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What is dermatosis?

Dermatosis is a term that refers to diseases of the integumentary system. This classification includes everything on the surface of the body: skin, nails, and hair. Any condition affecting the skin could be categorized a dermatosis. This doesn’t include skin conditions that involve inflammation (that would be dermatitis).Your skin is the largest organ on your body. Thousands of documented conditions can affect the skin, hair, and nails.

Skin has several layers, including the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutaneous tissue. A dermatosis may involve changes in any or all of these skin layers. Terms you may hear to describe dermatosis of the skin include:

  • rash: a wide variety of skin conditions that are red and raised
  • lesion: an area of skin that is abnormal
  • macule: a change in color or consistency of the skin
  • papule: a bump on the skin smaller than 1 cm in diameter
  • nodule: a bump on the skin larger than 1 cm in diameter
  • plaque: a large area of affected skin with defined edges that may flake or peel
  • vesicles and bullae: raised bumps that are filled with fluid
  • lichenification: a thick discoloration of skin, such as lichen on a tree
  • pustules: a bump that contains pus, possibly due to infection

Common skin conditions

There are thousands of different skin conditions. Some of the most common forms of dermatosis include:

  • acne: when the oil glands in skin cause pimples and scarring
  • impetigo: a skin infection caused by bacteria
  • melanoma: the most serious form of skin cancer
  • basal cell carcinoma: the most common form of skin cancer that strikes in the top layer of the epidermis
  • moles: dark growths on the skin
  • actinic keratosis: crusty pre-cancerous growths caused by sun damage
  • erythema nodosum: inflammation of fat under the skin of the shins, resulting in red lumps
  • lupus erythrematosus: an autoimmune disease that may create a "butterfly" rash on the face
  • morphea: localized scleroderma, or hardened patches of skin
  • vitiligo: white of patches of skin
  • tinea: fungal infection of skin that leaves round marks
  • nail clubbing: when nails curve around the fingertips due to low oxygen levels in the blood
  • spoon nails (koilonychia): an indication of iron deficiency or liver condition called hemochromatosis
  • onycholysis: when the fingernails become loose and separate from the nail bed
  • Beau’s lines: indentations that run across the nails
  • yellow nail syndrome: a discoloration of  the nails
  • alopecia areata: hair loss in round patches
  • head lice: miniscule parasitic insects that live on the scalp
  • wrinkles: the influence of aging on skin

Common causes of dermatosis

Dermatosis is caused by a number of different reasons. Still, the origins of some skins conditions are unknown. The most common causes of dermatosis include:

  • autoimmune disorders: This occurs when a person’s body starts to attack itself and can cause skin conditions to develop such as vitiligo, lupus, and alopecia areata.
  • bacteria: The bacteria Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes can cause skin infections such as impetigo.
  • fungus: The tinea fungus can cause skin infections, such as athlete’s foot.
  • genetic susceptibility: For example, people with the gene HLA-DR4 have a higher risk of experiencing dermatosis than those who do not.
  • viruses: The HIV/AIDS virus is a common cause of ashy dermatosis.

Less common examples of dermatosis

There is a variety of skin conditions that have the term "dermatosis" in their name. But not all occur as frequently as others. Some less common examples of dermatosis include:

  • transient acantholytic dermatosis (Grover’s disease): chronic, itchy blistering triggered by heat or sweating
  • acute febrile neutrophilic dermatosis (Sweet’s syndrome): red, swollen rash with fever and papules filled with white blood cells
  • ashy dermatosis: gray- or bluish-brown colored macules that develop on the body
  • rheumatoid neutrophilic dermatosis: a skin manifestation of rheumatoid arthritis
  • dermatosis papulosa nigra: many small, benign, dark skin lesions on the face, often in dark-skinned people
  • dermatosis neglecta: wart-like plaque caused by inadequate washing of a patch of skin
  • dermatosis cinecienta: ashy-colored, symmetrical patches of thickened skin beginning in individuals under 40 years old
  • linear lichenoid dermatosis: skin condition in children that results in small, scaly papules
  • pigmented purpuric dermatosis: reddish-brown patches of skin that may look like individual dots, caused when capillaries leak, also called capillaritis
  • digitate dermatosis: finger shaped psoriatic rash at the side of your waist
  • contagious pustular dermatosis: papules caused by direct contact with sheep affected with sheep pox
  • juvenile plantar dermatosis: when the soles of the feet in children begin to crack and  peel

Difficulties of diagnosis

It’s difficult to diagnose skin conditions without the help of an expert. There are thousands of possible skin conditions, so it’s important to discuss any changes with your doctor. To get a proper diagnosis your doctor may want to take a biopsy and examine the sample under a microscope.

Changes in skin can be external or internal. Skin infections or contact with an outside substance such as poison oak can cause skin changes. Internal skin conditions could reflect a disease within the body such as lupus or measles.

Treatments for dermatosis

Treatments for dermatosis are often specific to the underlying condition. The treatments for hair loss related to alopecia areata are understandably not the same as those for acne. However, there are guidelines to keep in mind when you have a dermatosis-related skin condition.

Good, general treatment practices include:

  • avoid rubbing, itching, or picking at the affected area
  • wash your hands regularly to avoid transmitting bacteria, fungus, or viruses to others
  • avoid sharing personal care items, such as razors, towels, hairbrushes, or bed linens, with others to avoid transmitting a condition to another

Depending on your specific dermatosis, some of the following treatments may be recommended:

  • apply a corticosteroid ointment (hydrocortisone), to the affected areas to reduce dermatosis symptoms
  • take or apply medications, such as antibiotics or antifungals, as prescribed by a doctor
  • apply a soothing ointment, such as coconut oil or aloe, to reduce skin dryness
  • keep the affected area clean and dry
  • wash the skin regularly with an antibacterial soap that doesn’t have harsh fragrances or dyes

Your doctor may have disease-specific treatment recommendations for dermatosis. Talk with your doctor before attempting any treatment. Some remedies maybe good for certain forms of dermatosis while others may be counteractive or harmful. 

Content licensed from:

Written by: Christine Case-Lo and Rachel Nall
Medically reviewed on: Sep 06, 2016: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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