Your skin is the largest of the dozens of organs that make up the human body, covering the entire outside of the body. At 2 millimeters thick and weighing about 6 pounds, human skin acts as as a protective barrier against everything outside the body, including light, heat, disease, and injury. In addition, the skin serves as a thermostat, gathering data from the environment to regulate body temperature. It also provides a means through which the body can receive hydration and nutrients.
The skin is one of the body’s most vital organs (meaning it is necessary to sustain life). The appearance of your skin offers every person with a wide range of clues as to their age, health, and general well-being. But to a medical professional, a good look at your skin can be a first step in diagnosing a number of conditions and illnesses, according to plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon. Here are some of the surprising things your skin can reveal about your health.
Chin and jawline acne could point to PCOS
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a fairly common health condition among women of childbearing age. It’s caused by a hormonal imbalance that results in elevated androgen (relative to estrogen) levels in the body. The imbalance can lead to the development of multiple benign cysts on the ovaries, irregular periods, and infertility. The elevated androgen levels inherent in PCOS can cause changes in a woman’s appearance as well, dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse told Health Digest. These changes can include weight gain, thinning hair, the development of male-pattern facial hair, as well as chin and jawline acne.
Up to 10 percent of all women of childbearing age have PCOS, but many don’t realize it until they experience difficulty becoming pregnant. If you have irregular periods and notice chin and jawline acne and/or facial hair growth, it may be worth consulting your doctor. PCOS can be managed with hormones and diet, and many women can reverse the symptoms.
Dry skin and loss of eyebrows could mean a thyroid condition
While a diagnosis of a thyroid condition cannot be made just by looking at the skin, certain skin changes may suggest it’s worth having your thyroid levels checked out by a doctor. One is dry skin, which, according to dermatologist Joshua Ziechner can indicate low thyroid function. “We know that low thyroid function affects skin cell function, including its ability to protect itself from the environment and maintain hydration,” Dr. Zeichner told Health Digest.
Another is a eyebrow loss or thinning that can’t be blamed on overplucking, dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse explained to Health Digest. Like dry skin, eyebrow loss/thinning, which is known clinically as madarosis, can be a sign of an under-active thyroid. When this is the case, madarosis may be accompanied by cold intolerance, loss or thinning of scalp hair, weight gain, fatigue, and depression. “Thyroid hormones boost our metabolism and energy, so low levels can impact both how we feel and look,” Dr. Shainhouse noted. But the condition is treatable, usually via prescription thyroid hormone replacement.
A butterfly rash on the face could signify lupus
Lupus erythematosu, more commonly known just as lupus, is an autoimmune disease that can present with a rash on the face in the shape of what some describe as a butterfly, dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse told Health Digest. It has also been likened to a half-mask. Either way, it is known clinically as a malar rash. While the malar rash is most often associated with lupus, it can also be associated cellulitis, which is an infection of deep within the skin and potentially involving subcutaneous fat. A less serious condition with which the malar rash is associated is rosacea. Rosacea is a common skin condition that causes redness and visible blood vessels in your face.
Lupus, however, causes inflammation in tissues and organs, including not only the skin but also the muscles, joints, kidneys, lung, and heart, according to dermatologist Rhonda Klein. It tends to occur with a number of other symptoms, including sun sensitivity, joint pain, and neurological or psychological changes. The only way to know for sure what is causing the butterfly-shaped rash is to see a doctor.
Yellowing skin can be a symptom of liver disease
“Changes in our skin are indicators of our general health as well as signs of underlying disease,” plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon told Health Digest, which is why it is important to pay attention to those changes. Many will turn out to mean nothing, but some can be serious. One of the more serious skin changes seen in the medical world is a yellowing of the skin. Clinically, this is referred to as “jaundice,” and it can be seen not only on the skin but in the whites of the eyes and the mucous membranes.
Jaundice is caused by a high level of bilirubin, a yellow-orange bile pigment secreted by the liver. It is often associated with underlying disease, especially of the liver (including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and cancer), according to Dr. Ordon. Jaundice is also associated with pancreatic cancer and gallbladder cancer, but it can be a symptom of less serious conditions, like gallstones. In addition, jaundice can appear after taking certain medications, including penicillin.
Easy bruising could signify a blood disorder
Bleeding, whether externally or internally (aka bruising) after an injury is perfectly normal. However, if you’ve been bleeding or bruising with no obvious explanation, it is possible that it could indicate a blood disorder, according to dermatologist Joshua Ziechner. People with the blood-clotting disorder, hemophilia, may bleed excessively after a seemingly small injury. Platelet disorders can also result in excessive bleeding and bruising. Additionally, certain blood cancers can be responsible for excessive bruising and poor wound healing, Dr. Zeichner told Health Digest.
Hemophilia, platelet disorders, and blood cancers are rare, however. Other symptoms that would suggest someone may have a blood disorder include frequent, unexplained nosebleeds, excessive or prolonged periods, excessive bleeding while brushing teeth or flossing, and red or purple dots or patches on the skin. Other causes of excessive bleeding and bruising can include deficiencies in certain vitamins, including vitamin C and vitamin K.
Yellow bumps on the eyelids can indicate that you have high cholesterol
A surprising thing your skin can reveal about your health is your cholesterol level. Yes, thick, yellow/orange bumps known as xanthomas can be a sign that you have too much cholesterol circulating in your blood, dermatologist Rhonda Klein told Health Digest. When these bumps appear on the eyelids, they are known as xanthelasmas. They are actually made of cholesterol deposits under the skin, according to Dr. Klein.
Xanthomas can be very small or as large as three inches. Thankfully, though, they “may go away on their own” once you treat the underlying problem, according to Beth Israel Lahey Health. Although cholesterol is often the culprit, other health conditions that may cause these bumps can be just as, if not more, worrisome than high cholesterol. These include diabetes, low thyroid function (hypothyroidism), cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, and certain cancers. If you notice these bumps, you’ll want to schedule an appointment with your doctor to determine the cause.