The skin, this thin layer of tissue that covers our body, is not simply a barrier between the exterior and our internal organs. It’s an organ in itself.
The skin, this thin layer of tissue that covers our body, is not simply a barrier between the exterior and our internal organs. It’s an organ in itself. Made up of several distinct layers and specialized cells, the skin plays several roles. It protects interior organs from exterior aggressions, infections, injury and sunrays. Its nerve endings are responsible for the sense of touch, which allows you to feel pain, hot and cold sensations, etc. Specialized skin structures secrete several substances, such as sweat or sebum, and produces vitamin D when the skin is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Even though it plays a multitude of roles, the skin is nevertheless a fragile organ, as thin as a piece of paper in some places. It can easily rupture, become inflamed, dry or infected, thus loosing some of its integrity.
Consequently, it’s very important to take good care of our skin. After all, your skin is your most visible organ. Part of your self-image is directly related to its appearance. Unfortunately, several affections can attack the skin and modify its aspect. From acne to shingles, from dryness to warts, we’ll all have to deal with some type of skin problems during our lifetime. Here is an overview of common skin problems and their treatment.
The term dry skin is used to described skin that is rough, friable and squamous (presence of dead skin cells). It may be associated with mild itching and a feeling of tightness. In advanced cases, there may even be fissures and inflammation. The incidence and severity of dry skin increase with age, in part because sebum production diminishes. Sebum, a natural oil, is essential to skin hydration. Other factors can cause or aggravate dryness of the skin, such as certain chronic diseases (e.g. hypothyroidism, diabetes and chronic renal failure), malnutrition, hormonal variations (e.g. menopause) as well as certain drugs (e.g. anticholinergic agents and diuretics).
You can take several easy steps to protect your skin and prevent it from becoming dry. Environmental factors can have a strong impact on your skin’s health. For example, exposing your skin to cold air or wind can cause it to loose moisture. Taking hot baths, staying under the shower for prolonged periods or using too much soap can also strip the skin from its protecting oils. Heating during the winter months and air conditioning during the summer can also negatively impact skin hydration because they lower humidity levels in the home.
Whenever possible, the skin should be protected from the harmful effects of the sun, dry air, cold temperatures and wind. For example, you could replace hot baths with warm showers, bathe less often and for shorter periods and avoid scrubbing the skin when getting out or the shower or bath. You should also try to keep humidity level between 30 and 50% in your home. Finally, when choosing cleaning products for your skin, choose one with a pH as close as possible to the skin’s pH (between 5,6 and 5,8).
Regular use of a moisturizer or emollient remains the cornerstone of the prevention or treatment of dry skin. In general, these products should be applied within 5 minutes of stepping out of the bath or shower, while the skin is still damp, to get maximum benefits. When choosing a product, you’ll have plenty of choices, but remember that as a general rule, products that confer more hydrating power have a greasier texture and will feel less comfortable on the skin.
The choice of a product over another thus depends on the severity of the problem and user’s preference. People with sensitive or intolerant skin should avoid products with perfume, lanolin or preservatives. Also know that there is no such thing as “non-allergenic” cosmetic products. Products labelled “sensitive skin” simply contain ingredients that were chosen to minimize the risk of a reaction.
Dry skin can also be a sign of another skin problem. For example, atopic dermatitis (also called eczema) and psoriasis can both cause dry skin. In such cases, skin hydration is always an integral part of therapy.
Do not hesitate to talk to your pharmacist if you need help choosing the right product for your needs.
Atopic dermatitis, also called eczema, is a skin allergy. It is a common skin condition in children with a family history of allergies. These very sensitive children are also more at risk of other allergic conditions, such as asthma and seasonal allergies. Eczema is a sign of an allergy to an environmental factor. The trigger can be found both in the diet (soy, lactose, eggs, etc.) or the environment (pollen, animals, dust, etc.).
Eczema presents with characteristic red plaques associated with severe itching. The skin is thicker, very dry and squamous. In babies, eczema mostly affects the cheeks and face, while older children (two years and older) often have lesions on the knees and elbows. In more severe cases, the hands, arms and other areas of the body can also be affected. Fortunately, these lesions tend to disappear over time. Suppressing the responsible allergen is the most effective treatment. When this is not possible, measures should be implemented to treat symptoms. When recommended by a physician, a corticoid cream can be applied on the lesions to relieve itching and inflammation.
