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November 26, 2020

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How to identify and treat strange things that might be happening on your skin

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Skin. It’s our body’s biggest organ. Our protective envelope exists to keep the outside world out and the inside in. And yet it’s easy to ignore, up until the moment something goes wrong. What’s that weird rash? Who knows? Sure, you can use a phone filter to make your skin look great, but it’s better to address the problem and enjoy clear skin.

We’ve rounded up info on some of the most common skin conditions that affect mankind, but this shouldn’t replace professional medical advice. If you think something looks wrong, please consult a doctor.

Basic Skin Care 101

Prevention is the best cure, so follow these simple steps to keep your skin healthy and happy.

• Wash your hands.

• Practice good hygiene.

• Manage stress.

• Eat a healthy diet.

• Sleep enough.

• Moisturize to prevent dry, cracked skin.

• Don’t share personal items like towels, razors and nail clippers.

• Avoid touching your face.

• Don’t pick at, shave over, pop or scratch irritated skin, no matter how tempting.

• Don’t touch other people’s skin lesions.

• Cover skin wounds, warts, etc. to speed healing and prevent cross-contamination.

• Wear flip-flops around swimming pools and public showers.

• Protect yourself from sun damage.

ACNE

It’s the bane of pubescence. But pimples can linger beyond the teenage years.

• Who: Everybody. It’s the most common skin issue in the United States.

• Cause: Pores clogged by dead skin cells get infected by a common skin bacteria, P. acnes. Risk factors include genetics, hormones, being female.

• Symptoms: From cysts to blackheads to pustules and whiteheads, these blemishes can plague the face, chest, back, arms and buttocks—and lead to scarring and dark spots.

• Contagious? No.

• Treatment: Start with over-the-counter topical treatments and see a dermatologist for prescription treatment if your acne is severe or not responding to other efforts. Do not pop pimples; it can make them worse and cause scarring.

CONTACT DERMATITIS

A general term for the type of rash one gets when skin comes into contact with an irritant.

• Who: Anybody, but allergies are a risk factor.

• Cause: Seasonal allergies; allergies to cheap jewelry (generally with nickel), cosmetics, detergents, medications, tattoo pigments, etc.

• Symptoms: Itching, redness, swelling.

• Contagious? No.

• Treatment: Remove the irritant, and avoid future contact.

DANDRUFF

A type of dermatitis (seborrheic) that mainly affects the scalp.

• Who: Mostly people with genetic predispositions, immune or nutrition issues.

• Cause: Genetics, environmental factors, dry skin, stress.

• Symptoms: Itching, flaking, discoloration of the skin.

• Contagious? No.

• Treatment: Medicated dandruff shampoo; shampoo daily; eat a healthy diet; get some sun; apply tea tree oil. Seek prescription treatments if the above doesn’t help.

ECZEMA

Think of this chronic skin condition like asthma of the skin. Skin can be normal, and then suffer from outbreaks, like an allergic reaction.

• Who: Anybody, but those with asthma or allergies are at higher risk.

• Cause: Genetics, skin irritation or damage, immune issues.

• Symptoms: Dryness, redness, itching, cracking, bleeding, infection.

• Contagious? No.

• Treatment: Hydrocortisone, antihistamines, steroid creams, laser therapy, immunosuppressants.

KERATOSIS PILARIS

An inherited skin condition that can make the upper arms, thighs, buttocks and/or cheeks appear to have goosebumps or whiteheads.

• Cause: Genetics, worsened by dry environments.

• Who: More common in children and young adults and generally resolves itself with age.

• Symptoms: Painless, but can cause bumps and coarse skin.

• Contagious? No.

• Treatment: Exfoliate and moisturize; salicylic acid, topical retinoids.

MOLES

Mostly everybody has a mole somewhere or other. Generally, these pigmented skin growths are harmless, but some can be risk factors for melanoma (skin cancer).

• Who: Almost everybody.

• Cause: Irregular or clumpy growth of pigmented skin cells.

• Symptoms: Beware of moles that are asymmetrical, oddly shaped, multicolored, larger than a pencil eraser and/or quickly changing, as these can be signs of melanoma.

• Contagious? No.

• Treatment: If your moles seem irregular, see a doctor immediately. Most moles don’t require treatment, but if needed, they can be surgically removed by a dermatologist. In general, it’s a good idea to monitor your moles over time, just to make sure they don’t turn against you.

MOLLUSCUM CONTAGIOSUM

This skin disease is caused by a poxvirus that lives in the upper layer of the skin.

• Who: Anybody, but people with compromised immune systems are at higher risk.

• Cause: Viral infection spread via physical contact (either skin-to-skin or via shared objects, such as towels or toys).

• Symptoms: Itching, redness, small bumps with a pearly appearance.

• Contagious? Yes, but your body can completely clear the infection.

• Treatment: The disease typically clears on its own in six months to four years. A medical professional can help remove the lesions; do not attempt on your own.

PSORIASIS

Skin generally takes weeks to grow, but with this skin condition, it grows at hyperspeed, causing significant irritation.

• Who: Genetics combined with triggering events such as stress, weather and/or medication.

• Cause: An overactive immune system, generally.

• Symptoms: Most people develop plaque psoriasis, which consists of scaly, raised patches that can look silver. They are very itchy, but scratching makes it worse. Other types of psoriasis include rashes and irritation on different parts of the body.

• Contagious? No.

• Treatment: Prescription medication, including lotions, pills and injections.

ROSACEA

Santa Claus is famous for his rosy cheeks. But what you took for Christmas cheer is most likely the skin condition rosacea.

• Who: Older people, mostly women, with fair skin.

• Cause: Genetics, acne is a risk factor, spicy foods, stress, sunlight.

• Symptoms: Redness on the cheeks and nose, enlarged blood vessels, hot skin, irritated eyes, swollen nose.

• Contagious? No.

• Treatment: Antibiotics, laser therapy, surgery.

WARTS

A skin growth caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).

• Who: Anybody, but nail biting, hangnails, broken skin, shaving and weakened immune systems are risk factors.

• Cause: Physical contact (skin-to-skin or with a contaminated object).

• Symptoms: Depending on the type of wart, the growth can appear on the hands, fingers, feet, face, genitals and, really, anywhere.

• Contagious? Yes.

• Treatment: Can eventually resolve on its own; over-the-counter treatments available; dermatologist can treat with excision, electrosurgery, cryotherapy and more.

This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.