Ever wondered what a dermatologist can determine about your health just by looking at your skin? Symptoms such as changes in skin texture or color are sometimes associated with more serious health problems.
“A person’s skin texture is a sign of good or bad skin health,” which can also send signals about your overall health, says Dr. Jeremy Brauer, a board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon based in New York. Brauer says it’s important for dermatologists to get a complete history when they first see a patient, including medical and surgical history and any medications the patient is taking.
Talk News spoke with cosmetic surgeons as well as board-certified dermatologists to find out exactly what they can look for and what signs to look out for. If you are concerned, it is important to see your dermatologist and not self-diagnose.
What your skin thickness can tell: Thickened or swollen skin may be a sign of diabetes. It usually appears on the fingers, hands and toes, and usually these areas also experience decreased pain and sensation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this is called digital sclerosis and is caused by high blood sugar levels.
What they can tell from open wounds: Slow wound healing and frequent infections can also be signs of diabetes, says Dr. Ariel Ostad, a cosmetic surgeon. This is caused by a longer inflammatory phase in wounds in diabetes sufferers, thereby slowing healing and increasing the likelihood of developing chronic wounds, and other problems.
Generally, wounds heal completely in four to six weeks, and wounds that are longer are considered chronic wounds. If after several weeks there is no change in the wound, or it feels painful or numb, you should seek medical attention.
What they can tell from itchy bumps and dermatitis: These may appear as raised or scaly bumps on the skin or swelling on the face, which may be a major sign of a milk allergy. “It usually appears within minutes of consuming dairy products and can last for several days or weeks,” says Brauer.
What they can tell from discoloration: “Skin discoloration can present itself in a variety of colors (e.g. red, brown, white, etc.),” explains Brauer. The color is an indication of the underlying cause. For example, redness may mean inflammation, brown color may be related to pigmentation changes such as sun damage, and bluish discoloration may signal blood vessel problems, Brauer says.
What they can tell from discoloration or darkening of certain parts of the body: A condition called acanthosis nigricans is often seen in skin folds, including the neck and armpits, and may be a sign of diabetes, says Dr. David Kim, a certified researcher. dermatologist at Idriss Dermatology in New York City. Another sign of diabetes is diabetic dermopathy, which looks like brown spots all over the shins, according to Brauer.
A rare condition called necrobiosis lipoidica appears as irregular pink and yellow plaques on the shins, Brauer said. Although this is usually associated with diabetes, it can also be a sign of thyroid disease and inflammation, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and sarcoidosis.
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A mole that bleeds or scabs is definitely a reason to alert your dermatologist.
What they can tell from irregular moles: Some types of brown spots and moles can be a sign of skin cancer, which is why regular skin checks are essential.
“Anything new, changing, or unusual is worth mentioning or calling my office for evaluation and possible management,” Brauer said. “I will ask patients if they have noticed changes in the size, shape or color of existing moles/spots. Poor healing or persistent scabs or sores can also be indicators of skin cancer, and should not be ignored. However, in the early stages of healing, bleeding or crusting is normal.”
Brauer adds: “You should do a home skin check once a month. It is important to examine the skin from the hair and scalp to the toes, and from the front to the back. If you notice lumps, scabs, or any unusual changes in size, shape or color, you should see your dermatologist.”
Other possible signs of skin cancer include:
Rough or scaly red patches, or pimples that don’t heal.
The edges of a mole, lump, or skin patch are irregular, uneven, grooved or blurred, or the color spreads beyond the boundaries.
Pearly nodules with blood vessels on them, possibly basal cell carcinoma.
What they can tell from redness: It could be a sign of rosacea, an inflammatory skin condition, or irritation from a product. “It could also represent an allergic reaction, but this all depends on the pattern and distribution of the redness,” says Kim. “It could be due to inflammation or dilation of blood vessels.”
The intensity of the redness, its distribution and pattern – whether localized or widespread – and the presence of other symptoms (e.g. itching, burning or dryness) are the first things Brauer checks.
When small blood vessels burst under the skin, you may see flat, pointed spots (ranging from red to purple) that resemble a rash. If the color doesn’t change when you press on it, it may be a symptom of two disorders: petechiae (for spots smaller than 4 millimeters) or purpura (for spots larger than 4 millimeters). According to Brauer, this can be a sign of a vitamin K or vitamin C deficiency, but is also linked to more serious problems such as infections and heart conditions.
Red, scaly skin may be a sign of squamous cell carcinoma, a common type of skin cancer, Kim says. These patches may be crusty or bleeding.
And a red rash on the cheeks, called a butterfly rash, is a typical sign of the autoimmune inflammatory disease lupus, Ostad says.
What they can tell from changes in your hair and scalp: Doctors can easily determine whether you have a hair loss problem or a vitamin deficiency. Kim initially checked the density and strength of the hair to look for symptoms.
Common causes of hair loss include genetic factors (as is the case with androgenetic alopecia), injury or trauma (as is the case with telogen effluvium), or other thyroid or autoimmune diseases (as is the case with alopecia areata), says Brauer. Another cause is iron deficiency.
Brauer also mentions that changes in the hair and scalp can be attributed to vitamin deficiencies:
Diffuse hair loss is often associated with vitamin D and iron deficiencies.
Visible hyperpigmentation on the hands and feet can be a sign of a vitamin B12 or folate deficiency, which can cause hair loss.
An itchy scalp with flakes in the hair, and oily yellow/pink patches with scales between the eyebrows and around the nose and mouth, can be signs of seborrheic dermatitis, which is often caused by a vitamin B deficiency.
Generalized changes in hair and nails can be a sign of various deficiencies of vitamin B, vitamin C, copper, iron and others.
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Yes, they know.
Doctors can also tell you other things, such as:
If You Have Ever Had an Injection
Your doctor can tell if you are using too much filler or Botox. “Patients who have too full lips, too full under eyes, and a thick chin show signs that they have injected too much filler,” says Ostad. “If a patient presents with a ‘frozen’ appearance, unable to make facial expressions, then they have had too much Botox.” Trained professionals will perform injections with a natural appearance in mind, and will not use too much product.
Which Side Do You Sleep On
Yes, your doctor can tell if you sleep on your side just by glancing at your skin. “If a patient sleeps on their side, usually the side they sleep on has more holes than the other side,” Ostad said.
“(Facial) asymmetry is normal, but can be exacerbated if the patient sleeps on their side,” Kim said. “Usually the side they sleep on is flatter.”
Additionally, a dermatologist can tell if you grind your teeth or hold tension in your teeth or jaw while sleeping, which can make your face appear squarer.