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Blemishes be gone: Clearing up three common problems

Throughout life, you’re likely to develop a number of skin problems as the result of hormonal, environmental or viral factors. From diaper rash and childhood eczema to teenage acne and midlife rosacea—not to mention the sundry blemishes and bumps along the way—it’s no wonder dermatologists treat more than 2,000 skin diseases.

Here’s a look at three common skin conditions, along with some steps for clearing them up.


Hives are red, swollen, often itchy welts that crop up in all sizes and last anywhere from a few hours to a month or more. About one in five people experience acute hives during their lifetimes. Chronic hives occur less often.

Causes: Drug or food allergies, extreme temperatures, exercise, emotional stress, water, sunlight, pressure on the skin or scratches can cause hives. Allergic reactions, one of the most common sources, cause cells that line blood vessels in the skin to release histamine, which can trigger hives.

Treatment: You can treat mild cases with over-the-counter medication containing antihistamines. Wear loose, light clothing; take cool showers; apply cool compresses to the irritated areas; and minimize vigorous activity. See your physician for severe cases, which can be treated with oral corticosteroid drugs. More serious problems can occur if hives block breathing in the throat.

Prevention tip: Avoid substances or situations that triggered past attacks.


These small, fleshy skin growths can appear anywhere on your body but are commonly found on your hands. (Plantar warts appear on the soles of your feet and often have tiny black dots—clotted blood vessels—in the center of the warts.) They can last anywhere from a few weeks to two years.

Causes: Human papillomavirus (HPV) stimulates wart growth and results from direct contact with an infected person or surface, such as a shower floor. Warts spread through dry, cracked skin or moist feet.

Treatment: Most warts disappear on their own, but over-the-counter treatment can peel off infected skin. If you’re pregnant, see your doctor before using nonprescription medication or if warts appear in the genital area. (Genital warts can lead to cervical cancer.) Your doctor may remove warts through regular or laser surgery, by injection with medication or by freezing them with liquid nitrogen.

Prevention tips: Avoid biting your fingernails and walking barefoot in public areas like pools and locker rooms. Don’t spread warts by picking at them or shaving or brushing over them.


Also known as dermatitis, eczema appears as swollen, red and itchy skin that can cause a person discomfort and embarrassment.

Causes: Contact dermatitis occurs when your skin comes into contact with an irritant or allergen. Seborrheic dermatitis, often an inherited condition, appears as greasy, scaling areas at the sides of your nose, between eyebrows, behind ears or on your chest. It can occur during stressful times. Atopic dermatitis often is related to allergies and other allergic conditions, such as asthma or hay fever.

Treatment: Treatments vary according to the dermatitis type. Your doctor may prescribe hydrocortisone creams, special shampoos or immune-boosting medications.

Prevention tips: Avoid irritants, such as certain clothing and detergents, and dry skin. Choose soaps that don’t strip oils, dry yourself carefully after washing and moisturize your skin. Also avoid scratching affected areas.