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Skin Health

Learn more about protecting your body’s largest organ.

Most of us first start to pay attention to our skin health during our teen years, when annoyingly persistent blemishes appear on the face, chest, or back. We all remember the sudsy cleanser, pimple cream, and light moisturizer we used as a baseline skin-care routine during those days—but as most of us learn, taking care of your skin is a very personal process. What keeps one person’s skin healthy can be totally different for another person, and finding the right skin-care routine can be a frustrating endeavor. Like any other part of your body, your skin will definitely let you know when something isn’t quite right, from acne and allergic reactions to eczema and psoriasis. Here’s what you need to know about common skin disorders and how to maintain healthy skin.

What goes on inside your body can play a major role in your skin health.

Amanda K Bailey

What do the different skin layers do?

Your skin is actually your body’s largest organ and a crucial part of its natural defense because it’s your first barrier against potentially harmful pathogens like bacteria, UV light, chemicals, and physical injuries.1 It also helps regulate your body temperature and allows you to feel certain tactile sensations, like hot and cold, pain, and pressure. When teamed up with your hair, nails, oil glands, and sweat glands, your skin makes up your integumentary system, which is the outer covering of your body.

Your skin is made up of three main layers,2 all of which have their own intricate layers:

  • Epidermis: As the top layer of skin that you can physically see and touch, your epidermis is in charge of making new skin cells that have different functions, like giving your skin its color via the pigment melanin and protecting your body through special cells that are part of your immune system.
  • Dermis: Your dermis, the middle skin layer, makes up about 90% of your skin’s thickness, per the Cleveland Clinic. It produces sweat through special glands, contains nerve endings to help you feel things, grows hair, makes oil to keep your skin soft and smooth, and brings blood to your skin.
  • Hypodermis: Also known as the deep subcutaneous fat layer, your hypodermis attaches your dermis to your muscle and bones through connective tissue. It also supports blood vessels and nerve cells, controls your body temperature, and stores fat to cushion your bones and muscles.

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What are the signs of healthy skin?

Everyone’s skin is different, so “healthy” can be a pretty subjective term. However, there are a few key factors a board-certified dermatologist—a doctor who specializes in treating skin, hair, and nails—will look for to ensure your skin is in good shape, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD):

  • Your skin isn’t overly dry, itchy, irritated, or flaking.
  • Your skin isn’t burned or damaged from UV light.
  • You have a consistent skin texture that isn’t rough or bumpy.
  • Your skin is clear and generally even in color and tone.
  • Your skin is generally free of rashes, bumps, or other blemishes.
  • Your moles aren’t too large and are evenly shaped and colored.

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What affects skin health the most?

Your skin isn’t affected just by outside forces; what goes on inside your body can play a major role in your skin health as well. There are so many things that can influence the look and feel of your skin, but the main factors that are believed to have some influence on signs of aging and major skin conditions—such as acne, psoriasis, eczema, and more—include:

  • Genetics
  • Weather conditions3
  • Sun exposure
  • Hormonal imbalances4
  • Smoking tobacco5
  • Stress6
  • Diet and nutrition7
  • Pollution8
  • Infections
  • Certain medications

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Skin diseases and infections

There are thousands of skin diseases, skin disorders, and skin infections that can impact your physical and mental well-being in different ways. In fact, up to one in three Americans deals with some kind of skin disease at any given time, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Here are the most common ones to keep on your radar, as well as rarer skin conditions that are important to recognize:


Acne is a skin condition that most people will experience to some degree at some point in their lifetime, and it can be physically and emotionally distressing. Often characterized by facial blemishes, acne develops when the skin’s pores become clogged, per the AAD. There are different types of acne, and the kind you experience depends on what exactly clogs your pores. Acne symptoms are usually driven by inflammation and can include whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts, as well as skin tenderness, reddening, discoloration, and general irritation. It is a myth that acne affects only teens: You can develop acne at any age, but it tends to affect more people who have a menstrual cycle, as it often requires hormonal treatments. Research shows that up to 22% of people with vaginas in the U.S. deal with adult acne.9


