Your skin and your health

It shows your smile lines and how much time you spend outdoors. But your skin shows what is going on inside, too.

27 January 2014
by Delia du Toit

The skin is the body’s biggest organ, and as such, it’s often part of a group of symptoms that make up a particular condition, says Dr Marianne Duvenage, a dermatologist from NoviSkin in Pretoria. “It can be extremely accurate or very vague, so your doctor will always look at accompanying symptoms to make a diagnosis,” she explains.

Here are some important signals your skin might be sending you:

Dry skin

Although it could be due to not drinking enough water or a lack of moisture in the atmosphere, chronic dry skin can also be a symptom of hypothyroidism (where the thyroid gland produces too little thyroid hormone). In rare cases, dry skin can indicate an underlying malignancy, says Dr Duvenage. See your doctor if you experience ongoing dry, flaky and/or itchy skin that doesn’t clear up with reasonable lifestyle measures, such as drinking plenty of water and moisturising.

Moles and odd patches

There are two types of skin malignancies, namely melanoma or carcinoma. Melanoma can be spotted in moles, while carcinoma shows up as red, flaky patches that bleed easily – like a sore that doesn’t seem to heal properly. To spot melanoma, keep ABCDE in mind:
A for asymmetry of moles
B for an irregular border
C for colour variation (a mole that darkens or contains different colours)
D for a diameter of more than 5mm
E for evolve (any changes in a mole)

If you spot any of these symptoms, see a doctor without delay. Always remember to protect your skin with a generous layer of sunscreen when going out, paying particular attention to covering your moles. The Clicks SunProtect range has a product for every need.


If your skin takes on a yellow or bronze hue or becomes itchy, it might be due to liver problems. Jaundice causes the skin, eyes and fingernails to yellow, while bronzing is sometimes due to an inability to metabolise iron.

Dark skin

An all-over tan is one thing, but dark skin around your neck could be an early sign of insulin resistance and obesity, which leads to diabetes. Some diabetics never develop it, while others get it at various stages of the disease. It can also be a sign of an internal malignancy, such as stomach cancer.


Although often due to a mild allergic reaction to plants, detergents, creams and a host of other things that might have come into contact with your skin, a rash on your feet or lower legs that doesn’t respond to topical creams could mean a hepatitis C infection. It could also be a dangerous sign that your body is not responding well to medication you used, even some months ago. In extreme cases, it could indicate an internal malignancy. Whatever the case, it is best to seek medical advice for any rash of unknown origin.


Although there’s much speculation on the topic, medical literature has not yet verified that acne indicates hormonal or food-related issues, says Dr Duvenage. In young women, however, it could be a sign of insulin resistance and polycystic ovarian syndrome.

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