10 Common Skin Conditions, Explained

To diagnose skin conditions, healthcare providers typically consider a person's medical history and physical symptoms.

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Your skin—the body's biggest organ—shields you from the elements. But while it's tough, your skin is not impenetrable. Allergens, environmental irritants, certain diseases, and hereditary factors are a few of the forces that can trigger or worsen skin troubles.

The term "skin condition" describes various skin issues, from small red bumps to widespread rashes. Some skin conditions can be unsightly but harmless, while others may be contagious. Many skin conditions are also itchy or painful.

Causes of Common Skin Conditions

Allergic skin conditions occur when allergens (such as certain foods, animal dander, wool, or soaps) trigger an immune system response with symptoms such as redness and itching.

Some of the common causes of skin infections include:

  • Viruses
  • Fungi
  • Bacteria
  • Parasites

And in some cases, skin conditions have a genetic component. For example, eczema, which causes dry, itchy rashes, is more common in allergy-prone families than others.

Healthcare providers typically consider a person's medical history and physical symptoms to diagnose skin conditions. Assessing the size, shape, location, and color of bumps, blisters, and rashes can help healthcare providers pinpoint the exact cause.

Other non-skin symptoms may offer clues, as well. Sometimes healthcare providers must remove a growth or take a skin sample for examination under a microscope.

Symptoms

Your skin can be a reflection of your overall health. And as such, changes in the color, texture, or appearance of your skin may signal an issue. For example, skin inflammation is a common symptom of skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema. 

Red splotches on the skin may signify contact dermatitis, an itchy rash often triggered by an allergen—like nickel, the metal found in some jewelry. And in other cases, red blotches on the face may indicate rosacea, a common skin condition resembling acne-like breakouts.

Tiny red dots on the skin, called petechiae, occur when capillaries, small blood vessels in the body, bleed into the skin. Petechiae can signal certain infections, health conditions, or physical trauma.

Small red spots on the face that turn into skin sores that ooze and crust are a symptom of impetigo, a bacterial skin infection that usually affects children.

Treatment

Many options are available for treating skin conditions. The choice depends on the type of skin condition you have, its symptoms, and the severity of those symptoms.

Some of the most commonly recommended treatments that you can apply directly to the skin include:

  • Ointments
  • Creams
  • Lotions
  • Gels

And in some cases, a healthcare provider may prescribe oral or injectable medicines.

For stubborn skin conditions, you may require a multi-pronged approach. For example, someone with psoriasis may receive steroid ointments or creams to reduce inflammation, over-the-counter (OTC) topicals like aloe vera for itch relief, and light therapy to help clear up rashes.

In cases of skin cancer, you may require surgery. A healthcare provider may recommend surgical removal in some cases of benign (noncancerous) growths like warts.

Common Skin Conditions

Here are some of the most common skin conditions, including their causes, symptoms, and treatments.

Acne

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Acne occurs when oil and dead skin cells clog the pores. Pimples under the skin's surface that erupt with a white center are called whiteheads. And pimples exposed to air are called blackheads and look black. 

Other skin blemishes may form, including:

  • Pink bumps
  • Red, pus-filled pimples
  • Nodules
  • Cysts 

Acne usually appears on the face, back, neck, chest, and shoulders. Bacteria (P. acnes) and inflammation can play a role in determining when pimples crop up, as can changes in hormones. Some hormones trigger excess oil production, resulting in clogged pores. Adolescents are more prone to getting acne than others.

Topical treatments and other medicines can help unclog pores and prevent new breakouts.

Cold Sore

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A viral infection usually causes cold sores, or fever blisters, which are contagious. Cold sores are tiny, painful, fluid-filled blisters. 

Type 1 of the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) causes cold sores, also called oral herpes. Type 2 of the herpes simplex virus (HSV-2) affects the genital region, but HSV-1 can also spread from the mouth to the genitals.

Cold sores often appear in clusters on or around the lips. People may experience a tingling sensation in the affected area before a breakout. 

There's no cure for cold sores, but antiviral medications can speed recovery.

Eczema

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Eczema is a dry, itchy skin condition that can occur anywhere on the body. Atopic dermatitis is the most common type due to an overactive immune system and usually occurs in childhood.

Eczema can also cause certain types may cause blistering. The condition may be chronic, but it's not contagious. People with severe eczema are at a higher risk for food allergies and asthma. 

Treatment includes medicines to relieve itch and inflammation and prevent flare-ups.

Hives

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Hives, also called urticaria, are itchy, raised welts that can be red or skin-colored. About 20% of people experience hives at some point in their lives. Many cases occur due to an allergic reaction. Possible triggers include:

  • Foods
  • Insect bites
  • Medications
  • Latex exposure
  • Pet dander
  • Medications
  • Viral infections

Hives are usually temporary, but some people can develop chronic hives. Healthcare providers often recommend antihistamines to block or reduce the body's allergic response and ease itching.