Eczema is an umbrella term for various skin disorders that cause dryness, flaking, inflammation, and itching, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Eczema, the most common type being atopic dermatitis, is marked by periodic flares that can cause red to brownish-gray skin patches, small, raised bumps that can leak fluid, and raw, sensitive skin. The causes of eczema aren’t fully understood, but both genetic and environmental triggers are thought to play a role in the development of symptoms, which are usually treated with creams to control itching and medications to fight inflammation and prevent infections. People with eczema also have an increased risk of also having allergic asthma or hay fever.10


Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin disease that most often causes sore and sometimes itchy patches of thickened, inflamed skin with silvery to gray scales, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine. A malfunction with the immune system prompts cells that grow deep in the skin to rise to the surface too quickly, causing them to pile up on the surface. Psoriasis is usually treated with various creams, medicines, and light therapy to control inflammation. People with psoriasis are also at an increased risk of developing psoriatic arthritis, a condition that causes inflammatory arthritis.11 Other possible complications include an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, the AAD notes.

Keratosis pilaris

Keratosis pilaris, sometimes referred to as “chicken skin,” is a very common condition that causes small, rough, and inflamed bumps to commonly appear on the upper arms, legs, or buttocks.12 These little bumps don’t usually hurt or itch, and keratosis pilaris can’t be cured or prevented. However, the condition usually improves over time, and moisturizers or prescription creams with exfoliating and hydrating properties can help improve the appearance and texture of the skin.

Skin cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). The two most common forms of skin cancer are basal and squamous cell carcinomas. Melanoma, the third most common, makes up about 1% of skin cancers but is the most deadly form of the disease. Melanomas can be detected by checking for the ABCDEs of your moles (asymmetrical shape, irregular border, uneven color, large diameter, and evolving appearance).

The most common cause of skin cancer is also the most preventable: too much exposure to UV light, either directly from the sun or sources like tanning beds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Treatment usually involves removing the cancerous lesion but may also include more intensive treatments, including radiation, immunotherapy, and chemotherapy, depending on whether and how much the skin cancer has spread.

Seborrheic dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis, also known as dandruff, is a common skin condition that usually appears on the scalp, although it can impact other oily areas of the body, like the eyelids or ears, per the AAD. Symptoms can include white or yellowish crusty patches on the skin, inflamed skin, skin flaking, and a swollen or greasy appearance in the affected area. Seborrheic dermatitis is usually treated with medicated creams and shampoos that control inflammation, along with antifungal creams and ointments, as an overgrowth of yeast is thought to be one factor that contributes to the development of the condition.


Rosacea is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that causes deep blushing or flushing, acne-like blemishes, and visible blood vessels in your face. What’s more, 50% to 75% of people with rosacea also experience eye-related symptoms like dry eye, redness, tearing, burning, and blurred vision.13 The condition tends to go through periods of flares, which can last for weeks to months, and then goes away for some time. While rosacea typically has a good prognosis for many people, the condition can still have a heavy impact on a person’s self-esteem, potentially leading to issues like depression and anxiety. Depending on the severity of the rosacea, treatments can include topical medications to reduce flushing, along with oral antibiotics or oral acne drugs, among others.

Allergic contact dermatitis 

Usually known as allergic contact dermatitis (a form of eczema), allergic reactions can happen when your skin meets a substance that you’re sensitive to, triggering an immune response that typically leads to a skin rash and itching.14 Common allergens include certain fragrances and preservatives (often found in beauty products and detergents), metals like nickel, and plants like poison ivy. Treatment may involve using anti-inflammatory creams or oral medications to minimize discomfort. Avoiding personal triggers is required for the long-term reduction of flares.


Hives, medically known as urticaria, are typically short-lived and very common. In fact, hives impact about 20% of people at some point in their life, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). Hives are usually raised, itchy skin bumps or patches that are either reddened or skin-colored, and they can be triggered by a slew of things (typically allergens), such as certain foods, medications, insect stings or bites, latex, pet dander, and pollen. Hives are usually treated with antihistamines and, in more severe cases of anaphylaxis, an epinephrine injection.


