The Ways Your Skin Tells You Something's Wrong

The Ways Your Skin Tells You Something's Wrong

Last update: 13 August, 2015

Experts are increasingly recognising that our skin’s appearance, from discolouration to new growths, can sometimes be the first sign of more serious underlying health problems. Here we outline five key ways in which your skin might be trying to tell you something is about your health. Don’t ignore it!

The thickness of the skin varies from location to location on an organism. In humans, for example, the skin under the eyes and around the eyelids is the thinnest skin on the body at 0.5 mm thick, and is one of the first areas to show signs of aging such as “crow’s feet” and wrinkles. The skin on the palms and the soles of the feet is 4 mm thick and the back is 14 mm thick and is the thickest skin in the body. Our skin is our largest organ, and can be considered the window to the health of our entire body.

Function of the skin

Skin performs some vital functions including:

  1. Protection: the skin is a barrier to pathogens and damage. Some special skin cells are part of the adaptive immune system.
  2. Sensation: your skin contains a variety of nerve endings that detect temperature, pressure and injury.
  3. Thermoregulation: skin sweat glands and dilated blood vessels aid heat loss, while constricted vessels conserve heat.
  4. Control of evaporation: the skin provides a relatively dry and semi-impermeable barrier to reduce fluid loss.
  5. Storage of lipids and water.
  6. Water resistance: acts as a water resistant barrier so essential nutrients aren’t washed out of the body. The nutrients and oils that help hydrate the skin are covered by the most outer skin layer, called the epidermis.

1. Breakouts and pimples

Sometimes a skin breakout is accompanied by other symptoms like fever and joint and muscle pain and this could be a sign of an internal problem or infection. A breakout can also indicate an allergy or a reaction to a medication.

A velvety breakout on the lower part of the neck or around the arms with a slightly darker colour than the normal skin tone can be an indicator of type II diabetes. It should always be checked out by a doctor.

2. Tan colour and other discolourations of the skin


In people with diabetes, a tan colour on the skin can be a signal of a problem with the metabolism of iron. A yellowish colour to the skin, on the other hand, can be a signal of an insufficiency in the liver and can appear along with a yellow colour in the white part of the eyes.

Darkening of the skin, mostly visible in scars and skin folds, as well as joints like the elbow and knees, could be a sign of a hormonal disease, like Addison’s disease, that affects the suprarenal glands. Talk to your doctor about this.

3. New growths

People who see new growths on their skin should always see a doctor because it could be a sign of skin cancer. Also, yellow protuberances on the arms, legs, or buttocks could be a consequence of increased levels of triglycerides, which may indicate diabetes.

4. Changes in the nails


Changes in the colour or shape of the nails can often be a sign of a deficiency in certain systems. Changes in nails that look like a fungal growth could be psoriasis, despite the condition typically affecting the skin. Also, liver and kidney problems can sometimes cause changes in the colour of the nails.

5. Changes in skin hardness and dryness

High blood pressure and kidney problems sometimes cause the skin to get thicker. On the other hand, very dry skin and itchiness could be a sign of hormonal problems, like hypothyroidism. People with an auto-immune disease called systemic sclerosis can also experience inflammation and hardening of the skin.

On the other hand, very loose and silky skin is a symptom of a rare connective tissue disease that could indicate blood cancer like lymphoma or multiple myeloma and could progress to affecting internal organs.

Some of these conditions are very rare and skin complaints are much more likely to be mild conditions that your doctor can treat. Give them a call if you are concerned.