Hundreds of skin conditions can affect us. The most common can cause similar symptoms, so learning what distinctions to look out for can be key.
Skin conditions contribute
While learning to tell one condition from another can help a person provide home care, it can be crucial to receive a diagnosis and treatment from a healthcare professional, such as a dermatologist.
Below are some common skin conditions, organized by how long they last, when they develop, and which areas they affect. When possible, we also describe how these conditions appear in skin of different tones.
A number of skin conditions can last throughout life. Some may begin in childhood and continue into adulthood. In some cases, the symptoms are not always present but flare up at certain times.
In babies, doctors commonly refer to seborrheic dermatitis as “cradle cap.” Greasy, scaly patches form on the baby’s skin, most commonly on their scalp.
In adults, seborrheic dermatitis may appear anywhere on the body. It is prone to flare up and disappear throughout life. The affected skin may appear reddish, swollen, and greasy. And a white or yellow crust may appear on the surface of the skin.
Also, people with darker skin may notice that the scaling has a flower-like shape. Some areas of the affected skin may appear darker or lighter than usual.
Many treatments can help ease the symptoms. Treating seborrheic dermatitis may involve using special shampoo and applying medicated cream to the affected skin.
Moles are growths that form when skin cells bunch together with surrounding tissue. Most are called “common moles” and cause no harm.
Many people have moles, and a person may have as many as about 40 moles throughout their body.
Check moles regularly for any changes in their appearance, such as an increase in size or change in color. Anyone who notices changes should let their doctor know so that they can screen for skin cancer.
Rosacea most commonly causes redness on the face. In people with dark skin, the affected area may be darker and warmer than surrounding skin.
There are four subtypes, and these can cause other symptoms:
- Erythematotelangiectatic rosacea may cause:
- visible blood vessels
- Ocular rosacea may cause:
- redness and irritation of the eyes
- swollen eyelids
- what looks like a stye
- the sensation that something is in the eye
- Papulopustular rosacea may cause:
- an irregular appearance
- breakouts that may look like acne
- Phymatous rosacea causes:
- thickening of the skin
- a bumpy texture
There is no known cure for rosacea. Doctors treat the symptoms with topical or oral anti-inflammatory medications.
Lupus is a complex autoimmune disorder. It causes inflammation and pain, and the specific effects can vary from person to person.
Lupus can affect any part of the body. Symptoms on the skin tend to include red patches or rings, sunburn-like rashes on the nose and cheeks, and circular rashes that do not itch or hurt. These may accompany headaches, fever, fatigue, and swollen, stiff, or painful joints.
Nine out of 10 people with lupus are women, and women with darker skin are three times more likely to get it.
In addition, the symptoms in African American people may be more severe than those in other people. Understanding what causes this requires further research.
Treatments for lupus include medications and alternative medicine.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder. Symptoms typically include itchy patches of skin with an unusual appearance.
Areas of skin affected by psoriasis can vary in size and severity.In a person with white skin, the affected areas are typically red or pink with white scales. African Americans may have patches that are violet, gray, or dark brown. They may be more difficult to see.
There are five main types of psoriasis:
- Plaque psoriasis causes thick patches of skin.
- Pustular psoriasis causes pustules surrounded by skin that may be red.
- Erythodermic psoriasis causes widespread areas that appear severely burned.
- Inverse psoriasis causes a shiny rash in skin folds, such as in the armpits or around the genitals.
- Guttate psoriasis causes small spots on the scalp, face, torso, and limbs.
Doctors can treat the symptoms with various medications, including creams and ointments. A dermatologist can recommend the most appropriate treatment plan.
Eczema usually develops early in childhood, but it can arise in adulthood. There are several types, including atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis.
Eczema may cause rashes on or around the face, scalp, elbows, neck, wrists, ankles, or legs. The rashes are very itchy and may become bumpy, change color, or thicken. In adults, the rashes may cover more of the body, leading to widespread dry, itchy areas.
The symptoms may be less noticeable in people with darker skin, compared with those who have lighter skin. However, in People of Color, eczema can cause discoloration, making the affected areas lighter or darker. This may last, even after the eczema symptoms are no longer present.
There is no known cure for eczema. It may resolve on its own, but medications that relieve the symptoms are available.