Warts are noncancerous skin growths caused by human papillomaviruses (HPV) that are mainly spread via skin-to-skin contact.15 They present as a rough, skin-colored bump on the skin that can be itchy or sometimes painful (either one on its own or several in a cluster), especially if they develop on the bottom of your feet. Warts usually go away on their own in a few weeks to months, but they are most often treated with at-home wart removal medications (which typically contain salicylic acid) or cryotherapy (a freezing process via liquid nitrogen) at a dermatologist’s office.

Cold sores

Also known as fever blisters or oral herpes, cold sores are caused by a viral infection that causes small, fluid-filled blisters to show up on and around your mouth or lips. Cold sores spread through close physical contact, like kissing, and are usually caused by the herpes simplex virus, most often HSV-1. This is incredibly common—a majority of people in the U.S. are infected with the virus by the age of 20, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine. There’s no cure for cold sores, but treatment with prescription antiviral pills and creams can help them heal more quickly and reduce future outbreaks.


Cellulitis is a common bacterial skin infection that causes symptoms like inflamed skin, swelling, and pain in the infected area, according to the CDC. If it’s left untreated, it can spread and cause serious health complications, including infections of the blood and heart. Cellulitis is usually treated with oral antibiotics, although more serious infections may be treated with IV antibiotics.

Chicken pox

Chicken pox is a highly contagious infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It causes an itchy rash with hundreds of small, fluid-filled blisters, in addition to fever, fatigue, and headaches, per the CDC. An antiviral medication like acyclovir can shorten the course of illness in people who have a higher risk of complications, and there is a vaccine to prevent chicken pox entirely. Chicken pox was once a common childhood illness, but the varicella vaccine has made it rare. Between 1995, when the varicella vaccine became public, and 2005, instances of chicken pox dropped by 90%.16


Shingles is another skin infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, according to the CDC. After someone recovers from chicken pox, the virus stays dormant in the body but can potentially reactivate later, causing shingles. The skin condition leads to a painful rash of blisters that develop on one side of the face or body, and may also cause flulike symptoms like fever, headache, chills, and upset stomach. The blisters usually scab over in 7 to 10 days and clear up in two to four weeks.

Malar rash (butterfly rash)

A malar rash, also known as a butterfly rash, can form on the face due to many skin conditions, such as cellulitis and rosacea, but it’s commonly associated with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), an autoimmune condition that causes a wide variety of symptoms that can be difficult to diagnose.17 This inflamed rash is unique due to its shape, as it extends across the bridge of the nose and down both of the cheeks. Nearly half of all people who have lupus go on to develop a malar rash, according to the Johns Hopkins Lupus Center.

Hidradenitis suppurativa

Hidradenitis suppurativa is an often overlooked skin condition that causes deep, painful lumps to form under the skin, usually in areas where skin rubs together, like the armpits, groin, buttocks, and breasts, according to the AAD. If the disease progresses, it can lead to tunneling beneath the skin, as well as permanent scarring. The exact cause of hidradenitis suppurativa isn’t fully understood, so it’s often misdiagnosed as skin boils, an infection, or a sexually transmitted disease. The condition can be treated with medications, steroid injections, and surgery. It is estimated to impact between 1% and 4% of people in the U.S., mainly those assigned females at birth.18


Vitiligo is a condition that causes the skin to lose its pigment cells, called melanocytes, per the AAD. This leads to discolored patches in different areas of the body, and even in unexpected places like the hair, eyes, or mouth. Vitiligo impacts people of all skin types, but it may be more noticeable in people with deeper skin tones. The condition doesn’t need to be treated as it is not physically harmful, but for those who find the condition mentally distressing, certain medications and light-based therapies may help restore skin tone. Experts don’t understand the exact causes of vitiligo but believe some forms of the condition may behave like an autoimmune disease in nature.


Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that can cause symptoms like a high fever, cough, runny nose, and watery eyes, per the CDC. The telltale measles skin rash, flat red spots that appear on the face, neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet, develops about three to five days after symptoms begin. Measles can be especially dangerous for babies and young children, with the potential to cause complications like encephalitis, pneumonia, and death in severe cases. There is no specific treatment for measles, but it can be prevented with the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. Measles was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000 by the World Health Organization (WHO), but small outbreaks happen in the country each year.