Contact dermatitis is another form of eczema that mostly affects adults. This skin affection is also associated with allergies, but in this case it is secondary to repeated and prolonged contact with an allergen. Wearing nickel-based jewellery, using perfumed cosmetics and soaps as well as professional exposure to chemical products are example of situations that could eventually lead to contact dermatitis. The person will experience dry skin with chapping, and redness. Lesions are usually localized where there was contact with the causal agent. Avoiding this causal agent is the cornerstone of therapy. Several over-the-counter products can also be used to relieve symptoms. Talk to your pharmacist to make an informed decision.
Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that affects close to 3% of the population. People who suffer from psoriasis experience cycles of relapses and remissions that are unpredictable and of varying duration. The psychological consequences on the professional, social and personal life of those afflicted with psoriasis are getting more and more attention. A typical psoriatic lesions looks like a slightly raised plaque with a well-defined edge. This plaque is reddish in color and covered with silver scales that easily peel off when scratched. Most lesions are found on the knees, elbows and scalp. In all cases, skin hydration is an essential part of management. Emollient products form a protective layer, reduce the formation of new lesions as well as desquamation and itching. For example, bath oils (perfume-free) can be added to the bath. Colloidal oat powder, added to the bath, can have a calming effect against itching.
When stepping out of the bath or shower, psoriasis patients can apply an ultra-hydrating emollient. In cases of mild psoriasis, using only an emollient can be enough to manage the disease. Various products can also be used to alleviate the inflammation and redness and to eliminate dead skin cells. To be sure that you choose the right product for you, talk to your pharmacist. Those who suffer from more severe psoriasis or who have very red and inflamed lesions should consult a physician to obtain a treatment more suited to their specific needs.
Acne is probably the most common skin disorders in teens; in fact, almost 80% of all teens will have to deal with this condition. Acne is caused by excess sebum production and the multiplication of bacteria within hair follicles, which causes black heads, white heads, papules, pustules as well as nodules, in association with signs of inflammation. Those who suffer from acne should avoid anything that might aggress the affected skin, such as alcohol-based or perfumed products, cosmetics, greasy creams as well as abrasive soaps. They should use products labelled “non-comedogenic”.
In cases of mild acne, washing the affected areas once a day with a mild, non-irritating and non-comedogenic soap can be enough to manage the condition. In moderate cases, products with active anti-acne ingredients should be used. Several of these products are available without a prescription. Most contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Benzoyl peroxide is usually preferred because it has both antibacterial and comedolytic activities, while salicylic acid only promotes the elimination of dead skin cells.
When faced with the multitude of products available on pharmacy shelves, you might not know which one to choose. Consult your pharmacist; he will help you choose the right product for you. If over-the-counter products fail to improve your condition, your pharmacist will refer you to a physician.
Dandruff is a relatively common condition characterized by the presence of excessive amounts of dead skin cells (scales) on the scalp. It is not a disease, but rather a physiologic process that works excessively (twice the normal rate). Usually without symptoms, dandruff can sometimes be associated with itching. While bad hygiene and dry surroundings can both exacerbate the condition, dandruff is usually thought to be caused by the presence of a yeast. Several over-the-counter products can help alleviate the condition by reducing cell formation, dissolving scales, dispersing dandruffs into smaller particles or through fungistatic activity (i.e. slowing the multiplication of the offending yeast). Pharmacists usually recommend using a ketoconazole-based shampoo. Using this shampoo twice a week for four weeks than as needed will result in marked improvement in 80% of those who use it. Adverse reactions are few, but the product has been reported to cause mild irritation and the removal of the curl of permanent wave in the hair.
Dermatomycosis refers to a group of skin problems caused by fungi that live on the skin. These conditions are fairly common: 25 to 50% of the population will suffer from one or the other during their lifetime. These fungal infections can affect the extremities, face, skin folds, scalp, feet, etc. Their signs and symptoms will vary depending on the infection’s location. Antifungal products are used to treat these infections.
In people with no other illnesses, superficial infections that affect a small area can be treated with an over-the-counter cream. This cream should be applied once or twice a day for several weeks until symptoms disappear. The treatment should not be discontinued too early because the infection will recur. Talk to your pharmacist when choosing an antifungal product to make sure you understand how to use it. In some cases, fungal infections may require medical attention.
A multitude of disorders can affect your skin. This article only reviews a few of them. Mild cases of dry skin, eczema, contact dermatitis, psoriasis, acne, dandruff or dermatomycosis can often be managed with over-the counter products. Your pharmacist is a reliable source of information about drugs and how to use them. He will also know when to refer you to a physician if your condition requires more specific care or if additional tests are necessary.
Don’t hesitate to talk to your pharmacist if you have questions about your skin!