Sometimes, skin conditions can be an inevitable part of the beauty experience. They can be temporary or permanent, easily treated or indicative of a greater issue. If you’ve ever randomly spotted a weirdly textured patch of skin or unusual protuberances, you are familiar with the wave of panic that can follow after said discovery. Skin issues can affect our self-esteem, as the affected areas may be visible to others, causing us to pick apart our appearance and engage in negative self-talk.
While I’m not encouraging wild forays into the world of self-diagnosis via Google, it’s important to learn what’s what in order to accurately recognize the signs of potential skin conditions and to take the steps necessary to maintain healthy skin. So, here is a brief primer on some common skin conditions, as well as how to identify them and suggestions for treatment. Make sure to follow up with your dermatologist before administering any at-home care beyond mild skincare.
If you’ve ever randomly spotted a weirdly textured patch of skin or unusual protuberances, you are familiar with the wave of panic that can follow after said discovery.
Before I developed an interest in skincare, I’d only ever heard of psoriasis from TV commercials even though a reported 8 million people in the United States suffer from it. It’s an autoimmune condition whereby the skin cells are erroneously attacked by the body’s natural defenses, prompting inflammation, itching, and red, scaly patches on areas of the body. Unlike the regular time range of 10 to 30 days for cell turnover, a body suffering from psoriasis will instead produce new cells every four to five days, causing buildup and manifesting as flaky plaques on the skin’s surface. The patches mostly appear on areas such as the elbows, knees, lower back, or scalp, but could crop up anywhere else.
Psoriasis can be treated with over-the-counter lotions to soothe discomfort or prescription steroid creams. Ultimately, diagnosis and advice by a dermatologist are absolutely recommended.
Most of us are no stranger to this common skin condition, having been troubled by it in our teens, as a monthly precursor or accompaniment to our menstrual cycle, during stressful times, or after exposure to products that were less than ideal for our skin. There are two primary kinds of acne: inflammatory and non-inflammatory. Under these categories, there are different types, such as whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts.
Blackheads and whiteheads constitute non-inflammatory acne, meaning that they typically don’t cause swelling or redness. They occur when the pores are clogged by sebum and dead skin cells, blackheads being an open lesion, while whiteheads are closed, the oil and skin cells trapped within. Blackheads and whiteheads generally respond well to OTC treatments like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, skin-soothing ingredients such as aloe and centella, as well as prescription retinoids like tretinoin.
Like non-inflammatory acne, a buildup of dead skin and sebum can also cause inflammatory acne. The difference in inflammatory acne is that bacteria plays a part, causing infection deep below the skin’s surface, which present as redness, swelling, and pain. Papules and pustules occur due to a breakdown in the walls surrounding the pores resulting in infection. The difference between the two is that papules are hard bumps, while pustules are pus-filled and tender to the touch. Nodules occur deeper within the skin and usually require dermatologist intervention. Cysts occur even deeper than nodules, usually as a result of a severe infection within the skin. They are large, painful, and also require the attention of a licensed professional, often needing to be excised surgically.
Rosacea is commonly misdiagnosed as acne because it can appear in the form of small comedones on the skin’s surface. It can materialize as redness that ranges anywhere from a rosy flush to blotchiness, as well as stinging, sensitivity, and visible blood vessels. Like psoriasis and eczema, the cause of rosacea is yet to be determined fully, but it is known that certain habits—such as consuming spicy food, drinking hot beverages, ingesting certain foods like cinnamon and tomatoes—and the presence of Helicobacter pylori in the gut can be triggers.
Rosacea is incurable but can be managed with a combination of gentle skincare products, doctor-prescribed antibiotics, sunscreen use, and a careful monitoring of foods consumed to identify any that might aggravate the condition.
This is often confused with psoriasis as a symptom of both is skin that is red, dry, itchy, and scaly. Both are autoimmune conditions, with eczema also triggered by hypersensitivity to environmental irritants, such as ingredients in personal care products or laundry detergent. Eczema is a chronic skin condition, requiring close attention to the products and fibers that come in contact with the skin to avoid flare-ups when possible. Complications can arise due to bacterial, fungal, and viral infections. If you are experiencing redness, dryness, itching, or a rash that does not seem to have a clear causation, visit a doctor for definitive diagnosis and treatment. Only an experienced professional is in the position to dispense treatment advice, at least in the beginning. With time and research, you may be able to determine which products work better for you.
Our skin is too delicate and its function too important for mistakes to be made with diagnosis and treatment. Without expert insight, it’s easy to do more harm than good. And while this guide is meant to be a starting point to better equip you in a consultation with your doctor, it shouldn’t be the only resource that you consult when dealing with these common skin conditions.