Dermatology FAQs

A list of the most frequently asked questions about skin conditions and dermatology.

Q1. What does our skin do?

A1. Your skin performs several functions such as regulating your body’s temperature, protecting against the heat and the cold and preventing disease and infection. The skin acts as a covering over the bones, tissues, muscles and organs of the human body.

The skin is the largest organ in the body. It contains millions of nerve endings which sense pain, changes in temperature and touch.

It consists of 3 layers: epidermis (top layer), dermis (middle layer) and subcutaneous tissue (bottom layer). The skin goes through a life cycle in which dead skin cells are shed and new ones grown in a constant process.

Find out more in your skin section.

Q2. What is the most common skin condition?

A2. This is difficult to say as there are several very common skin conditions such as acne, eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis and cold sores (herpes simplex). Acne could be considered the number one skin condition as nearly everyone has suffered from this in their teens. Find out more about acne and these other conditions in our skin conditions section.

Q3. Why do more boys than girls get acne?

A3. The answer to that is testosterone. Boys produce far greater amounts of this than girls which cause a variety of effects that include acne. This male hormone causes excess amounts of oil or sebum to be produced in the sebaceous glands within the skin which blocks the skin pores along with bacteria and dead skin cells. The oil flows out over the skin causing it to become greasy and prone to inflammation. This inflammation results in an outbreak of spots such as blackheads, whiteheads and cysts. Girls do get acne but there are far fewer cases than those which affect boys. Learn more in our acne section.

Q4. Should you pop a pimple?

A4. No. Popping or squeezing a pimple only worsens the site of the infection, causing it to spread to other areas of the face and body. Plus it may result in scarring. Leave the pimple to clear it by itself or use an anti-acne cream. For more information visit our acne section.

Q5. What is ‘contact dermatitis?’

A5. This is an infectious skin disease which develops as a result of touching a particular substance. This causes red, itchy, flaky skin which may blister or peel. The infected skin can become sore and painful and is upsetting for the sufferer. There are two types of contact dermatitis: allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis cannot be cured but there are various treatments available which manage the symptoms. It presents as a series of flare ups and remission. Find out more about this in our skin conditions section.

Q6. What are moles?

A6. These are small, round or oval shaped spots which lie flat against your skin. They are light or dark brown in colour and are more common in fair skinned people and anyone who has a history of these in their family. Moles are usually harmless but there is a risk of them becoming cancerous, for example, malignant melanoma, which occurs from excessive exposure to the sun. But this is not the only factor. Learn more about moles and why they must be checked on a regular basis in our skin conditions section. And why not find out more about malignant melanoma which is presented as a separate section.

Q7. What is eczema caused by?

A7. Eczema occurs for a variety of reasons which includes genetics, an allergy, stress or environmental factors such as bad weather. But the causes of eczema depend upon what type of eczema you have as there is more than form of this disease. They all cause red, scaly, itchy skin which becomes cracked and painful. This skin may bleed which only adds to the discomfort. This is a chronic condition which affects a great many people. The most common form of eczema is atopic eczema. Learn more in our eczema section.

Q8. What is the best way of treating sunburn?

A8. Place a cool compress (or damp flannel) on the burned area of skin. Moisturising creams may also help. The aim is to take the heat out of the sunburn and cool the temperature of the skin down. Calamine lotion will also help. Over the counter painkillers are useful for easing the pain and soreness caused by sunburn. These are easy to do if you have mild sunburn but severe cases require medical attention especially if a young child is affected. A very severe case accompanied by heat stroke requires emergency treatment. But prevention is better than cure. Find out how in our sunburn section.

Q9. Why is a tan dangerous?

A9. A tan may look glamorous but it is a sign of skin damage which can have serious repercussions. These risks are greater in people with a pale or fair skin who burn rather than tan. A tan is caused by ultraviolet rays from the sun which is absorbed by your skin. A pigment in your skin called melanin is produced which changes the colour of your skin into that highly prized golden brown. But this is also a sign of skin damage. Repeated exposure further damages your skin and ages it. But the biggest risk is skin cancer. This is particularly a problem if you have lots of moles and/or freckles and a fair skin. One of these moles may become cancerous after repeated sun exposure which results in a condition called malignant melanoma. This is life threatening if left untreated. This is discussed in more detail in our skin conditions section. Have a look at our sunburn and skin cancer sections.

Q10. Do women get more skin conditions than men?

A10. Both sexes develop problems with their skin. There are certain skin conditions such as acne which affect males more than females: but other conditions such as contact dermatitis and varicose affect more women. And then there are conditions which affect both men and women such as skin allergies and skin cancer. Each of the individual skin conditions in this guide mention which gender is more likely to be affected.

Q11. How do you test for an allergy?

A11. There are several ways of doing this which include blood tests, skin prick tests and patch testing. A blood test involves the taking of a small sample of blood which is examined under a microscope. The aim is to detect any changes which indicate a particular skin condition, e.g. high levels of antibodies. Patch testing and a skin prick test involve the application of small samples of potential allergens (substances which cause an allergic reaction) onto the skin. These are left there for a period of 24 to 48 hours. They are then removed and the skin checked for signs of an allergic reaction. Find out more about these tests in our allergy testing section.

Q12. What are ‘topical steroids?’

A12. These are medications which contain synthetic forms of hormones naturally produced in the body, e.g. cortisol. They are properly known as topical corticosteroids. A topical steroid takes the form of a cream, gel or spray which is directly applied to the skin. Find out more about topical treatment in our dermatology treatments section.

Q13. How does laser therapy work?

A13. Laser therapy is used to treat a range of skin conditions. There are different types of lasers used for different conditions but they all operate from the same principle. They aim a powerful beam of light at an affected area of skin, spot or lesion. The aim is to shrink, cut or remove the offending area of skin and encourage the growth of new skin. This is used to treat varicose veins and birthmarks.

Q14. Why is it important to look after your skin?

A14. Your skin is with you for life so it is important to look after it and ensure that it is fit for purpose. The condition of your skin says a great deal about your overall health so if there are any problems then this will be reflected in its appearance. A junk food diet, late nights, stress, too much coffee or frequent hangovers will show their effects in the form of pale or greasy skin which is pinched, dull and tired looking. Nothing adds years to you more than skin which clearly below par. But this can be reversed by following a skin care routine which includes daily cleaning, plenty of fluids, e.g. water, healthy eating and exercise. This also includes plenty of sleep. Find out more about skin TLC in our skin care advice section.