A To Z Most Common Skin Problems Everything You Need To Know

common skin problems

A-Z List Of Skin Diseases


Treatment for acne has developed tremendously in recent years. The condition is caused by over-activity of the sebaceous glands, which causes too much oil to flow, thus clogging and irritating the pores. Its occurrence is easily understandable during the hormonal changes undergone in adolescence; less easy to understand are the types of acne that flare up later. These vary with the age at which they appear. It is now thought that an exaggerated emphasis has been put on the connection between foods, such as chocolate, and acne and that the condition is not usually caused by dirt.

Teenage acne is synonymous with adolescence and causes much distress. Modern treatment discourages abrasive and over-zealous cleaning as this is thought to over-stimulate the oil glands into renewed activity. Gentle washing in conjunction with a special lotion has a better long-term effect. Low doses of the antibiotic oxytetracycline are frequently prescribed by doctors and dermatologists and are effective in alleviating severe acne. So too is a treatment involving retinoic acid. This works by loosening and softening the hardened keratin which is plugging the pores and causing the acne. Teenage acne should clear by the age of twenty-one, but if it hasn’t it’s likely to go on well into the thirties.

Acne which appears during the twenties is sometimes caused by birth-control pills, neglect of the skin during the teenage years or by the use of rich cosmetics designed for a more mature skin and inadequate cleansing.

Stress acne is likely to occur in the thirties; it appears suddenly in the form of large painful cysts with no accompanying blackheads, pustules or oily skin. Women under stress can, overnight, find their normally clear skin in trouble. One treatment is to inject the cyst with cortisone.

Dry skin acne is also common at this age — contradicting the idea that acne and oily skin are linked. This kind of acne is caused by a specific kind of oil, thought to contain large amounts of fatty acids, which irritate the pores until they erupt, usually into blackheads and whiteheads around the chin and jaw-line. This is normally treated with a low dose of tetracycline.

Acne rosacea is most likely to attack in the forties — arriving with a rosy flush and quickly followed by blackheads and small pustules. Its exact cause isn’t known, but alcohol, spicy foods, stress and tension, extreme heat or intense cold are thought to aggravate the condition. Low doses of tetracycline will suppress the problem and a sulfur lotion is often helpful.

Extreme symptoms — excessively oily skin, facial hair, large quantities of cysts, for instance — indicate a real hormonal disorder, and dermatologists will often refer these cases to specialists to determine the cause before treating the problem further.


One widespread cause of skin distress is an allergic reaction. If you break out in spots or rashes, the cause may be something you have eaten or just touched; this is known as contact allergy. Where the outbreak occurs is often a clue to the problem — with the common nickel allergy, for instance, a reaction may appear just where a belt buckle or jeans fastener touched the skin. Skin allergies often become apparent in the twenties — after a few years in an office, factory or running a home and being in contact with office equipment, industrial machinery or everyday products like detergents. And by this time some women have developed an allergy to certain cosmetics — nail-polish is a well-known example, showing not around the fingers, but where they touch the face (around the eyes, lips, etc.). As a rule modern cosmetics are very safe to use, is stringently tested before they are put on the market and using formulae which avoid any known irritants. To treat an allergy, the cause must be identified, and if it’s not quickly obvious, this may entail a series of tests prescribed by a dermatologist, usually done in groups of patches on the back.

Athlete’s Foot

This is a kind of ringworm that thrives in warm damp areas — most commonly found between toes and on the soles of the feet, occasionally between fingers. It is an infection picked up from going barefoot in communal areas, when enough care hasn’t been taken to dry the feet after being immersed in water, or when they have sweated into socks that are left unchanged. The skin looks white and opaque, can itch and forms thick blisters which peel.


Under-eye bags are often hereditary, but during the thirties, they can appear as a result of severe allergy or sinus problems where the fluid is emptied into the area; this stretches the delicate skin, which loses its ability to spring back and so sags. The only real treatment for these pouches is cosmetic surgery.


Blackheads are not colored by dirt but by melanin, the substance that makes skin and hair the color they are. The darker your skin, the blacker they will be (very fair people are less prone to them as their skins are usually drier as well). They should not be prodded or poked as this is likely to cause enlargement and infection. Gentle, thorough cleansing softens the plug, bringing it to the surface and making it easy to rinse away; persistent blackheads should be treated by a trained beautician.


This is a common physical sign of what’s going on emotionally in the head — normally embarrassment, shame or anger. Some people only suffer on the face; with others, the face remains pale while the chest starts to go red and the blush creeps up the neck. It is frustrating, and nothing has yet been discovered to control it — you certainly can’t.

Blotchy Skin

If this only appears occasionally on the face, neck or chest it is probably an emotional blush, but if it is more widespread and permanent it is probably due to bad circulation. Massage and exercise will probably help.

Brown Spots

Brown spots appear on the sun-abused skin in early life — the twenties — and are a normal part of skin aging as you grow older. There are creams which can fade them and they can be removed without scarring by a dermatologist.


