THE SKIN YOU’RE IN

Skin is the largest organ of the body, and it is also the most susceptible to damage and disease and yet we happily pour things on it, rub things into it, scrape and burn it or generally ignore it unless a major problem arises.

Your skin is made from keratin, the same stuff that your nails and hair are made from. Keratin is a type of protein. Basically, all of our organs are made from some type of protein, but keratin is stronger and tougher than, say, flesh, and can form itself into fibrous structures. It is also strong and durable enough to be used as the building tissue of the mouth, so your tongue and hard palate are also made from Keratin.

The skin on your body has three layers: the epidermis, the dermis and the hypodermis. The hypodermis is where you will find fat layers. If you have liposuction, the fat is taken from there.

The skin you can see and touch is the epidermis. It is basically translucent and is filled with the cells that produce melanin, and melanin is what gives your skin its colour. The epidermis creates your ‘look’, and keeps water inside your body. It is the bit that sweats, and smells, and has freckles. When it gets sick, you can see the reaction straight away. Rashes, spots and changes in colour all tell us that the epidermis is unhappy.

The dermis is the middle layer of skin and it is here that you will find elastin and collagen. Elastin and collagen give your skin their texture. When we get older, they start to fail. That is why we get wrinkles. Again, because we are made from proteins, this layer of the skin is a protein too. Inside the dermis you will find nerves, blood cells, sweat glands and hair follicles. If you only cut your epidermis, you wouldn’t feel anything, but the epidermis is very thin. The dermis is that one that hurts when you cut it. Even a tiny paper cut can reach the dermis. Because it is not waterproof, like the epidermis is, it the dermis can easily get infected.

And finally, a little deeper still, is the hypodermis, or subcutaneous layer. This layer is made up of fat and collagen. This bit is thicker and bouncier. It is like a built in cushion. The Hypodermis is nature’s shock absorber, and works as a thermal layer when we get cold. Damage to the hypodermis is serious, because it is often all that comes between something sharp or hard and your internal organs.

There are literally hundreds of conditions that can affect the skin that affect hundreds of millions of people each year. Because the skin is so brilliant at sending us warning signals that something serious might be happening, and because we tend to overlook the warning signs until they become bleedingly obvious, it is worth checking in with a health professional once a year to ‘read’ your skin for you.

Places like the back, or inside the nooks and crannies of our bodies often hide secrets that can become deadly. Skin Cancer is something we hear a lot about, but how many of us ignore, or are simply unaware, of spots that change shape or colour? If you have a bit of a lump in the middle of your shoulder blades, and no one is checking there, how will you know if it is sending out ‘check me out’ messages? Skin doctors, Dermatologists, and GP’s have the training to know what is ‘normal’ and what is ‘pay attention time’.

Lupus and Rosacea are two skin conditions that do not have cures but can be managed with modern medicine as well as changes in diet and lifestyle. These factors can ease the symptoms of two common, yet often misunderstood, skin problems.

Lupus, from the Latin word for ‘Wolf’ is an autoimmune disease that affects millions around the World. Normally, the immune system protects the body against foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria. In the case of a disease like lupus, the immune system goes a bit insane and attacks the body and damages healthy tissues and organs. Because of this, Lupus can cause problems with the kidneys, lungs, nervous system, blood vessels, and skin. The most distinctive sign of lupus — a facial rash that resembles the wings of a butterfly unfolding across both cheeks — occurs in many but not all cases of lupus.

Some people are born with a tendency toward developing lupus, which may be triggered by infections, certain drugs or even sunlight. While there’s no cure for lupus, treatments can help control symptoms.

The symptoms of Lupus are:

– Fatigue and fever

-Joint pain, stiffness and swelling

– Butterfly-shaped rash on the face that covers the cheeks and bridge of the nose

– Skin lesions that appear or worsen with sun exposure (photosensitivity)

– Fingers and toes that turn white or blue when exposed to cold or during stressful periods (Raynaud’s phenomenon)

– Shortness of breath

– Chest pain

– Dry eyes

– Headaches, confusion and memory loss

According to The Mayo Clinic, the factors that may increase your risk of lupus include your sex (Lupus is more common in women) your age (it’s most often diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 40) and your race (Lupus is more common in African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians).

Medications available that relieve symptoms include over the counter Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen sodium and ibuprofen which may be used to treat pain, swelling and fever associated with lupus. Also antimalarial drugs, Corticosteroids and Immuno-suppressants are used but before you take any or all of these, a quick trip to your local GP will put you on the right path.

Rosacea is another chronic skin disease that affects more than 16 million in the United States alone. The cause of rosacea is still unknown, and there is no cure. However, research has allowed doctors to develop a course of treatment that effectively controls rosacea by minimising its symptoms. Rosacea’s trademarks are small, red, pus-filled bumps on the skin that are present during flare-ups. Typically, rosacea affects only skin on your nose, cheeks, and forehead. Flare-ups often occur in cycles. This means that you will experience symptoms for weeks or months at a time, the symptoms will go away, and then they will return.

The German Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care reports that rosacea affects around one in 10 adults and usually first appears by age 20.

It usually affects people between 30 and 50 years of age, often those with fair-skin and blond hair and blue eyes. People with Celtic or Scandinavian ancestry or a family history of rosacea suffer more often. Also, people who have battled severe acne in the past, especially women, are prone to Rosacea, however, men can also develop the disease and they tend to have more serious symptoms, or at least they complain a lot more about it. Like men do.

If you have Rosacea, you will notice flushing and redness in the centre of your face with visible broken blood vessels and swollen skin. You might see bumpy skin texturing or thick skin on the nose, chin, cheeks or ears. Your skin may have large pores, or become rough or dry easily. If the Rosacea is around the eye area, you will have bloodshot and watery eyes, or your eyes may be gritty or itchy. They may be sensitive to light; you might develop diminished vision or have broken blood vessels on your eyelids.

Treatment includes a change in diet. Avoiding spicy food and not smoking as well as avoiding red wine and chocolate (I know right? Sad face) might help. Also, beer, vodka, gin, bourbon, and champagne can trigger an attack, as can soy sauce, yeast extracts, eggplants, tomatoes, raisins, figs, some beans and avocados. It’s all a little unfair.

The skin we are in does an amazing job of keeping us alive and healthy, but when it is under attack; our whole system starts to shut down. That is why knowing what to look for on our most overlooked, and yet ironically most visible, body part is vital to continued good health. If you suffer from a tricky skin condition, let us know what steps you are taking to keep your symptoms at bay. Drop us a line here at www.MyGreyNomads.com so we can share your story.

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