The skin, which is the largest organ in the body, is sometimes said to be a window into a person’s general well-being. It is a good indicator of our general health because it carries clues about the health of other body organs.
The skin is soft, to allow movement, but still tough enough to resist breaking or tearing. It varies in texture and thickness from one part of the body to another. For instance, the skin on the eyelids and lips is very thin and delicate while the skin on the soles of the feet is thicker and harder.
The skin, being one of the most versatile body organs, performs different functions which include: serving as the first line of defense against bacteria and other organisms, waterproof wrapping for the entire body, cooling system through sweat and giving information about pain, pleasure, temperature, and pressure.
As earlier said, the skin, being the window to the general well-being of the body, sometimes, is the first to be affected with problems when some very serious underlying health conditions arise.
The skin is a barrier between you and a variety of health threats, from annoying irritants to bacteria that could cause serious infection. Just as healthy skin contributes to your overall health, a key skin benefit is its ability to raise the red flag when your body becomes sick through changes in texture and color and through itching.
According to Dermatologist Shasa Hu, MD, Assistant Professor of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, “Dry skin is the most common cause of itching skin, but itching skin can reflect internal problems, that’s why your dermatologist might do more to assess your health than hand you a moisturizer and send you on your way”
Say we liken one’s body to a book, then the skin is considered the book cover. By examining the title, looking over the cover image, and reading the explanatory comments, it is often possible to determine what might be written inside that book. So, for the careful observer, one can tell quite a bit about the internal workings of the body by examining the skin.
The skin is pretty much always visible, which is a good thing because, as the largest organ of the body, it’s like the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Whether it’s discoloration, discomfort, or imperfections, it’s important to recognize the warning signs that your skin sends you when something is wrong.
That said, there are a handful of skin changes that have been commonly associated with internal diseases. These changes and signs on the skin indicate health concerns and when noticed, it is important that a skincare doctor or specialist is consulted. Some of these changes are highlighted below:
Rashes and patches on the skin
In general, a rash that does not respond to treatment, and is accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, joint pain, and muscle aches, could be a sign of an internal problem or infection. A rash may also occur due to an allergy or signal a reaction to a medicine, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
A velvety rash on the back of the neck or around the arms, usually with a color slightly darker than the person’s normal skin tone, is a sign that the patient may have an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes while less commonly, the velvety rash called acanthosis nigricans could be a warning sign of cancer in an internal organ, such as the stomach or liver.
A purple rash on the lower legs that does not respond to topical medication can be a sign of hepatitis C infection.
Bronzing of the skin and other discolorations
In people with diabetes, a bronzing of the skin can be a sign of a problem with iron metabolism. A yellowing of the skin, on the other hand, may be a signal of liver failure and may occur along with the yellowing of the whites of the eyes.
A darkening of the skin, mostly visible in scars and skin folds, as well as on joints, such as elbows and knees could be a sign of hormonal disease, such as Addison’s disease, which affects the adrenal glands, according to the AAD.
People who see new growths on the skin should always have them looked at by a doctor, as they could be skin cancer, and are sometimes also a sign of internal disease or a genetic syndrome, according to the AAD.
For example, in a condition called eruptive exanthemas — yellow bumps on the arms, legs or rear could be a result of high triglyceride levels, signaling uncontrolled diabetes, according to the AAD.
The distribution pattern of acne also can provide clues about the underlying problem. In women, acne that appears mainly along the lower face or jawline can be a sign of polycystic ovarian syndrome. The condition often causes other symptoms, such as weight changes, thinning hair and increased hair growth on the face.
Changes in skin’s hardness and dryness
High blood pressure and kidney problems sometimes result in a thickening of the skin on the shin. Moreover, very dry, itchy skin could be a sign of hormonal problems, such as an underactive thyroid.
People with an autoimmune disease called systemic sclerosis may experience swelling and hardening of the skin. In more severe cases, this could result in the hardening of internal organs, such as the lungs or heart, according to the AAD.
On the other hand, very loose and silky skin is a symptom of a rare connective tissue disease, called acquired cutis laxa, which could signal blood cancers such as lymphoma or multiple myeloma, and could progress to affect internal organs, according to the AAD.
Common skin problems such as acne, dermatitis, fungal infections, skin cancer, sunburn and warts can be prevented if the following tips are considered:
- Washing the body in a warm bath with the use of mild cleansers
- Blocking sun damage with the use of sunscreen and protective clothing
- Avoiding the use of tanning beds and sunlamps
- Getting enough sleep
- Reducing stress and
- Avoiding dry skin.
People say that beauty is only skin deep; it is what’s on the “inside” that counts. Our insides are certainly important, but the skin is your first layer of defense against the outside world. Your skin can also give important clues to your overall health.
Learn to take good care of your skin, so your skin can keep taking good care of you. Always be on the lookout for unexpected changes to your skin, and speak with a skincare specialist via @barethecommunity if you have concerns or experience any form of change to your skin and advise those around you to do the same, you just might be saving their lives.
Amanda Williams, COO Adi + Bolga