This is sometimes called peau d’orange because the skin over the affected area has the crinkly appearance of orange peel. The condition is caused by deposits of stubborn fat and excess water retention accumulating beneath the skin, most likely on thighs, hips, buttocks and the upper arms. It affects thin as well as fat people and is very difficult to dislodge permanently. Massage alone is seldom very helpful as it often just moves the problem from one area to another. Breaking up and dissolving the deposits by a combination of exercise, diet and specialized salon treatment is the only effective way to reduce it, while healthy eating and proper exercise from an early age are the best ways to avoid it. Keeping a check on fluid retention by eating foods that contain potassium (which helps excrete excess salt) and drinking lots of good mineral water is also a good idea.


There are hard corns and soft corns — hard ones usually appear on joints, soft ones between toes — which grow on feet as a warning against ill-fitting shoes. Pressure causes a hardening of the skin which, if left unrelieved (especially felt circles are widely available for this), will form a horny corn with the apex pointing inwards. The further pressure put on this apex causes intense pain. Cons should be treated by a chiropodist — amateur cutting and scraping can result in infection.


These appear as solid little lumps either under the skin, usually the result of blocked sweat glands, or in the ovaries where, if not detected and removed, they can grow to enormous sizes. There is a variety called a ganglion which usually appears near joints, e.g. on the hands near the wrists. These are filled with a clear jelly-like substance and can easily be removed surgically.

Dermatitis or Eczema

This is an inflammation of the skin that can appear anywhere on the body; it is red and often produces a mass of small blister-like bumps or dry scaly skin. There are many variations. The usual cause is an external irritant, i.e. an allergy to something in the sufferer’s daily life, but nerves and emotions are also closely connected.

Enlarged Pores

These are caused by a permanent stretching of pores clogged by excess oil and often result from acne — even the mildest attack. Like anything else that is stretched beyond its capacity to spring back, once a pore becomes enlarged it is impossible to reduce it. Prevention by careful cleaning and immediate attention to any problem is essential.

Facial Hair

This is often a teenage problem resulting from the hormonal changes occurring in the body and is most often seen around the upper lip and along the sides of the face. Once the hormones have settled down, this hair often falls out, never to return, but if it is dark and unsightly it can safely be lightened with a specifically formulated bleach. More drastic forms of removal such as electrolysis or waxing should be left until the problem appears to have become permanent at the end of adolescence.

Flabby Skin

This can appear in the young as a result of lack of exercise and poor diet and can be tightened up with a course of regular exercises and massage if these steps are taken soon enough. Flabby skin is also often the result of sudden weight-loss through illness or a too drastic diet and a return to fitness will depend on age and the amount of elasticity remaining in the skin.


Certain people — often red-heads — are born with skin prone to freckles, which are groups of cells in the skin containing normal amounts of the dark pigment called melanin. They will fade in the winter, increase in the summer, can be reduced with a mild chemical peeling, but will return on re-exposure to sunlight. They are often very attractive, but if the possessor wants to keep them to a minimum, the use of a sunblock is essential in spring and summer. Freckles that appear later in life are called Brown Spots (above).


This is caused by exposure to intense cold and the stoppage of the blood flow in vessels close to the skin’s surface. The affected area — most often nose, fingers, toes or ears — becomes white, hard and numb and, if not treated fast, will cause permanent damage to the skin. The best treatment is to restore circulation with very gentle warmth such as bathing in cool water, although the area will become painfully inflamed and may produce rupturing blisters. Minor frostbite can be prevented by wearing enough suitable warm loose-fitting clothes to keep circulation going and, if skiing, for instance, in very cold conditions, frequently checking any exposed areas on yourself or your companions.


These are usually noticed around the eye area in the thirties and can come from allergies or sinus problems, particularly in conjunction with under-eye bags, or from worry or shock. Keeping the area well-moisturized with an eye cream is preventative or can delay their premature deepening. Later, around the fifties, when lines are deepening around the nose and mouth and everything seems to be sagging from a lessening of elasticity, a face-lift is the only solution.


Moles are flat or slightly raised patches of dark pigmentation which can be unsightly if too bumpy or if they sprout a few hairs. The hairs shouldn’t be pulled out nor should any attempt be made at home removal of the mole — they are easy to remove safely if professionally done. Most moles are harmless, but a flat mole that changes color or size or bleeds should be medically checked immediately.


The body’s natural heat-controlling, air-conditioning system, this is the liquid produced by the sweat glands — regularly appearing in armpits and groin, and after exercise or specific stimulation of the body temperature (from a sauna, for instance) occurring all over the body. The liquid is odorless but, if constricted by clothing or trapped by a fold of skin or joint, will quickly form bacteria; it is this that smells. When fresh, this smell is considered quite attractive by some, but, if allowed to become stale or dry into clothes that are worn again before being washed or cleaned, it is always unpleasant. Fat people perspire more than thin and a diet will obviously help; others come out in a ‘cold sweat’ from fear or emotional stress, often around the hairline and across the forehead. Excessive non-induced sweating needs medical treatment. There are excellent antiperspirants and deodorant-antiperspirants on the market, but as perspiring is a very important part of the body’s natural cooling system, you should use the mildest antiperspirant you can. Everyone differs in how much they sweat and, of course, it is a real problem for some: those who sweat excessively need the strongest possible deterrent, but most people just need a little help to control the flow and prevent a bad smell.