In severe or chronic cases, a healthcare provider may temporarily prescribe corticosteroids to address the inflammation and bring relief.

Lupus

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Lupus is an autoimmune condition, meaning the body attacks its own tissues and organs. Lupus can affect many parts of the body, so people with lupus can have various symptoms, which include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to the sun
  • Hair loss
  • Swelling in the legs or around the eyes
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pain

As for skin issues regarding lupus, you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Painless sores in the nose and mouth
  • Round, scaly rashes anywhere on your body
  •  A butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks and nose—this is a classic symptom of lupus 
  • A raised, disc-shaped red patches on sun-exposed areas 

Lupus is more common in women than men. There's no cure for the condition, but treatment can help manage symptoms and help prevent flares.

Ringworm

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Ringworm is a fungal skin infection that can be itchy. On many areas of the skin, ringworm appears as a round patch with a clear center.

Ringworm of the scalp, which is called tinea capitis, can cause scaly, red bald spots. Ringworm of the feet, known as athlete's foot, causes peeling, cracking, and possibly blisters. When ringworm affects the groin, it's called jock itch. 

Ringworm is contagious but treatable with antifungal medicines.

Shingles

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Shingles is a painful, blistering rash. A shingles rash wraps like a band across one side of the face or body.

The virus that causes chickenpox, varicella-zoster virus (VZV), lays dormant in your nerve cells and later reactivates to cause shingles. Therefore, shingles only affect people who have previously had chickenpox.

The first signs of shingles include skin sensitivity, itching, tingling, or pain. Days later, a rash of tiny fluid-filled blisters develops. Shingles isn't passed from person to person. But people with shingles can give others, usually children, chickenpox if they've never had the illness.

Healthcare providers usually prescribe antiviral medicines to treat shingles. Those medicines are most effective when started as soon as a rash develops.

Skin Cancer

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Nonmelanoma skin cancer frequently affects sun-exposed areas, including the head, face, neck, hands, and arms. There are two types of nonmelanoma skin cancer: basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas.

Basal cell carcinomas may look like round, flesh-colored growths, a pearl-like bump, or a pink skin patch. Squamous cell carcinomas may form a firm red bump, scaly patch, or a sore.

Melanoma (above) is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. Melanoma may cause dark spots, changes in moles, or a bruise that doesn't heal.

Treatment can include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, depending on the type of skin cancer and its severity.

Vitiligo

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There are different types of vitiligo. People with the skin condition develop white or lighter patches of skin, usually on both sides of the body. Some people have localized vitiligo, in which only a few white spots appear, while others can have it on larger swaths of skin.

The cause of vitiligo is not fully understood. Still, some research suggests that vitiligo is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks pigment-producing cells.

Healthcare providers may prescribe light therapy and topical creams to ease symptoms.

Warts

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Common warts are bumpy skin growths that usually appear on the hands. Foot warts on the soles of the feet, known as plantar warts, tend to be hard and painful when you walk on them.

Warts are caused by human papillomaviruses and can be contagious. Tiny black dots that look like seeds, which are dried blood from tiny blood vessels, may appear on the surface of warts.

Warts often go away on their own, particularly in children. A healthcare provider can remove painful or bothersome warts using peeling medicines, acids, or freezing.

A Quick Review

You may have a skin condition if you notice a change in your skin. Because there are many skin conditions, consulting a healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment is essential.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. National Library of Medicine. Skin infections.

  3. National Library of Medicine. Atopic dermatitis.

  4. American Academy of Dermatology Association. What your skin can tell you about your overall health.

  5. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Nickel allergy: How to avoid exposure and reduce symptoms.

  6. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Rosacea: Diagnosis and treatment.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Impetigo.

  8. Merck Manuals. Treatment of skin disorders.

  9. National Psoriasis Foundation. Treatment & care.

  10. National Cancer Institute. Skin cancer treatment (PDQ®)—patient version.

  11. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Warts: Diagnosis and treatment.

  12. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Acne.

  13. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Acne: Diagnosis and treatment.

  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basic fact sheet.

  15. National Eczema Association. An overview of the different types of eczema.

  16. National Eczema Association. What is eczema?.

  17. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Hives.

  18. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus).

  19. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Ringworm: Diagnosis and treatment.

  20. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Ringworm: Overview.

  21. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles (herpes zoster) transmission.

  22. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treating shingles.

  23. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Types of skin cancer.

  24. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Skin cancer types: Melanoma signs and symptoms.

  25. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Vitiligo: Overview.

  26. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Vitiligo.

  27. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Vitiligo: Diagnosis, treatment, and steps to take.

  28. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Warts: Signs and symptoms.

  29. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Warts: Who gets and causes.

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