Is Your Skin Trying to Tell You Something?

By Maggie Puniewska | June 28, 2021 | Rally Health


Touch the skin between your nose and upper lip. Notice how soft and springy it is? Now touch the skin at your outer elbow. Not the same, right? That’s because, while the skin all over your body may serve the same basic function –– namely, shielding you from the elements and pathogens, and helping to keep your insides on the inside –– there’s a ton of variation in what your dermis deals with.

Likewise, your skin can sometimes look really different. From splotches and scaly patches to bumps and bruises, those skin changes may point to a new environmental stressor (hello, mask acne!) or even to a health issue. Here, experts explain what your skin may be trying to say –– and when to see a doc.

1. Dry or scaly red rash or patch of skin

Possible offenders: Quite a few things — ranging from psoriasis (a skin issue brought on by an overactive immune system) to eczema (a term used to describe a group of conditions, including atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis) to a reaction to a new skin care product, says Rajani Katta, MD, professor of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. With any type of rash or skin change, it’s a good idea to check in with a health care provider, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, FAAD, director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

Skin Rx: Eczema and psoriasis may be difficult to treat, because what works for one person may not work for another. Symptoms also can wax and wane. That’s why it’s important to work with your doctor to track symptoms and how your skin is responding to any treatments they recommend.

2. Small, flat dark spots

Possible offenders: Such discolorations on the face and body are often solar lentigines, or sun spots (also called liver or aging spots), which arise from sun exposure, explains Katta. When skin comes in contact with the sun, it generates a pigment called melanin; sometimes production is even, resulting in a “tan.” But other times it’s not, and spots crop up. They are usually tan to dark brown and are most often found on the face, hands, shoulders, and arms. Age spots are very common in people age 50 and older, but can come on earlier, particularly if you’ve spent a lot of time in the sun.

SkinRx: It’s important to raise any new skin changes with your doctor. Sun spots are usually harmless, but any spot that is black, increasing in size, has an irregular border, an unusual combination of colors, or is bleeding can indicate cancer and should be evaluated by a doctor. If you’re told your spots are benign but don’t love the way they look, some can be removed with chemical peels or laser treatments, Katta says.

3. Whiteheads, blackheads, or inflamed cysts

Possible offenders: These are all signs of acne. Breakouts can be linked to stress, diet, medications, or hormonal issues. For example, for women, hormonal changes associated with menstruation and pregnancy can lead to acne, as can the endocrine condition polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, says Zeichner. And many people have reported more acne around their nose and mouth during the pandemic, as face masks may cause more humidity and friction against your face.

SkinRx: Cleansers and creams with salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and adapalene can heal some types of blemishes. But if your pimples aren’t clearing and the acne coincides with other symptoms, such as excess hair growth, irregular menstrual cycles, or rapid weight gain or loss, that may point to a systemic condition like PCOS that warrants a doctor’s attention.

4. Easy bruising

Possible offenders: Black and blue marks –– ruptured blood vessels under the skin –– are a natural reaction to injury, though some people, especially women, are more prone to them, says Katta. You’re also more likely to see them as you age, as “skin naturally starts to thin,” Katta says. “That, coupled with sun damage and weakening collagen, ups the odds that bruises show up more easily.” Blood thinners can also make your skin more easily prone to bruising.

Skin Rx: Bruises due to minor injuries are usually nothing to worry about and should heal on their own after a few weeks. But if you’re developing frequent, large bruises (especially on your trunk or torso), have lots of inexplicable black-and-blue marks, have a history of significant bleeding, recently started a new medication, or if you or someone in your family has a history of easy bruising or bleeding, get checked out by your provider. Sometimes these can be signs of a blood clotting problem.

5. A ghostly complexion

Possible offenders: Some acute conditions –– a low blood sugar episode, shock, fainting –– can cause pallor, or paleness, as can some other diseases. But one common cause of loss of color from the skin is anemia, a condition in which the body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells. In addition to a more faded complexion, symptoms of anemia can include headaches, feeling weak or tired, and dizziness or lightheadedness.

SkinRx: Iron deficiency anemia is often treatable with iron supplements and dietary changes. You can reduce your risk of this type by eating iron-rich foods such as meat; dark leafy veggies, like spinach and kale; dried fruits; iron-fortified cereals, breads, and pastas; and peas. Other types of anemia may require different kinds of therapies. If you’re concerned about the color of your complexion, make an appointment with your health care provider to check things out.


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