The Science Of Skin
Education and Advocacy Dermatology is a medical specialty that focuses on the skin, hair, and nails, but it’s not a superficial specialty by any stretch.
There are around 3,000 known skin diseases, ranging from the very common to the very rare. Acne affects a large proportion of people (85 percent), whereas vitiligo (patchy loss of skin pigmentation) occurs in less than 1 percent of the world’s population.
Skin specialists see everything from autoimmune disease, such as lupus and scleroderma, to sexually transmitted infections, such as genital warts and syphilis. In fact, dermatology intersects with a host of other medical specialties, including immunology, endocrinology, oncology, surgery, and psychiatry. This intersection occurs as many skin conditions reflect early problems occurring in a patient’s internal organs. The dermatologist detective can use skin clues to detect internal problems before these problems cause harm to the patient.
For example, about one-third of people with diabetes will develop some form of skin disease, such as fungal and bacterial infections. An itchy blistering rash or canker sores may sometime be the only obvious signs of Celiac disease.
It happens to everyone
At some point in our lives, most of us will develop some skin condition, be it a rash, chickenpox, or dandruff. Some skin conditions are fleeting, like hives. Others are chronic and marked by symptoms that either persist or are episodic, such as eczema. Some skin conditions grab the media spotlight more than others — like skin cancer and wrinkles. But there is a lot more to dermatology than biopsying suspicious moles and filling in laugh lines. Although many skin conditions are not life-threatening, the majority carry a heavy social and physical burden on effected patients.
More than skin deep
Besides visible skin changes, most skin diseases have a definitive psychosocial component. Vitiligo, psoriasis, and rosacea, for example, can cause social embarrassment and the associated emotional stress. Skin diseases can be socially limiting and isolating, they can affect employment opportunities, and they can severely affect an individual’s quality of life. A study in the British Journal of Dermatology reported, for example, that the “levels of social, psychological and emotional problems” related to having severe acne were comparable to people living with chronic diseases such as asthma, epilepsy, diabetes, back pain or arthritis.”
Innovations on the horizon
The good news is that exciting innovations in therapy continue to transform dermatology, allowing dermatologists to treat skin diseases more successfully. Immune-modifying biologics have revolutionized the treatment of psoriasis, while Mohs surgery has made it possible to accurately excise non-melanoma skin cancers while sparing healthy skin tissue. More innovations are on the horizon such as artificial bioactive skin to treat burns without skin grafts, and stem cell therapies that will speed up wound healing. Such promising new therapies will help millions of patients with skin diseases, so they can put their best face forward.