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What Your Hair, Skin, & Nails May Be Telling You

Your body is always giving you clues to your health. Learn to decipher some of the most common ones related to your hair, skin, and nails to ensure you stay happy and healthy. You never ignore phone messages or text messages, so why not treat the messages your body is sending you with the same respect? Subtle variations in your hair, skin, or nails can often suggest major changes happening internally. While many conditions are treatable with over-the-counter products, some require a trip to your doctor. Listen to your body’s messages and take the time to treat yourself to good health.

...if a mole has irregular borders or is changing in shape or size.

An irregular mole could be an indicator that you’ve got skin cancer. “Lesions that grow, change in color, size, texture, or shape, or that are very large are concerning. New lesions that appear after your 20s should also be investigated,” says Dr. John Chung, a dermatologist with Skin Cancer & Cosmetic Dermatology Center. Your odds of developing skin cancer increase if you’re fair-skinned, have light-colored eyes, or a history of severe sunburns. Think: that time you accidentally fell asleep poolside and woke up looking like a lobster.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. One in five Americans will develop it, but if it’s caught early, it’s almost always curable. That’s why it’s a smart idea to do a monthly skin check on yourself and start annual dermatologist visits once you turn 30. A normal skin check takes about ten minutes. It’s so quick and easy, there’s no good reason to put it off.

...if you have persistent acne.

Remember as a 15-year-old how you couldn’t wait to be in your 20s so you could finally experience flawless skin? Well unfortunately, many adults continue to suffer from persistent acne far past their teens. If you’re well into adulthood and you’ve shopped the infomercials, tried a barrage of washes, scrubs, creams, and gels, yet none has fixed your troubled skin, it’s time to visit a dermatologist.

A dermatologist can study your skin, determine your condition, and recommend a treatment plan. With acne, it’s likely external factors like stress, or internal factors like hormone levels are at the root of the problem. According to Dr. Shavonda Sherrow, an obstetrician and gynecologist with Innovative Women’s Health Specialists, “With increased stress, your body produces cortisol, a stress hormone. When cortisol levels increase, they can affect your estrogen and progesterone levels, throwing them out of ratio. If your hormones are not in balance, you are likely to experience acne.”

There’s also a chance you have a skin condition that looks like acne but actually stems from another underlying problem. Regardless of the cause, acne-related issues are telling you that something is off, and a visit to the doctor should be a top priority.

...if you nails are yellowing or brittle.

It may surprise you to learn nail issues make up 10% of all dermatologic conditions. These issues increase with age and affect a large number of adults over 65. If your nails are yellow or brittle, it’s most likely a fungal infection. There are antifungal nail polishes and topical treatments, or your doctor may choose to prescribe a more effective oral antifungal medication.

In rare cases, melanoma has been known to grow under fingernails. If you notice a dark streak under your nail, it’s time to consult a physician.

...if you have dry skin that over-the-counter products can't fix.

Eczema is a broad diagnosis which includes a multitude of recurring skin conditions that result in irritated, itchy, dry skin. The exact cause of eczema is unknown, but it’s believed to be the result of an overactive immune system. While it won’t ever go away, eczema can often be managed with over-the-counter medications. “Eczema is more common in the wintertime because your skin cannot stay hydrated as easily,” says Dr. Sherrow. Flare-ups can be minimized by moisturizing, avoiding rough fabrics such as wool, and using gentle soaps and detergents formulated for sensitive skin.

However, if you’re a constant sufferer of eczema, you know the over-the-counter stuff doesn’t always cut it, and continuous outbreaks can be a huge aggravation. Your doctor may suggest corticosteroid injections, which are steroid shots to help with inflammation. An alternative and in-home option could be a prescription medication to help manage your eczema on a long-term basis and reduce breakouts.

...if you notice more hair than usual in your brush or shower.

Did you know it’s normal to shed 50 to 100 hairs on a daily basis? While this is true, if you lose much more, or it’s coming out in clumps, you should get it checked out. Hair loss can be indicative of immense stress, essential vitamin and nutrient imbalance, or a more serious issue, such as a thyroid problem.
A visit to your doctor is your best bet to determine the underlying cause and he or she can advise the perfect treatment plan f
or you.

Now, if you are pregnant or have recently given birth, your hair will undergo some major changes. “Your hair goes through four stages: Anagen (growing phase), Catagen (regression phase), Telogen (resting phase). When you are pregnant, your hair stays in the growing phase longer than usual, meaning you grow more hair than you typically would. After delivery, it enters the shedding phase. So, while you are shedding more hair than usual, it’s because you have more hair to shed. After a few months, everything will normalize,” says Dr. Sherrow. So don’t fear new mamas, your hair is simply returning to how it was pre-baby. 

...if rough, scaly patches develop on your knees, elbows, scalp, or feet.

This often suggest psoriasis. “Psoriasis is an inflammatory process that causes your skin cells to grow too quickly, resulting in thick, scaly plaques,” says Dr. Chung.. These are commonly found on the scalp, knees, elbows, or lower back and can be painful, itchy, and embarrassing. Like eczema, psoriasis is chronic, which means it never fully goes away and there is no cure. However, that doesn’t mean you have to suffer constantly.

Over-the-counter treatments can manage mild symptoms during an outbreak. But, if you feel your psoriasis isn’t managed well enough, visit your dermatologist. If your outbreaks are moderate, your physician may simply recommend a prescription topical treatment. For a severe outbreak, a complex treatment may be required including a combination of prescription strength topical ointment, light therapy, and oral medications to help suppress your overactive immune system.

...if your skin consistently looks red and flushed.

If you’ve got a perpetual blush, it’s possible you have rosacea. Rosacea presents itself as redness on the cheeks, nose, forehead, and chin. If it’s left untreated, your symptoms can become more severe. Small blood vessels in your face could become visible or you could even develop acne-like breakouts. “The symptoms of rosacea can be treated, however there is no cure,” says Dr. Chung.

Some research suggests your symptoms can worsen with sun exposure, wind, alcohol consumption, stress, cold weather, spicy foods, and exercise. But according to Dr. Chung, “With current medications, aesthetic products and procedures, and lifestyle modifications, doctors can stabilize most rosacea-prone skin and dramatically improve redness and inflammatory lesions.”

When performing a monthly skin check, remember to look in unlikely places like your elbows, underarms, palms, fingers, and toes, and don't forget your ABC's!

Asymmetry-mole’s haves don’t match

Borders are uneven

Color isn’t uniform

Diameter is larger than size of a pencil eraser (4mm)

Evolution of the mole-growth, inflammation, iching


Dr. John Chung

Dr. John Chung

Dermatologist and Surgeon, Skin Cancer & Cosmetic Dermatology Center

Dr. Shevonda Sherrow

Dr. Shevonda Sherrow

Obstetrician and Gynecologist, Innovative Women's Health Specialists

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