It’s National Healthy Skin Month! The skin is our largest organ—one that weighs around 8 pounds for most adults and covers about 22 square feet. Like other organs, it needs good care if we want it to hold up well. It is also subject to a number of disorders. Here are a few of the most common skin conditions and tips for keeping your skin healthy:
1. Skin cancer. This is the most prevalent type of cancer, affecting 1 in 5 Americans in the course of their lifetime. It’s estimated that one million people are diagnosed with this condition annually. While there are a number of common types of skin cancer, melanoma is the most fatal, accounting for 75 percent of skin cancer deaths.
Sun exposure has an undeniable role in the formation of many types of skin cancer. Virtually all dermatologists will tell you to stay out of the sun! If you must be in the sun, reduce your risk of skin cancer by applying sunscreen generously (at least 15 SPF) and reapplying at two-hour intervals. (Apply more often if you’re sweating or swimming.) It’s also important to wear protective clothing such as long-sleeve shirts and hats.
2. Hives and eczema (atopic dermatitis). Hives are red bumps on the skin that may look like bug bites. They can be as small as pencil tops or they can cluster together to form larger bumps (known as wheals). Hives often flare up quickly and go away within a day or so, but they can also be chronic, lasting several weeks and/or recurring over time.
Eczema is not so much a bump as a red, raised, itchy, irritated patch. It can often appear as crusted or scaly. In severe cases, it may bleed or ooze pus. It is more common in children than adults.
Topical creams and antibiotics may be prescribed to help with these conditions. Both conditions are often allergic in nature. They may be triggered by seasonal pollens or pet dander. Sometimes, it is possible to identify triggers and stay away from them. If the trigger is airborne such as pollen, though, avoidance may be nearly impossible. If you find yourself affected by recurring or chronic hives or eczema, consider allergy immunotherapy—either through allergy shots or allergy drops (sublingual immunotherapy).
3. Acne. It’s usually considered the domain of teenagers, but 25 percent of adult males and 50 percent of adult females experience acne to some degree. It’s a raw deal—pimples and wrinkles at the same time! Acne occurs when the path between the pores and the oil glands gets clogged up.
Acne is often hereditary, and it’s certainly affected by hormones. To prevent and/or reduce it, wash your face morning and night. Moisturizing can also help create an effective barrier between the skin and environment that may reduce acne. Make sure to use a “noncomedogenic” moisturizers—they are specially formulated not to block pores. Noncomedogenic makeup is also a good choice, though it’s smart to go light on makeups such as foundation and powder if you are acne-prone. Avoid touching your face and using hair products that get onto your skin and block pores.