Health

The Secret Messages from Your Skin

These five common disorders carry important health insights

Your skin is probably taking a beating already from the colder temperatures, though it’s still just early January.

Not only are you missing Vitamin D because of reduced sunshine, you also may be developing some of the common skin ailments that accompany this winter season — including dry, itchy skin.

Although often overlooked, your skin is one of the most important organs in the body and can hold clues to your overall health. The skin of an average adult weighs about 9 pounds and contains a complex network of blood vessels about 11 miles long.

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Unexpected changes in the look and feel of your skin could require something simple, such making sure you are following a healthy diet.

But those changes could also be a sign of more serious illnesses and worth investigation.

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Here are five common skin ailments and what to do about them.

Dry, Itchy Skin or Eczema
“Winter is eczema season,” said Dr. Ronald Sulewski, a dermatologist at Pinski Dermatology in Chicago, Illinois. “When the temperatures drop, so does the humidity in the air, which dries out the skin.”

Although eczema is a genetic condition that develops shortly after birth, Sulewski said the best measure to reduce these symptoms is to apply a moisturizing cream frequently.

Watch the temperature of your shower, he advised.

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“Scalding hot water can strip more moisture from the skin,” he said.

If your skin is still developing itchy pink bumps, you may way to apply a hydrocortisone cream (1 percent) twice a day.

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Excessive Acne or Unwanted Hair
“Acne is caused by a combination of over productive oil glands, normal skin bacteria, and the body’s immune system. These basic causes are driven by genetics and hormones,” said Sulewski.

He recommends over-the-counter remedies that contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to keep pimples under control.

Excessive acne or unwanted hair among women, however, could have more serious implications. The most common cause for these symptoms among women is polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, said Sulewski, which indicates enlarged ovaries and excess male hormone levels.

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This condition is usually accompanied by irregular menstrual cycles and can lead to obesity and infertility. Hormone treatments and weight loss programs have been shown to reduce long-term complications.

Dark Spots
UV damage from the sun often leads to dark spots appearing on the skin. Renata Block, a physician’s assistant at Pinski Dermatology, told LifeZette the best way to prevent this pigmentation disorder is to invest in a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 more.

“Reapply every two hours while you are outdoors,” she said, “as your body metabolizes the sunscreen and leaves you unprotected.”

Some dark spots could have more serious implications. If you develop dark, velvety patches in the neck, underarms, groin, or on your hands, you might be at risk for Type 2 diabetes. Block suggests visiting your dermatologist for a yearly skin exam to rule out any skin conditions or skin cancer so that the dark spots can be “more easily treated and less disfiguring.”

Psoriasis
Psoriasis is a persistent genetic disorder characterized by skin cells that multiply up to 10 times faster than normal. The sheer volume of these cells causes raised, red plaques on the skin that are covered with white scales. Affected areas usually include the knees, elbows, and scalp.

“The best way to minimize symptoms is to keep the skin moisturized,” Sulewski said. “However, most patients require prescription medications such as topical steroids.”

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Current research has shown that psoriasis is “an independent risk factor for patients to develop heart attacks and strokes,” he added. This research has prompted dermatologists to encourage patients to develop a healthier lifestyle, including quitting smoking, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet.

Deep Wrinkles
Lots of wrinkles could be more than just a sign of age. A study from the Yale School of Medicine showed that the depth and number of wrinkles could indicate a lower bone density among post-menopausal women.

“Skin and bones share common building blocks-proteins, and aging is accompanied by changes in skin and deterioration of bone quantity and quality,” said Lubna Pal, an associate professor at Yale, in a media release. So taking care of your bones could mean healthier looking skin. Ask your doctor for a bone density scan if you’re worried.

If the wrinkles are simply a matter of age, Block suggests using sunscreen, moisturizers, retinols, and antioxidants to help decrease damage from UV rays, pollution, or collagen depletion.

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