Get the Skinny on Skin

Your skin is a rather unusual organ. For one thing, it’s your biggest and fastest-growing organ. It’s also one of the few organs people can see all the time. (Your eyes and tongue are visible, too.)

Because of the skin’s high profile, when we have a skin problem, it can be noticeable to others. For some skin condition sufferers, the problem can diminish their self-esteem and confidence.

Fortunately, today we have treatments that can help improve many common skin issues.


Anyone can get acne, but it’s most common among teenagers and young adults. About 80 percent of people age 11 to 30 will have outbreaks at some point. For most people, acne goes away when they reach their 30s.

Acne isn’t physically serious, but it can result in permanent scarring along with emotional difficulties.

The exact cause of acne isn’t known, but hormone changes such as those associated with the teenage years and pregnancy may play a role for some people. You can also inherit a tendency to develop acne.

Acne is a common skin condition that causes pimples. Acne breakouts are most common on the face, neck, back, chest and shoulders.

Acne pimples form when hair follicles under your skin get clogged. A follicle is a narrow tube in the skin that contains a hair. Your skin has oil glands at the base of your hair follicles. As it grows, the hair oil moves up the follicle.

With the condition acne, your hair, oil and cells lining the follicle can form a plug and block your pore. The blockage can allow bacteria that normally live on the skin to grow in the follicle instead.

When your immune system detects the bacteria growth, your body’s defenses attack the bacteria and the area around the pore becomes inflamed.

If the plugged follicle stays below the skin surface, you’ll get a white bump called a whitehead. If the plugged follicle gets to the surface and opens, you’ll get a blackhead. That black color is the oil that discolors when exposed to air.

Once the plugged follicle breaks down, you get a pimple.

Put the Brakes on Acne Breakouts

If you’re dealing with acne, over-the-counter medicines can treat mild cases. Expect to use the product up to eight weeks before you see improvement. Here are some other suggestions you can try along with medicine or without.

  • Clean your skin gently using a mild cleanser twice a day and after you exercise and work up a sweat.
  • Avoid strong soaps or rough scrub pads. They can make acne worse.
  • Avoid touching or rubbing the pimples (other than when washing). Pinching them can result in scars or dark blotches.
  • Shampoo your hair regularly. If your hair is oily, you may want to wash it daily.
  • Avoid the sun.

Misunderstandings about acne are common. Here are some typical questions:

  • Does stress cause acne? No, it doesn’t, but studies have found if you have acne already, stress can make it worse.
  • Do some cosmetics make acne worse? Yes, they can. Greasy cosmetics can make cells in the follicles stick together. This can produce a plug. If you have acne, try oil-free cosmetics. Look for “noncomedogenic” on the label. That means the product doesn’t promote the blocking of your pores.
  • Can food you eat cause breakouts? There’s no evidence that what you eat has a direct affect on acne.
  • Can pressure on the skin from things like sports equipment, backpacks or tight clothing make acne worse? Yes it can. If you routinely have something that causes pressure on your skin, take note if you get acne in the area. If so, do what you can to eliminate such pressure.
  • Does a dirty face cause acne? No, it’s not caused by dirt, but gently washing your face may help reduce symptoms.
  • Can environmental irritants such as pollution and high humidity make acne worse? They can. Regular gentle cleaning of your skin can help control irritants.

If you have concerns about acne, visit your health care provider or a dermatologist about treatment options.


About 14 million Americans have the long-lasting inflammatory skin condition rosacea. It can trigger red patches to form on a person’s face. The condition can be uncomfortable and stressful.

Nearly half of those who have rosacea also develop eye problems. The eyelids can become inflamed and vision can be diminished.

The cause of rosacea is unclear, but it tends to run in families. That means genes may play a role.

Anyone can get rosacea, but people with lighter skin tend to get it more often. Also, people who blush often are at higher risk.

Rosacea typically begins when people are between 30 and 60 years old. Women are three to four time more likely to develop rosacea. It often begins during menopause. However, men who have rosacea usually have more severe symptoms.

It may start as redness on the cheeks, chin, nose or forehead. It might look like you have an outbreak of pimples.

With time, the condition can get worse and result in inflammation that can make your skin swell and become sensitive. Skin on your face can become red, thick and bumpy.

Rosacea symptoms can come and go. Flareups can last for weeks or more and then go away. The facial redness can eventually become deeper and then permanent.

Flareups can be triggered by a variety of different influences around a person. The triggers can vary among rosacea sufferers. Triggers can include:

  • Hot foods or beverages
  • Spicy foods
  • Alcohol
  • Temperature extremes
  • Sunlight
  • Stress
  • Exercise
  • Hot baths

People with rosacea may choose to keep track of what triggers their flareups and work to avoid those triggers.

Treating Rosacea

Since rosacea tends to get worse over time, it’s best to diagnose it early. If you have concerns about this condition, see a dermatologist or your health care provider.

Treatments to help relieve symptoms include:

  • Antibiotics taken orally or applied to your skin. This can reduce redness and bumps.
  • Laser surgery can remove visible blood vessels, reduce redness and correct bumpy skin. This treatment is appropriate for more severe cases.


This skin disease causes itchy or sore patches of thick red skin to form with what looks like silvery scales. Psoriasis is not contagious and affects about 7.5 million Americans. About 20,000 children under age 10 are diagnosed every year, though the disease usually develops between ages 15 and 35. The disease can run in families.

If you have psoriasis, you know how it can affect your appearance. You’ll usually see the patches on your face, scalp, back, elbows, knees and feet. The patches can also be found on other parts of the body. They can appear on and off over a long period or even a lifetime.

A problem with the immune system causes psoriasis. In your skin, cells grow in layers. New cells are made deeper in the skin tissues. As old skin cells fall away, newer ones rise to the surface — a process called cell turnover. This turnover usually take a month.

With psoriasis, your skin cells rise too fast and appear on the surface before they’re mature. The new and old cells all accumulate on the skin surface. The immune system sees this as a problem and prompts a reaction that includes inflammation and a rapid turnover of skin cells. This reaction causes redness, irritation and discomfort.

Some people with psoriasis may also suffer from joint problems as well. Psoriasis can cause joint swelling and a form of arthritis called psoriatic arthritis.

Psoriasis has also been associated with a higher risk for heart attack, stroke, diabetes, obesity and abnormal cholesterol.

Psoriasis comes in several distinct forms. It can resemble other skin diseases and be difficult to diagnose. To make a definite diagnosis, your health care provider may take a skin sample for microscopic examination.

Managing Psoriasis

To reduce the chances of developing some of psoriasis’ associated medical risks, patients with the disease should:

  • Regularly have their blood pressure checked.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Reduce or manage stress.
  • Keep your skin hydrated. Drink the amount of water recommended by a health care provider.
  • Be aware of infections. Check with your provider if you have a question.
  • Check with your provider before taking medications. Some can affect psoriasis.

Treatments for psoriasis include: 

  • Creams
  • Medicines
  • Light therapy

If you have psoriasis or have questions about the disease, see a dermatologist or your health care provider


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Meet the Author

Sarah C. S. Kaldem, NP is a Nurse Practitioner in Dermatology at the Aurora Health Center in Burlington, Wisconsin

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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