Other Common Skin Problems
The following series of photos and descriptions shows some of the more common skin disorders, which may be medical or cosmetic, together with an indication of what remedies (if any) may be helpful. We all see these conditions in our own skin, or that of others, from time to time.
A cold sore is an eruption on the margin of the lips. It is caused by the virus herpes simplex, which lives in the body and escapes the immune system. Cold sores develop when the skin is damaged during a cold or after sunbathing. They can be suppressed by anti-viral creams available from pharmacists, but usually they die out even if untreated.
Angular cheilosis takes the form of small splits at the side of the mouth, made worse by licking. The cause is unknown, although the condition is often (wrongly) attributed to vitamin deficiency. It is eased by using lip salve frequently.
This scarlet bleb is a haemangioma, a harmless collection of dilated blood vessels. It can be dealt with easily by a doctor.
Warts are very common. They are caused by viruses that normally live happily on the skin surface but penetrate the stratum corneum when it is damaged. They are most often seen on the fingers and the feet (when they are usually called veruccas). They can be treated by creams available from pharmacies, or by freezing.
Seborrhoeic warts are raised pigmented spots associated with aging: they are not caused by viruses or by cancers, and are quite harmless. If they become unsightly they can be scraped off by a dermatologist.
Molluscum contagiosum is common in children and is caused by a harmless virus. It is seen as rapidly spreading spots, rather like a chicken pox rash. No treatment is necessary as the spots disappear spontaneously.
Shingles is a very common condition that is caused by the chicken pox virus, which lives on in everyone who has had the disease. It erupts in this typical line on the trunk or the face. Contrary to the popular myth, it is not contagious.
Chicken pox: these are the intensely irritating 'blisters' characteristic of this common childhood infection. It is probably not contagious for more than a day or two after the spots appear. There is no specific treatment other than to prevent scratching by applications of calamine lotion, to avoid damaging the dermis with consequent lifelong scarring.
Impetigo: a superficial skin infection, often seen around the mouth, nose and chin, especially in children. It is not necessarily due to poor hygiene. Antibiotics can be prescribed by a doctor and will cure it rapidly.
Urticaria, or 'nettle rash', is often associated with allergy since it looks like a reaction to stinging nettles. It forms acutely itchy swollen patches on the skin, which usually subside quickly although occasionally it becomes chronic. It can be caused by reaction to penicillin, certain foods, sunlight or even stress; it is sometimes caused by pressure from a tight garment, which is why it is often falsely attributed to washing powder residues in clothing. It can be treated by anti-histamine tablets or, if very severe, by steroids prescribed by a doctor.
Psoriasis: a common skin condition which is due to over-production of cells in the epidermis with incomplete desquamation: this is what causes the heaped-up skin areas and scaly patches. It is essential to get a doctor's advice.
The cause of the greasy scales and crusts of seborrhoeic dermatitis is unknown, but it is known to be a form of chronic eczema and psoriasis. It commonly occurs in the hair line, and affects beards and eyebrows too. It may lead to infections: medical advice is necessary.
Cradle cap is an excessive desquamation resembling eczema. In infants it clears spontaneously, but in older children it may need treatment with special shampoo.