15 Common Skin Conditions

Photo of author
Published on

As the largest organ of the body, the skin protects you against the elements. However, sometimes you may experience skin conditions or problems. The most common ones are eczema, psoriasis, hives, and vitiligo.

Skin problems can be unsightly, harmless, contagious, itchy, painful, or a combination of these. Check out these 15 common conditions, including how to treat them and when to seek medical attention.

Causes of Skin Conditions

There are a number of different causes of skin conditions, including:

  • Genetics
  • Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
  • Extreme temperatures.
  • Irritants like soaps and chemicals.
  • Allergic reactions and autoimmune responses.
  • Bacterial infection.

Doctors usually diagnose skin conditions through a combination of methods, primarily starting with a visual examination of the skin. During this initial assessment, they look for specific characteristics such as the color, texture, size, and distribution of any skin changes. They may also inquire about the patient’s medical history, symptoms, and any potential exposure to allergens or irritants.

1. Acne

Acne is a common skin condition that primarily involves the clogging of hair follicles with oil and dead skin cells. It manifests as various types of skin blemishes, including whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, and, in more severe cases, cysts and nodules.

Acne typically occurs when the sebaceous glands attached to hair follicles are stimulated at the time of puberty or due to other hormonal changes. These glands produce an oily substance called sebum. When excess sebum combines with dead skin cells, they can form a plug in the follicle, leading to the growth of bacteria, particularly Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), which can cause inflammation and the formation of pimples or acne.

Several factors can increase the risk of developing acne:

  • Hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy, and menstrual cycles.
  • Stress.
  • A family history of acne.
  • Consumption of high glycemic index foods and dairy products.

Some treatments for acne include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) products like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, etc.
  • Prescription medications such as retinoids and topical antibiotics. 
  • Oral antibiotics or hormonal treatments (such as oral contraceptives).
  • In-office procedures such as chemical peels, laser therapy, and microdermabrasion.

To manage acne effectively, you need to adopt a skincare routine with gentle cleansing and avoid irritants.

2. Cold Sores

Cold sores, also known as fever blisters or herpes simplex labialis, are small, painful, fluid-filled blisters that typically appear on the lips, around the mouth, and sometimes on the face. They are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), predominantly by HSV-1, and to a lesser extent, HSV-2, which is more commonly associated with genital herpes.

Cold sores are highly contagious and can be transmitted through direct contact with an infected person. This includes kissing, sharing utensils, towels, lip balm, or any other objects that have come into contact with the herpes virus. The virus can spread even when blisters are not present, as it can be shed from the skin.

Some symptoms of cold sores include:

  • Mild infection with fever
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Before a cold sore appears, people often experience a tingling, itching, or burning sensation around their lips for a day or two. Following this, the characteristic blisters appear.

While there is no cure for HSV, the symptoms of cold sores can be managed with medication, including

  • Acyclovir
  • Valacyclovir
  • Famciclovir

These medications are available in both topical forms and oral forms, which are generally more effective.

3. Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a common and potentially serious bacterial skin infection that primarily affects the deeper layers of the skin and the subcutaneous tissues. 

The symptoms of cellulitis include:

  • Pain and tenderness in the affected area
  • Redness and inflammation of the skin
  • Skin sore or rash that grows quickly
  • Tight, glossy, swollen skin
  • Warmth in the affected area
  • Fever and flu-like symptoms in more severe cases.

Cellulitis occurs when bacteria, most commonly Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes, enter the skin through a break or crack. These entry points can be cuts, abrasions, surgical wounds, insect bites, or areas of dry, flaky skin.

Most cellulitis cases are treated with prescription oral antibiotics. In more severe cases or if oral antibiotics don’t work, intravenous antibiotics may be needed.

4. Dry Skin

Dry skin, medically known as xerosis or xeroderma, is a common condition characterized by a lack of adequate moisture in the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin.

The skin may appear dry, flaky, and sometimes itchy, and it can occur on any part of the body but is most commonly found on the arms, hands, lower legs, and abdomen.

Dry skin can result from several factors:

  • Low humidity
  • Frequent bathing
  • Ageing
  • Diabetes
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Kidney disease
  • Eczema
  • Psoriasis

To treat dry skin, you have to rehydrate it and keep it moist. Here’re some recommended practices:

  • Apply emollients and moisturizers that contain ingredients like jojoba oil, dimethicone, glycerin, lanolin, and hyaluronic acid.
  • Use gentle, fragrance-free cleansers and avoid harsh soaps and detergents.
  • Bath in warm rather than hot water.
  • Limit the duration of baths or showers.
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to indoor air.
  • Drink plenty of water.

5. Dermatitis

Dermatitis is a general term used to describe inflammation of the skin. It encompasses a variety of conditions that cause itchiness, redness, and a range of other skin symptoms. 