Vitiligo causes a loss of pigmentation. There are a few types, but vitiligo generally causes white patches to appear on the skin, usually in areas exposed to sunlight. People with vitiligo often lose their hair color early, as well.
Some people find that more areas of whiteness appear gradually, over many years. Since this condition affects pigmentation, it is typically more noticeable in people with dark or tanned skin.
There is currently no cure for vitiligo, but a range of treatments are available, including light therapy and topical medicines. A person also has surgical options, and some alternative therapies may help, though scientists need to look further into their effectiveness.
Some skin conditions resolve with time or with the right course of treatment.
Acne is one of the most widespread skin conditions. Symptoms can include:
- Pustules, which are pimples with pus at their tips.
- Papules, which are raised bumps that stem from an infection in hair follicles.
- Nodules, which are painful lumps beneath the surface of the skin.
- Cysts, which are larger, painful, pus-filled bumps beneath the skin’s surface.
Any person can get acne. People of Color may also develop dark spots, known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, as a result.
People can typically treat acne with medication. For females, this may involve hormonal therapy, in some cases. Light therapy may also be effective.
Hives are itchy, raised welts. They may be pinkish or reddish in people with lighter skin.
An allergic reaction is usually responsible, though stress, illness, and friction, such as from tight clothes, can be the cause.
Hives typically form in clusters. They may go away in one part of the body and reappear in another. Treatment usually involves antihistamines or corticosteroids.
The human papillomavirus, better known as HPV, causes warts, which are contagious.
These bumps can appear on any part of the body, typically on the hands, feet, and joints. They tend to be the color of a person’s skin or are darker.
Warts sometimes go away on their own, but a dermatologist may recommend removing them, depending on their type and location.
Fungal nail infection
This involves an overgrowth of fungus near, under, and around the nails. Usually, it affects the toenails.
The nails’ edges may crumble away, and their surfaces may have whitish-yellowish scaling and flaking.
Different types of fungi can cause this infection, and the treatment may depend on the type. Doctors can prescribe oral or topical medications. In some cases, they may need to remove the affected nail.
A cold sore is a red, fluid-filled blister. These blisters usually appear near the mouth, and the affected skin may feel painful or delicate. Before the blisters appear, there may be itchiness or a burning sensation.
The herpes simplex virus causes cold sores, which may last for up to 2 weeks, then return periodically. While there is no cure, various treatments can reduce outbreaks.
The overgrowth of the Candida albicans fungus causes this issue, and when it affects the skin, it is called cutaneous Candidiasis or cutaneous Moniliasis.
The areas may be irritated and have lesions or small pustules. Candidiasis typically develops in skin folds, such as the armpit or around the groin. Sometimes, it affects the face.
People can usually prevent Candidiasis by boosting their skin hygiene and avoiding the overuse of antibiotics. To treat it, doctors may prescribe antifungal and corticosteroid creams.
Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection. The fungus responsible thrives in warm, damp conditions, such as inside sneakers.
Symptoms may include dry, itchy, peeling skin. There can also be blisters and bleeding, and the skin between the toes or under the foot may be soggy, pale, cracked, or scaly.
Doctors usually treat athlete’s foot with antifungal creams or sprays.
Cancer involves cells growing uncontrollably, and it can happen anywhere. When it begins in the skin, doctors call it skin cancer. Although skin cancer can be life threatening, treatments can be effective if a doctor diagnoses the issue early.
These cancers tend to occur after prolonged exposure to the sun. Darker skin produces more melanin, which gives the skin more protection from harmful sun rays.
There are several types of skin cancer, and some are more common than others.
Basal cell carcinoma
This is the most common kind of skin cancer. It typically develops on the neck, arms, or head but can affect any area of the body.
In a person with lighter skin, basal cell carcinoma may appear as a pink, round bump or patch. In someone with darker skin, the bump may be brown or black and may look like a common mole.
Squamous cell carcinoma
This is the second most common type of skin cancer. It often forms from dry, scaly patches called actinic keratoses. If a doctor does not detect squamous cell carcinoma early, it may grow deeper into the skin and cause disfigurement.
People with lighter skin tend to develop this cancer in areas often exposed to the sun. People with darker skin tend to develop it on the legs, genitals, and anus.
It is a good idea to let a doctor know about any lesion that grows, changes, bleeds or looks unusual in any other way.
