Skin Diseases – A Window Into Your Health

Your skin can be a window into your health. Changes in your skin’s color, texture or appearance may signal a problem.


Skin diseases occur when your immune system attacks your healthy cells. They cause rashes, sores or blisters. Treatments can relieve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

Alopecia areata

Alopecia areata (AA) is a rare skin disease that causes patches of hair loss to develop on the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes and body. The patches of hair loss can be large or small and may grow together into a bald spot, called alopecia totalis (total-oh-sis).

In most cases, alopecia areata will not cause any other symptoms. However, some people experience itching or tingling in the area where the hair will fall out.

Scientists believe that alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system mistakenly attacks the cells that produce the hair follicles, which leads to hair loss.

This is a rare condition that affects women and men in equal numbers, but some ethnic groups are more likely to develop it than others. For example, African Americans are more likely to develop alopecia areata than white Americans.

Treatments for alopecia areata can range from simple medications to more complex therapies. Your doctor will help you choose the best course of treatment for your specific situation. Some of these treatments will stimulate hair regrowth, while other therapies can reduce inflammation and the immune system’s attack on the hair follicles.

Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, and it often occurs on parts of the body that are exposed to sunlight. This type of cancer is caused by a mutation in the DNA of one or more basal cells.

When this mutation occurs, it tells the basal cell to multiply rapidly, and it also tells it to continue growing even when it would normally die. The accumulated abnormal cells then form a tumor — the lesion that appears on your skin.

The cancer usually develops on the head and neck, but it can occur on any part of the body. People who have fair skin, blonde hair and blue eyes are at a higher risk of developing this type of cancer than those with darker skin.

Treatments for basal cell carcinoma include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill the cancer. It can be used to treat basal cell cancer when further surgery isn’t possible, such as when the cancer has invaded nearby tissues or is close to vital structures.

Treatment for basal cell carcinoma also includes using special creams to help reduce the chance that the cancer will come back. Your doctor will check your skin regularly and look for any bumps that are white, pink or brown and that crust over and bleed but don’t heal. If your doctor thinks you have this disease, he or she may do a biopsy to remove some or all of the growth and send it for lab testing.


Birthmarks are skin spots that develop on a child’s body or appear at birth. They may be caused by excess blood vessels (vascular birthmarks), skin pigment cells (pigmented birthmarks) or a combination of these.

Vascular birthmarks, also called red birthmarks, are created by blood vessels close to the surface of the skin. Examples include salmon patches, macular stains and hemangiomas.

Pigmented birthmarks, such as cafe au lait spots and Mongolian spots, are caused by excess skin pigment cells. They often fade away with age.

Hemangiomas are clusters of dilated blood vessels that typically develop in the first 2 months of life. Some of these, especially the larger ones, can grow faster than normal and can interfere with a child’s vision or breathing.

Sturk bites, a type of vascular lesion, are quite common in newborns and look like pale red patches on the forehead, eyelids, tip of the nose, upper lip or back of the neck. They usually disappear by 18 months of age.

Botox and dermal fillers

Botox and dermal fillers are cosmetic treatments injected into the skin that are popular for treating wrinkles. Both are minimally invasive procedures that offer fast, effective results. However, they differ in many ways.

Botulinum toxin Type A, also called Botox, is a non-invasive injection treatment that is used to treat fine lines and wrinkles by paralyzing muscles. In turn, this can reduce the appearance of those wrinkles by softening them.

A Botox treatment usually takes about 10 minutes and can be performed by a licensed medical professional. In some cases, the procedure may take more than one session.

During the injection process, a small amount of Botox is injected into specific facial muscles. This will cause the affected muscle to stop moving, resulting in the wrinkles being weakened and reduced or even removed.

Dermal fillers are similar to Botox, but they can help smooth static wrinkles that develop when the skin does not move. This type of wrinkle is often caused by volume loss in the face.

A dermal filler can be made from substances that are absorbed by the body such as hyaluronic acid, calcium hydroxylapatite, or poly-L-lactic acid. A synthetic filler, called Bellafill, is also available that isn’t absorbed by the body and can provide longer-lasting results.


Eczema is a skin disease that causes itchy, red patches on the face, hands, feet and sometimes other parts of the body. It can be uncomfortable and even debilitating at times, so it’s important to get treatment.

Doctors don’t know why some people develop eczema, but it is believed to be caused by a compromised skin barrier. This is the outer layer of the skin that keeps environmental irritants, allergens and microbes out of the body, as well as prevents water from escaping too quickly.

It’s also thought that a family history of eczema is a strong risk factor for developing the condition. It is also known as atopic dermatitis and usually begins in childhood, often during the first year of life.

Symptoms of eczema can be triggered by many things, including your environment, stress and emotional health. Try to identify what triggers a flare-up and avoid it. You can use a variety of treatments, including creams and ointments, avoiding common irritants and addressing your mental health to reduce the frequency of flare-ups.


Vitiligo is a skin disease that causes the loss of melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color. It affects people of all races and skin tones. It’s an autoimmune disease, which means your body is attacking your own cells.

It appears most often on parts of your skin that are exposed to the sun, such as your hands, feet, and face. However, you can get it in any part of your body.

White patches on your skin are the first sign of vitiligo. They’re most common on your hands, arms, and feet, but they can appear anywhere.

Your doctor can diagnose vitiligo by performing a physical exam and asking about your family history. He or she will also look at your skin under a black light to check for depigmented areas that appear chalky under the light.

Symptoms of vitiligo include white patches on your skin and mucous membranes, eye problems, and hearing loss in some people. The symptoms usually start before you’re 20 and may happen in childhood.

Treatments for vitiligo include medications, light therapy, and skin grafting. These treatments help restore the pigment in depigmented skin. Melanocyte transplants are another option, in which your doctor takes a specimen of healthy skin and cultures the melanocytes before transferring them to depigmented areas.


Acne is a common skin disease that causes spots, oily skin and sometimes skin that’s hot or painful to touch. The condition occurs when pores in your skin become clogged with oil, dirt or dead skin cells.

Pores are tiny openings on your skin that allow your hair follicles to get clean and release oil that keeps your skin lubricated and nourished. When these pores become clogged, they can’t do their job properly and bacteria and oils build up on your skin.

Your body’s immune system can react to these plugged hair follicles and create pimples or small, localized infections on your face, chest, back, arms, and neck. People of all ages and races can develop acne, but it is most common in teens and young adults.

Treatment of acne can include topical medications, oral medication or medical procedures. Your doctor will likely prescribe oral antibiotics to kill the bacteria that cause your breakouts.

A doctor may also recommend a topical retinoid to exfoliate the top layer of your skin, decreasing the amount of dead skin cells that clog your pores. The retinoid will work to reduce your acne and help prevent scarring.

You might be able to avoid acne with good hygiene and a healthy diet. Regular exercise and a daily skin care regimen with salicylic acid compounds or cleansing soaps can also help keep your skin clear. But you might need to see a dermatologist if your acne is severe or doesn’t respond to over-the-counter treatments.