There are several common types of dermatitis, each with distinct causes and symptoms:

  • Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)
  • Contact Dermatitis
  • Seborrheic Dermatitis
  • Nummular Dermatitis
  • Dyshidrotic Dermatitis
  • Stasis Dermatitis

Depending on the type, dermatitis can be caused by genetics, allergens, irritants, and microbial elements. The most common irritants are soaps, detergents, and solvents, while the most common allergens are nickel, rubber, and certain preservatives.

Symptoms of dermatitis typically include

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Dryness
  • Flaking

The skin may also develop blisters, rashes, or painful cracks. Chronic dermatitis can lead to thickened skin and hyperpigmentation.

Treatment for dermatitis aims to reduce symptoms and prevent flare-ups. This may include

  • The use of moisturizers to hydrate the skin
  • Topical corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
  • Avoiding known irritants or allergens

In cases of severe dermatitis, systemic treatments such as immunosuppressants or biologic drugs may be prescribed.

6. Hives

Hives, also known as urticaria, are a skin condition characterized by the sudden appearance of itchy, red, and raised welts on the skin. These welts can vary in size and shape and may be as small as a pinhead or as large as a dinner plate. Hives can appear anywhere on the body and are often accompanied by intense itching, and sometimes a burning or stinging sensation.

Hives are primarily caused by the release of histamine and other chemicals from cells in the skin known as mast cells. This release can be triggered by numerous factors, including:

  • Allergic reactions to food, medications, insect stings, or other substances.
  • Physical triggers such as pressure, temperature changes, exercise, and sunlight.
  • Infections or illnesses, including some viral infections.
  • Stress or emotional changes

The treatment of hives include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Corticosteroidson
  • Omalizumab (Xolair)

To prevent hives, you have to avoid known triggers, which can involve keeping a diary to track activities, foods eaten, and exposures. 

7. Eczema

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic inflammatory skin condition characterized by dry, itchy, and inflamed skin. People with eczema often have a compromised skin barrier, which makes it difficult for their skin to retain moisture and protect against irritants and allergens.

Common triggers often include:

  • Harsh soaps
  • Detergents
  • Stress
  • Allergens such as pet dander and dust mites

Eczema can appear on various parts of the body, including the face, hands, and insides of the elbows and knees. The primary symptom of eczema is itchy skin, which can lead to redness, swelling, and a rash. The skin may also become cracked, scaly, or sore.

While there is no cure for eczema, the condition can be managed with a combination of self-care measures and medical treatments, including

  • Regular use of moisturizers helps to maintain skin hydration and barrier function.
  • Topical treatments such as corticosteroids and calcineurin inhibitors to reduce inflammation and itching.

For severe eczema, treatments such as biologics (e.g., dupilumab) and systemic immunomodulators may be prescribed.

8. Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic, autoimmune skin condition characterized by the rapid buildup of skin cells, leading to thick, scaly patches that can be itchy, painful, and sometimes embarrassing due to their appearance. This skin condition presents in several forms, each with distinct characteristics:

  • Plaque Psoriasis
  • Guttate Psoriasis
  • Inverse Psoriasis
  • Pustular Psoriasis
  • Erythrodermic Psoriasis

Psoriasis is believed to be an immune system problem that causes the skin to regenerate at an abnormally fast rate. In typical skin, cell turnover takes about a month, but in psoriasis, it can happen in just a few days. This rapid turnover leads to the buildup of skin cells on the surface, forming the characteristic scaly patches.

Treatment for psoriasis varies based on the severity and type of psoriasis and can include:

  • Crticosteroids
  • Vitamin D analogues
  • Moisturizers
  • Phototherapy

For systemic medications, patients might be prescribed oral or injected medications that affect the whole body, such as methotrexate, cyclosporine, and biologics that target specific parts of the immune system.

9. Lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation. It’s caused by an autoimmune response where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues. While the exact cause of lupus is unknown, it is believed to result from a combination of genetic, environmental, and possibly hormonal factors.

When lupus affects the skin, it is known as cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE). There are several types of cutaneous lupus, including

  • Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE)
  • Subacute Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus (SCLE)
  • Acute Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus (ACLE)

Symptoms may include rashes and lesions that cause itching and pain. In discoid lupus, lesions can lead to scarring and permanent hair loss if they occur on the scalp. 

Treatment for cutaneous lupus aims to reduce symptoms, prevent flare-ups, and minimize damage to the skin. Options include:

  • Corticosteroids and calcineurin inhibitors.
  • Antimalarial drugs such as hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine.

For more severe cases, systemic treatments like immunosuppressants, retinoids, and biologics may be considered.

10. Rosacea

Rosacea is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition primarily affecting the face, characterized by episodes of flushing, persistent redness, visible blood vessels, and sometimes acne-like breakouts. It can also cause skin thickening and eye irritation in some people.

The exact cause of rosacea is unknown, but it is believed to involve a combination of factors including

  • Genetics
  • Vascular disease
  • Temperature changes
  • Spicy foods
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Stress

Rosacea is more common in women, people with fair skin, and those with a family history of the condition, although it can be more severe in men. It’s treated with topical medications such as

  • Azelaic acid
  • Metronidazole
  • Oral antibiotics

There are times when laser therapy or surgery is needed for more severe symptoms like visible blood vessels.

