If your skin could talk, it would probably have a lot to say to you. “You forgot to wear sunscreen again?”, for instance. Or, “Seriously, lady, quit squeezing that damn pimple”.
Just because your skin can’t communicate verbally, doesn’t mean it’s not capable of letting you know when something’s wrong. Many common skin issues can signal underlying health problems — potentially serious ones — you mightn’t be aware of.
Here are five of them.
Acne is an extremely common skin condition that affects 85 per cent of Australians aged between 15 and 24. Generally acne is the result of hormonal changes or a family history of the condition but certain presentations can point to other causes, explains Dr Li-Chuen Wong, a consultant dermatologist aligned with Aveeno and Newtown's Sydney Skin.
"A female who starts to get acne around the jaw, we call it 'muzzle acne', and breakouts particularly before having periods — and it's hard for them as well to lose weight and they have hair on the upper lip — might have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)," Dr Wong says.
"If you get acne and it's monomorphic, so all the lesions look exactly the same and they're on the upper back and chest, you have to wonder whether the patient is having annabolic steroids." (Post continues after gallery.)
If you've ever noticed your skin looking a different colour to usual, especially in concentrated areas of your face and body, it could be a sign there's something else going on below the surface.
"If you start to look yellow — a yellow skin discolouration and the whites of your eyes start going yellow as well — you need to look into whether you have any liver problems," explains Dr Wong.
Dr Wong says discolouration is sometimes accompanied by a raised effect on the skin, which tends to indicate very specific health issues.
"If there's a dark discolouration and it's raised and feels a bit velvety on the back of your legs, your neck and in your armpits, that's called Acanthosis nigricans. That can be a sign of insulin resistance, so if you're overweight or obese you might have PCOS and insulin resistance, and it's a marker for diabetes," she explains.
High cholesterol is another condition that can present on the skin. "When you get yellow patches or 'plaques' in the corners of your eyes, on your upper eyelids, they're called xanthelasmas — that's a sign you should get your cholesterol checked," Dr Wong says. If these plaques present around your elbows and knees, your cholesterol levels could be dangerously high.