Birthmarks are abnormal skin discolorations in spots that are either present at birth or appear shortly thereafter. They can be flat or slightly raised from the skin. They can be any number of colors, including red, brown, black, tan, pink, white or purple. Birthmarks are generally harmless. There are two major categories of birthmarks: pigmented birthmarks and red birthmarks.
Pigmented Birthmarks can grow anywhere on the skin and at any time. They are usually black, brown or skin-colored and appear singly or in groups. They can be moles (congenital nevi) that are present at birth, Mongolian spots, which look like bluish bruises and appear more frequently on people with dark skin, or café-au-lait spots that are flat, light brown or tan and roughly form an oval shape.
Red Birthmarks (also known as macular stains) develop before or shortly after birth and are related to the vascular (blood vessel) system. There are a number of different types:
- Angel kisses, which usually appear on the forehead and eyelids.
- Stork bites, which appear on the back of the neck, between the eyebrows on the forehead, or on eyelids of newborns. They may fade away as the child grows, but often persist into adulthood.
- Port-wine stains, which are flat deep-red or purple birthmarks made up of dilated blood capillaries (small blood vessels). They often appear on the face and are permanent.
- Strawberry hemangiomas, composed of small, closely packed blood vessels that grow rapidly and can appear anywhere on the body. They usually disappear by age nine.
- Cavernous hemangiomas are similar to strawberry hemangiomas but go more deeply into the layers of the skin. These can often be characterized by a bluish-purple color. They also tend to disappear naturally around school age.
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The skin is the body's largest organ and accounts for roughly 18% of an adult's weight. It serves as a protective outer layer that keeps in moisture and keeps out invasive organism (like infections). It protects our organs against injury. It also helps regulate the body's temperature and has self-healing capabilities.
The best way to maintain healthy skin is to prevent skin damage from occurring in the first place. Wrinkles, age spots and leathery patches are all the result of skin damage from overexposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. But the aging process for skin is unavoidable. As we age, skin becomes dryer and thinner. Repeated movements of facial muscles, such as frowning, smiling or squinting, cause wrinkles over time. Stress, gravity and obesity also contribute to aging skin. And because the skin is thinner, it is more susceptible to bruising.
The premature aging of the skin from ultraviolet light exposure is called photoaging. Photoaging occurs when ultraviolet radiation penetrates deep into the dermis, damaging collagen fibers and causing the increased production of abnormal elastin. This breakdown in fundamental skin structures leads to deep wrinkles, fine lines, discoloration of the skin (age or liver spots), leatheriness and sagging skin.
Skin Care Routine
A healthy skin care routine throughout life can reduce the symptoms of aging in the skin. Be sure to:
- Wash your face using a gentle cleanser and lukewarm water twice a day.
- Pat skin dry; don't rub it dry.
- Exfoliate the skin twice a week to remove dead cells.
- Apply a moisturizer to skin immediately after a shower or bath.
- Wear sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15 every day.
- For women who wear makeup, be sure to leave time each day when the skin is clean and free of makeup.
- Do not use tanning beds.
- Maintain a healthy diet and drink lots of water.
- Get an adequate amount of sleep every day.
- Quit smoking.
- Avoid stress.
- Conduct a monthly self-examination of your skin to detect any changes that might lead to cancer.
- See your dermatologist once a year.
Beyond prevention, in today's world there is a wide range of options for slowing down the affects of aging on the skin. See the Cosmetic Dermatology section of this website for more information about:
- Chemical peels
- Laser Resurfacing
Anyone who has a break in the skin is at risk for an infection. There are three types of skin infections:
There are many bacteria that live on the surface of healthy skin. But with a break in the skin, these bacteria can invade the outer layer of skin and cause an infection and rash. Staph is a common cause of bacterial infections of the skin. Impetigo is one of the most common causes of skin infections in children. Oral or topical antibiotics are used to treat bacterial skin infections.
Viruses are parasitic organisms that can live and grow inside living cells. They cause either a degeneration or a proliferation of the cell. Most causes of viral skin infections are either from Human Papilloma Virus, which causes warts, or Human Herpes Virus, which causes cold sores, chicken pox, shingles, genital herpes and mononucleosis. Viruses do not respond to antibiotics. Generally, medications are prescribed to help alleviate the symptoms of the infection, such as a rash or itch. Additionally, vaccinations are used to prevent viral infections.
Fungal infections of the human body are called mycoses and affect only the outer layer of skin. Although seen in all areas of the body, skin mycoses most frequently appear as yeast infections, thrush, athlete's foot or jock itch.