The skin is the largest organ in the human body, covering an area of about 19 square feet. It serves as a protective covering to minimize injury to tissues and to prevent pathogens from reaching fragile subcutaneous layers. On top of that, the skin also prevents moisture loss, regulates body temperature and helps in synthesizing vitamin D. It is also the body’s main receptor of most sensations.
As large as it is and given its barrier functions, the skin is subject to injuries, infections and a host of disorders arising from contact with allergens, pathogens and irritants from chemical and mechanical sources. Since the skin covers the entire body, obvious manifestations of skin problems can have a psychological impact, affecting the person’s quality of life.
Common Skin Disorders
Regardless of age, environment and health condition, everyone is susceptible to skin disorders of varying seriousness.
Eczema is a general term used to describe a skin condition that involves swelling, discoloration, dryness, itchiness that may or may not involve blistering. Eczema and dermatitis are often used interchangeably.
Atopic dermatitis is a condition that manifests in children as an itchy, rash-like area at the fold of the elbows and behind the knees. Allergic dermatitis is directly linked to contact with environmental factors such as chemicals in cosmetics and bath products, metals in jewelry and irritants from plants and animals. A third type is called nummular dermatitis where round patches of itchy, red and flaky skin develop after a bug bite or a skin injury.
Acne is so common that 80 percent of the population suffer from it at some point in their lives. Adolescents are most prone to acne because of the associated hormonal changes at this stage. The condition may also affect some adults due to hormones, stress and reactions to food and cosmetic ingredients.
When the skin’s pores and sebaceous glands become clogged with oil and impurities, pimples, blackheads and whiteheads develop especially if the skin is not cleaned properly. Acne shows up most often on the face, but it can also manifest on the neck, shoulders, back and chest. Severe cases of acne that form under the skin are called cystic or nodular; these cases require the services of a skin specialist to minimize pain, inflammation and scarring.
Psoriasis is the buildup of tissue, making the affected area look red, thick and scaly. It may start at the elbows and knees and spread to the arms, legs and torso. It is a disfiguring, chronic condition that can be managed with topical steroids and other therapies so that affected persons can live normally.
One of the most common skin disorders affecting patients with diabetes is a condition called diabetic dermopathy that is characterized by oval or round shaped scaly patches that may be slightly indented. Brownish to reddish in color, the spots appear on the shins often after trauma or injury in the area. Also known as shin spots, this skin condition can be a symptom of pre-diabetes conditions.
About 30 percent of diabetic patients suffer from diabetic dermopathy, but older patients who have had diabetic symptoms for at least 10 years are more likely to be affected.
Common Sense Skin Care
Maintaining a health-focused lifestyle is the first step to ensure that the skin is at its best at any age. A balanced diet is very important as healthy foods contribute to skin health as well. Fruits, vegetables and protein sources contain nutrients that the skin needs for nourishment and rejuvenation. On the other hand, processed foods may contain ingredients that can lead to breakouts and allergies. Drinking at least eight glasses of water daily helps to keep the skin hydrated. Ultimately, a healthy diet may help to control the symptoms of other disorders, such as diabetes, that may be affecting skin health.
Fresh air, exercise and adequate sleep improve overall health, but they can also improve skin conditions. Endorphins released as a result of vigorous exercise contribute to better-looking skin while getting enough rest allows the skin to recover and rejuvenate along with the rest of the body.
Proper cleansing using mild cleansers is a must to remove impurities that may lead to acne and skin irritation. Keep the skin hydrated with regular application of moisturizers enriched with emollients, vitamins and other nutrients.
Damage from overexposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays is one of the major causes of skin cancer, and sun exposure may exacerbate existing skin problems. Avoid sun exposure when the sun's UV rays are at their worst between noon and 3 p.m. If exposure is unavoidable, use sun protection and wear protective clothing.
Healthy skin is essential to good health. Take proper care of the skin you have, and your whole body will thank you.