User's Manual: Skin

4 Skin Problems and How to Fix Them

Problem No. 3: Allergic and irritated skin

The lowdown
If you've got a rash that's marked by dry, cracked red patches, you probably have contact dermatitis. Either you've touched a substance you're allergic to, like nickel or latex, or you have a nonallergic reaction to chemicals like those in detergents.

You might also have eczema, which is usually triggered by irritants from fragrances, cold weather, allergens, or sometimes even stress. Eczema tends to be itchier and sometimes leads to small bumps that leak fluid.
If you have itchy welts that move around over the course of the day, you've got hives. Acute hives that come on suddenly are often due to a food or medication allergy. Chronic hives, which can last up to six weeks, are more common and not always allergic. About 20 percent of the time, they're triggered by cold, heat, light, or exercise. Otherwise, they may be caused by an autoimmune disorder or your body's reaction to an illness. In some cases, there's no clear cause.

If you notice sudden hives, take a Benadryl and call your doc ASAP; you might be having a serious allergic reaction. Contact dermatitis usually goes away when you avoid whatever's triggering it. Over-the-counter antihistamines, such as Zyrtec, and hydrocortisone creams can also help, but if the rash continues, see a derm or an allergist. Prescription cortisone creams can ease eczema and chronic hives; severe cases of chronic hives can be treated with prescription drugs, like ciclosporin, which help suppress the immune system.

Problem No. 4: Growths

The lowdown
Take a deep breath: Not all lumps and bumps are cancerous. The most common are seborrheic keratoses (SKs)—harmless brown or black growths that tend to crop up with age and can run in families. Other non-problematic growths include warts and skin tags. Warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), and they're contagious but not life-threatening. You're more likely to catch one if you have a cut, which explains why they tend to appear on your fingers. Skin tags often show up on armpits, due to chafing. For the same reason, you may get them if you're overweight or have large breasts.

What they look like
SKs start as small, flat, rough, tan or brown bumps that slowly thicken on your face, chest, shoulders, or back. Warts are small, grainy growths that feel rough and bumpy. Skin tags stick out and may have a little stalk connecting to your body.

These growths are harmless, but you can opt to have your dermatologist remove them, either through freezing them with liquid nitrogen (cryosurgery), burning them off (electrocautery), or, if they're large, zapping them with a laser. Always get them checked out, though, since sometimes it's hard to tell whether a growth's benign or potentially cancerous.

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