fact 10-20% of children in the United States have eczema.

The two most common types of eczema are atopic eczema, or atopic dermatitis, and contact dermatitis.

Atopic eczema makes your skin itchy, red, dry and cracked. It usually occurs around your knees and elbows, but it can also appear on your face, neck, hands, and scalp.

Whilst contact dermatitis has the same symptoms, it only occurs when your skin comes into contact with an irritant.

What causes eczema?

Eczema occurs when your skin is unable to retain moisture and so becomes very dry. Since it's so dry it can be irritated by certain triggers, which causes it to become red and itchy.

A few common triggers include:

  • Detergents and soaps
  • Antiseptics and antibacterials
  • Perfumes and preservatives in toiletries or cosmetics
  • Solvents
  • Oils used in machines
  • Chemicals, such as disinfectants
  • Acids and alkalis
  • Cement
  • Powders
  • Water, especially hard, chalky, or heavily chlorinated water
  • Dust
  • Soil
  • Some plants, such as clematis, hellebore and mustard

Your likelihood of developing eczema is probably genetic. You are more likely to have it if your parents, or one of your siblings has eczema.

Eczema treatment

The most common treatment for eczema is moisturisers, as well as creams and ointments that contain corticosteroids.

You might also need to take antihistamines to help reduce itching, and in more severe cases bandages and special body suits can be used to help your skin to heal.

There are also some self-care tips you can follow to help reduce your symptoms. These include avoiding triggers, such as certain soaps and detergents. You should also avoid scratching your skin.

Whilst there is no cure for eczema, there are ways to manage your flare ups. These include avoiding triggers, implementing a daily bathing and moisturising routine, and applying prescription creams consistently and as prescribed.

Acne

Image of acne

What is acne?

Acne is a skin condition that causes spots and blemishes to occur on your face, forehead, shoulders, back, neck, chest, and upper arms.

Most people will experience acne at some point in their lives, in fact there are currently 50 million people suffering from acne in the United States alone.

What causes acne?

Acne develops when:

  • There is an overproduction of oil in your skin
  • Hair follicles become clogged with oil and dead skin cells
  • There is a certain type of bacteria in your skin
  • There is an increased production of androgen hormones - typical during puberty

Acne treatment

Although acne can’t be cured it can improve with treatment. Depending on the severity of your acne, different options are available.

For mild acne speak to your pharmacist; they will be able to recommend over the counter products such as benzoyl peroxide.

For more severe acne, and acne that appears on your chest or back, you can see a doctor.

If necessary they will be able to prescribe you with some acne medication such as antibiotics or a stronger topical cream.

There are also some useful tips for treating your acne at home:

  • Wash your face with lukewarm water and mild soap or cleanser
  • But don’t wash your face more than twice a day or use very hot or very cold water
  • Use water-based cosmetics that are labelled as non-comedogenic
  • Remove all your makeup before bed
  • Use fragrance free, water based moisturisers for dry skin

Warts and verrucas

Image of a wart

What are warts and verrucas?

Warts are small, rough growths that can occur on your palms, knuckles, knees, or fingers. You can also get warts on the soles of your feet and these are called verrucas.

They can appear individually or as a cluster and most people will have warts at some point in their life.

In addition to common warts and verrucas, other types of warts include:

  • Plantar warts or plane warts
  • Genital warts

Unlike common warts, plane warts tend to be smooth and slightly yellow in colour. They are most likely to occur on your face, neck, the backs of your hands, and legs.

Genital warts, on the other hand, only appear on or around the genital or anal area.

They are a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI) and whilst they are usually painless and don’t pose a risk to your health, you should see a doctor in case they need to be treated.

What causes warts and verrucas?

Warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), and the different strains of the virus cause different types of warts.

You can get HPV virus through close skin-to-skin contact with someone with the virus, as well as by coming into contact with contaminated objects, such as shoes, towels, floors in communal changing rooms or surrounding swimming pools.

That said, the risk of catching a wart is fairly low. They are more likely to be spread to others if the skin is wet, soft, or has been scratched.

You can also spread warts to other parts of your own body, for example when you shave, or if you bite your nails, or scratch a wart.

You are also more likely to develop a wart or verruca if you have a weakened immune system.

Treatment for warts and verrucas

More often than not warts and verrucas go away on their own.

In fact, for children, about half go away within a year, and two-thirds disappear within two years. It may take up to ten years for warts to clear up in adults, though.

Therefore if you’re an adult suffering from warts you may want to try over the counter medicines, cryotherapy, or surgery to remove your wart.

A pharmacist can provide you with creams, plasters, and sprays to get rid of warts and verrucas.

Unfortunately, these treatments can take up to three months to complete, and they don’t often work.

So another option is cryotherapy which is freezing the wart off. This form of wart removal uses liquid nitrogen to get rid of the wart.

Surgery might also be suggested in some situations.

Unfortunately in about three out of ten cases warts or verrucas return after treatment, so to try to prevent this your doctor may recommend a combination of treatments.

Cold sore

Image of a coldsore

What is a cold sore?

Cold sores, also known as ‘fever blisters’ or ‘mouth herpes’, are tiny blisters that develop around your mouth.

Sometimes they appear on your chin, cheeks, inside the nostrils, and less frequently on the gums or the roof of the mouth.

Usually they cause a slight burning sensation or tingling before they erupt and crust over.

What causes cold sores

It is caused by a virus called the herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1), or sometimes by herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2).

It is estimated that two thirds of the population under 50 have HSV-1 and once you have the virus it remains in your skin for the rest of your life.

More often than not it will remain inactive in your skin, but some people find that they have frequent flare ups. These are usually triggered by infections, stress, periods, fevers, and overexposure to sunlight.

Cold sores are transmitted by skin to skin contact, so if you have a cold sore you should wash your hands immediately after touching it.

You should also avoid kissing or skin contact with others, and don’t share towels, lipstick, cutlery.

Cold sore treatment

More often than not a cold sore will disappear after 7-10 days. To encourage the healing process make sure you are staying hydrated, washing your hands regularly, and avoiding acidic and salty foods.

You can also try antiviral creams, which should be dabbed on the cold sore as soon as it appears. Or you can try a cold sore patch that helps heal the wound and covers it during the process. Both of which can be found at a pharmacy.

In more severe cases, for example if your cold sore is very large and painful, or if you have a weakened immune system your doctor may prescribe antiviral tablets.

In addition, pregnant women and newborns may require hospital treatment.

Conclusion

There are lots of different skin conditions responsible for skin inflammation, redness, or changes in texture and here we have just outlined a few.

Skin moles can be concerning, but if a cancerous mole is caught early, there are treatment options available. So make sure you see a doctor if you are worried about one of your moles

Psoriasis, eczema, acne, warts and verrucas, and cold sores can also be frustrating conditions, but as annoying as they can be, there are lots of treatment options available.

But if you are worried speak to a doctor. They can ease your concerns and they might be able to prescribe you a stronger treatment, if necessary.



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