Common treatments for skin diseases and conditions

Treatments for various skin diseases and infections will vary, depending on the condition itself and the severity of its symptoms. Generally, however, these are the most common treatments used to treat various skin conditions:

  • Topical or oral corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors to reduce inflammation and skin plaques
  • Topical or oral antibiotics or antifungals to fight infection
  • Topical or oral retinoids (vitamin A derivatives) to regulate skin-cell turnover
  • Topical benzoyl peroxide to fight acne-causing bacteria
  • Alpha- and/or beta-hydroxy acids to exfoliate skin and keep pores clear
  • Gentle moisturizers to keep skin hydrated without irritation
  • Phototherapy (or light therapy) to reduce inflammation or bacteria on the skin
  • Biologic medications to treat underlying autoimmune disease

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Tips for healthy skin

There’s a lot that can go into maintaining your skin health, but a basic skin-care routine should include three main steps: gently cleansing (to clean the skin of bacteria, dirt, and excess oil), moisturizing (to hydrate the skin and reinforce its barrier), and applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 (to protect the skin from UV damage). These three steps are enough for many people, but if you have a specific skin concern like acne or rosacea, a board-certified dermatologist can help you slowly and safely incorporate more products, like a retinoid or exfoliant, to reduce your personal symptoms.

In addition to building and maintaining a trustworthy arsenal of skin-care products, the following tips from the AAD can also help keep your skin healthy from the inside out:

  • Wash your face when waking, before bed, and after sweating.
  • Don’t smoke, or quit smoking if you do.
  • Regularly check your moles for signs of changes.
  • Use a self-tanner instead of lying out in the sun to tan.
  • Don’t scrub your skin and avoid superhot showers, especially if it’s sensitive.
  • Try to reduce your stress levels, as stress can be a trigger for some skin conditions.
  • See a board-certified dermatologist if you have a persistent skin issue that seems worrisome or is impacting your quality of life.

Overall, your skin is a  crucial organ—it protects the rest of your body from the bad stuff. Taking good care of your skin with a gentle routine and treatments recommended by your doctor can go a long way in helping you feel confident, both mentally and physically. 

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  1. StatPearls, Anatomy, Skin (Integument), Epidermis
  2. StatPearls, Anatomy, Skin (Integument)
  3. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, Warm, Humid, and High Sun Exposure Climates are Associated With Poorly Controlled Eczema
  4. Anais Brasileiros De Dermatolgia, Adult Female Acne: A Guide to Clinical Practice
  5. Tanaffos Journal of Respiratory Diseases, Thoracic Surgery, Intensive Care and Tuberculosis, Cigarettes Smoking and Skin: A Comparison Study of the Biophysical Properties of Skin in Smokers and Non-Smokers
  6. Inflammation & Allergy Drug Targets, Brain-Skin Connection: Stress, Inflammation, and Skin Aging
  7. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, Diet and Dermatology: The Role of Dietary Intervention in Skin Disease
  8. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, The Impact of Airborne Pollution on Skin
  9. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, Understanding the Burden of Adult Female Acne
  10. Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology, Prevalence of Adult Eczema, Hay Fever, and Asthma, and Associated Risk Factors
  11. Current Rheumatology Reports, From Psoriasis to Psoriatic Arthritis: Insights from Imaging on the Transition to Psoriatic Arthritis and Implications for Arthritis Prevention
  12. StatPearls, Keratosis Pilaris
  13. StatPearls, Rosacea
  14. StatPearls, Contact Dermatitis
  15. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, Warts: Overview
  16. The Journal of Infectious Diseases, Changing Varicella Epidemiology in Active Surveillance Sites—United States, 1995–2005
  17. StatPearls, Malar Rash
  18. BMJ, Hidradenitis Suppurativa: A Common and Burdensome, Yet Under-Recognised, Inflammatory Skin Disease

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