Red Lines

These usually appear around the nose and cheeks in the thirties and are broken surface blood vessels caused by skin damage (windburn, frostbite), pregnancy, alcohol or high blood pressure. They can often be treated by a doctor or trained beautician inexpensively and relatively painlessly, using an electric needle and special chemical fluid to drain the blood-vessel. A serious condition, in the legs, for instance, may need several sessions and take time. Later, a variety called spider angiomata, which radiate from a central redpoint, may appear but can be removed by cauterization.


Whenever the skin is damaged — cut, burned or stretched — it will leave a scar. Surface scars will disappear without a trace (particularly in the young); deeper wounds, where the tissue is destroyed, will leave permanent marks. Stretch marks and minor scars are sometimes helped by a vitamin E oil or special cream. Severe disfiguring ones will need chemical peeling or skin-grafting, and medical advice must be sought.

Skin Cancer

This is most commonly found in women who have spent a lifetime sunbathing without due protection for their skin. Solar keratoses are rough, red patches which can be surgically removed safely and will heal leaving no scar. If left untreated these pre-cancerous lesions will develop into the far more serious squamous cell carcinoma, which is a thickened, roughened version of the above and mostly appears on the face.

Basal cell carcinoma also appears predominantly on the face as a persistent small sore. Both these conditions can be treated with surgery or chemotherapy, but some scarring may ensue.

The most severe and fortunately rarest form of skin cancer is called malignant melanoma and is indicated by deeply pigmented patches, colored brown, black or sometimes dark blue, or by a lump which suddenly changes color when exposed to the sun. Any patch should be checked by a doctor as speedily as possible since treatment involves removal of the affected area plus a certain amount of surrounding skin, depending on the state of the growth.

Skin Discolouration

A sallow skin tone may be improved by increasing the blood circulation; likewise a pale tone. Anything that increases the flow of blood and brings more to the surface will improve the effect and give the skin a pinker tint. Regular exercises, a good brisk walk or body massage all help. A ruddy complexion is difficult to reduce — although alcohol, coffee, and spicy foods should be avoided — and as far as the face is concerned, there are colored foundation creams designed to help.


Sunburn often shows the morning after a day spent in the sun, or in the evening when the first sign is a stinging as you get into a bath. It is a painful reddening of the skin (sometimes so sensitive that even a loose cotton shirt or sheet will hurt), followed by peeling.

Very fair skins are exceptionally sensitive to the sun, but anyone — even black skins that have been away from the sun for any length of time — can on occasion suffer from sunburn and heatstroke. Very fair skins should use a sunblock, wear wide-brimmed hats and cover as much of the body as possible, but everyone who values the beauty of their skin should take sunbathing gently and always wear creams that will filter out the damaging ultra-violet rays. You can still go beautifully brown: it will just take a little longer.

Unwanted Hair

Hair growing on parts of the body — face, bikini line, underarms, and legs are common — where it isn’t wanted can be disguised by bleaching, which is quite satisfactory if the original growth is reasonably fair; removed temporarily with suitable depilatory creams or stripped off with wax; or removed permanently by electrolysis, which is expensive and time-consuming but worth it for a small area or if the hair is causing exceptional distress. (See also: How to Remove Unwanted Hair Permanently?)


Infectious inward-growing warts on the feet, usually picked up by children or young adults who frequent communal changing rooms in schools, sports centres, swimming pools, etc. and walk around barefoot — one verruca will soon multiply into many more — they are painful and need attention from a chiropodist, who will treat them with an acid product, electronically or, as a last resort if the verruca grows very deep, surgically.


Small hard growths appearing often on hands or face, usually on children or teenagers and mostly caused by a virus, they often just disappear, if left untreated, but if too numerous or large to leave, they can be treated with special solutions, scraped, burned or cut off. The large, soft, moist variety that occasionally appears in the genital area should be treated by a doctor.


The first cousin to the blackhead, they are tiny, hard, white lumps just under the skin that cannot find an exit unless the pore is opened. They should not be tampered with at home, but a trained beautician will make an opening, remove the offending waxy mass and leave not a trace.


Red, dry patches, usually on cheeks or exposed areas, appear as a result of exposure without protection to strong winds combined with glaring light. Sportspersons, such as all-weather skiers who venture out in blizzards, dinghy and ocean racing sailors, cross-country riders and all athletes, need to take precautions to protect their skin from windburn.

Zymotic Disease

This is a now disused and archaic description (coined by 19th century Dr. William Parr before the discovery and identification of viruses) for an epidemic, endemic and contagious diseases such as smallpox that assumed the similarity of fermentation (zymosis) and infection.