11. Ringworm

Ringworm, contrary to its name, is not caused by a worm but is a fungal infection affecting the skin, nails, and hair. It is medically known as tinea or dermatophytosis, depending on the infection’s location on the body.

The infection can spread through direct contact with an infected person or animal, or indirectly by touching objects or surfaces that have been contaminated with the fungus.

The hallmark symptom of ringworm is a red, itchy, circular rash with a clearer center. This rash may appear as discolored, scaly patches that are red on lighter skin or brown-gray on darker skin.

Treatment for ringworm typically involves antifungal medications, which can be in the form of

  • Creams
  • Gels
  • Sprays
  • Pills

Over-the-counter antifungal treatments are often effective, but prescription medications may be necessary for more severe cases, especially those involving the scalp or nails. It is crucial to complete the full course of treatment as prescribed to prevent the infection from returning.

12. Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a chronic autoimmune disorder characterized by the development of white patches on the skin due to the loss of melanocytes, the cells responsible for producing skin pigment (melanin).

This condition can affect any area of the skin and is also capable of impacting hair, eyes, inner ear, and mucous membranes, such as the inside of the mouth and nose.

In vitiligo, the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys melanocytes. Certain events, such as sunburn, emotional distress, or exposure to chemicals, may trigger vitiligo or exacerbate its progression.

Treatment options for vitiligo include:

  • Topical medications (corticosteroids, calcineurin inhibitors, and JAK inhibitors)
  • Phototherapy (UVB light or PUVA)
  • Laser therapy

For extensive vitiligo, depigmentation of the remaining pigmented skin may be considered. 

13. Chickenpox

Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is a highly contagious infection that primarily affects children, although it can also occur in adults.

It begins with fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, and headache. These symptoms are followed by the appearance of a skin rash that forms small, itchy blisters filled with fluid. The rash typically starts on the chest, back, and face and then spreads over the entire body.

Chickenpox spreads through airborne respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through direct contact with the fluid from the blisters.

While usually mild in children, chickenpox can be severe in adults and immunocompromised people, leading to complications such as pneumonia, brain inflammation, and secondary bacterial infections.

The varicella vaccine, introduced in 1995, has significantly reduced the incidence of chickenpox. Treatment mainly involves symptom management, such as itch relief and fever reduction, and in some cases, antiviral drugs.

14. Warts

Warts are benign (non-cancerous) skin growths caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). They can occur on any part of the body but are most commonly found on the hands, feet, and genitals.

Warts are contagious and can spread through direct contact with a wart or something that touched a wart, such as towels or surfaces.

There are several types of warts, each with distinct characteristics:

  • Common Warts (Verruca Vulgaris)
  • Plantar Warts
  • Flat Warts
  • Filiform Warts
  • Genital Warts

The appearance of warts can vary depending on their location and the thickness of the skin. Common symptoms include small, fleshy bumps, flesh-colored or slightly darker, and rough to the touch. Plantar warts may cause discomfort or pain when walking.

Many warts do not require treatment and may disappear on their own, although this can take months or even years. When treatment is desired or necessary, options include:

  • Salicylic Acid
  • Cryotherapy (Freezing)
  • Surgical Removal
  • Immunotherapy

You can prevent warts by avoiding direct contact with the warts, not sharing towels or razors, and keeping your skin dry. Vaccination against HPV can also prevent certain types of warts, including genital warts and those that may lead to cancer.

15. Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin, due to DNA damage that triggers mutations. This condition is primarily caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and tanning beds, which damages the DNA in skin cells.

There are three major types of skin cancer, each named after the type of skin cell from which they develop:

  • Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
  • Melanoma

The symptoms of skin cancer vary depending on the type but often include new growths or a change in an existing mole or spot on the skin. The ABCDE rule (Asymmetry, Border irregularity, Color variation, Diameter greater than 6mm, Evolving size, shape or color) is a useful guide specifically for identifying melanoma.

Non-melanoma skin cancers like BCC and SCC might appear as a persistent sore that doesn’t heal, a red scaly patch, a new growth, or a recurring sore or spot that heals and then reopens.

Treatment options for skin cancer can include

  • Surgical Excision
  • Mohs Surgery
  • Cryotherapy
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
  • Immunotherapy and Targeted Therapy

For all types of skin cancer, regular skin exams and self-examinations are crucial for early detection and treatment.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

You might consider seeing a certified dermatologist or healthcare provider if you have

  • A rash that covers more than 10% of your body.
  • A mole or patch of your skin that has changed in color, size, shape, or symptom.
  • Lots of blackheads, whiteheads, or both.
  • Sores, ulcers, unusual lesions, or growths that don’t go away after a week or two.
  • Severe acne with many breakouts that go deep into your skin, or you see scarring.

Looking for professional skincare advice? Schedule an online consultation with dermatologist Dr. Ava Patel to address your concerns.

Leave a Comment

Online Skincare Consultation with Dr. Ashley Morgan