Melanoma is the most serious of the skin cancers because it spreads most easily to other parts of the body. It is can develop from a mole or another pigmented area of skin. If any mole is asymmetrical, has ragged edges or an uneven color, or changes in size, let a doctor know.
In people with darker skin, melanoma may be harder to see, so checking carefully is especially important. Remember to include the toenails and fingernails, as this type of cancer is more common in these areas for People of Color.
A person with melanoma may need surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation treatment.
Learn more about the different types of skin cancer and their treatments.
Some skin conditions occur within the deeper layers of the skin.
When Staphylococcus aureus bacteria make their way into the hair follicles and cause an infection, it can result in a carbuncle. This is an irritated lump beneath the skin that may be red and will have a white or yellow center. The pus within may ooze out, or there may be a crust over the lump.
Carbuncles can fill with pus and swell quickly. Other symptoms include tiredness, itchiness of the lump, and a fever.
Doctors usually treat carbuncles with antibiotics, drainage, and antibacterial washes.
Cellulitis is a bacterial infection in the deeper layers of the skin. It develops quickly and can spread rapidly throughout the body.
The affected skin may be red, swollen, hot, and painful or tender. Cellulitis is most common in the legs but can occur anywhere in the body.
Severe cellulitis may be life threatening, and the treatment generally involves antibiotics.
Certain skin conditions are more likely to develop during specific times of life.
Impetigo and measles are just two conditions that are more common during childhood. Learn about these and others below.
Hemangiomas are harmless tumors that usually appear on the neck, head, or face of infants. They begin as small scratches or bumps that eventually bulge out and become larger growths.
They can also form on organs other than the skin, and they are common on the liver. Hemangiomas tend to disappear on their own by the age of 10 years. A person may elect to have them removed.
Measles is a highly infectious, airborne viral illness. In the U.S., the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine protects most people from getting the disease. But babies who are too young to be vaccinated, pregnant people, and others without the vaccine are susceptible to it.
One symptom of measles is a red or brown rash that spreads down the body. Other symptoms include a fever, watery eyes and a runny nose, a cough, and small reddish spots inside the mouth.
There is no cure, so doctors tend to address the symptoms and monitor to prevent complications.
This contagious bacterial infection is one of the most common skin infections in young children. It usually causes itchy sores and blisters to appear around the mouth and elsewhere on the face.
These sores then burst and leave a crust. The crust dries and leaves a red mark that fades without scarring. Treatment usually involves an antibiotic.
Dermatomyositis is a rare inflammatory skin disease that is most common in children aged 5–15 years and adults aged 40–60 years.
Common symptoms include a red-to-purple rash on the chest, face, nails, or elbows, as well as muscle weakness and swelling. There is no cure, but treatments can help manage the symptoms.
Some research suggests that African Americans may be developing dermatomyositis at three times the rate of white people in the country.
The likelihood of developing one of the following conditions increases with age.
People can get shingles from the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. When a person recovers from chickenpox, usually in childhood, the virus stays in their body and moves to the nerves. At some point later in life, it can reactivate and cause shingles. This most commonly occurs in older adults.
It starts with a painful sensation, and within 2 days, a reddish, widespread, blistering rash develops. On people with darker skin, the rash may be harder to see. Antiviral treatment within the first 48 hours of the rash developing can help limit the accompanying pain.
A vaccine is available to prevent shingles, and older adults should ask a doctor about having one.
These harmless bumps commonly appear with age. They may be black, dark brown, or yellow, and they may form a bumpy patch of skin.
It is not always easy to distinguish between seborrheic keratoses and skin cancer, so a doctor will test to make sure.
People may opt to remove seborrheic keratoses with cryotherapy or electrosurgery.
Age spots, or liver spots, are flat and have more pigment than the surrounding skin. People with lighter skin
People with darker skin develop age spots when an environmental trigger causes their skin to produce more melanin. The cause may be a healing wound, a pimple, hormonal changes, or irritation from a skin care product.
These spots require no treatment, but a person can elect to have them removed.
Some skin conditions are harmless, while others can cause discomfort and distress, among other symptoms. It is important to remember that no one has to deal with their skin issues alone. Teaming up with a doctor, such as a dermatologist, can help ensure a correct diagnosis the best possible treatment plan.