The skin is the largest organ in our body and there’s so much it takes upon itself. As a protective barrier from the outside world, it keeps fluids in so you don’t get dehydrated. It maintains your body temperature, makes vitamin D, and houses all those nerve endings that help you sense things like cold, heat, and pain. And it soldiers on to keep harmful germs out so you don’t get infections. At the same time, your skin can fall prey to infections. And the villains that cause the infections are bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Read on to learn about some common skin infections that affect your skin.1
Bacterial Strike: Cellulitis, Impetigo, And Staph Infections
Some bacterial infections that can attack your skin include:
Cellulitis is a condition where the skin and the underlying tissues get infected by bacteria. This infection is most commonly caused by group A strep or streptococcal bacteria that can enter through a break in the skin caused by a cut, wound, burn, or bruise. People with cellulitis may experience symptoms like chills, fever, and swollen lymph nodes or glands. A painful red rash and blisters that scab over are quite common too.
What to do: Typically, a doctor would recommend a course of oral or intravenous antibiotics, depending on severity, to treat this condition. Often a blood test or skin sample is taken to identify the bacteria that caused the infection.2 Natural remedies like cat’s claw, witch hazel bark, and medical-grade manuka honey have been found to be effective against bacteria that can cause cellulitis.3 4
Impetigo is another skin infection typically caused by staphylococcal bacteria (commonly known as staph). However, strep bacteria may also cause it. Impetigo can be transmitted by contact with the nasal discharge or sores of an infected person. These harmful bacteria can also enter through a break in the skin caused by a cut, wound, insect bite, or scratch. Impetigo is mostly seen in children between 2 and 6 years of age.
If you have impetigo, you may initially see sores that look like pimples and reddened skin. These sores typically develop on the arms, face, and legs though they can occur anywhere. The sores then tend to fill with pus and break open after some days to form a crust.
What to do: Antibiotics are recommended to treat impetigo. Also, do keep in mind that though the sores that develop in this condition can be very itchy, scratching can cause them to spread.5
3. Staphylococcal Infections
There are over 30 kinds of staph bacteria and they commonly cause skin infections. Incidentally, these bacteria can also be responsible for pneumonia, toxic shock syndrome, food poisoning, and blood poisoning. A staph infection of the skin may look like a boil or pimple that can get swollen, red, painful and fill with pus. And sometimes, it can turn into impetigo or cellulitis too. Bacteria usually enter the body through a break in the skin like a scratch or cut or contact with an infected person or a contaminated surface.
What to do: Staph skin infection usually responds well to antibiotics. However, some bacteria like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are resistant to several commonly used antibiotics, making it difficult to fight them.6 MRSA bacteria may, however, be vulnerable to manuka honey, which stops these bacteria from attaching to tissues and thereby prevents infection. Moreover, it has also been found that certain antibiotics work better when they’re combined with manuka honey, even reversing drug resistance. Do keep in mind though that only medical grade honey should be used for treating wounds.7 Practicing good hygiene, keeping wounds clean and covered with a bandage, and not coming in touch with other people’s bandages or wounds can be helpful in preventing staph infections.8
Viral Onslaught: Shingles, Warts, And Cold Sores/Herpes
Here are some common viral infections that can affect your skin:
Shingles is an illness caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox – the varicella-zoster virus. The virus can remain in your body without causing any trouble for years after you get chickenpox but it may wake up when you get older to cause shingles. Shingles is most prevalent in people older than 50 though anyone who’s had chickenpox may get it. While a shingles rash isn’t contagious, someone with shingles can pass on the virus to a person who’s never had chicken pox. This generally tends to be a child who then gets chickenpox rather than shingles.
Initial symptoms of shingles include a shooting or burning pain, tingling, and itching. This typically affects one side of your face or body. The dermatome, which is a band that spans a side of the body around the waistline, is the most common area for shingles. The initial symptoms are followed by the appearance of blisters or rashes.
What to do: Shingles can’t be cured but treating early with antiviral medication can be helpful in quickening healing and preventing residual pain.9
Warts are skin growths caused by an infection of the top layer of the skin by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Warts are usually harmless and not a cause for concern. There are many kinds of warts – common warts show up on your fingers, plantar warts are found on the soles of your feet, flat warts occur in areas that you frequently shave, and genital warts are transmitted sexually. While warts generally tend to disappear on their own in children, they may linger on in adults. Wart viruses are pretty contagious and can spread by contact with the wart or with something that touched the wart.10
What to do:
6. Cold Sores And Herpes
You may be wondering why cold sores have been lumped with herpes. Well, the fact is they’re both caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Oral herpes results in cold sores on the face or around your mouth while genital herpes affects your buttocks, genitals, or anal area. There are 2 kinds of herpes simplex virus – HSV type 1 and HSV type 2 – and both can cause genital as well as oral herpes. However, HSV type 1 commonly causes cold sores while HSV type 2 usually causes genital herpes. HSV is extremely contagious and spreads through direct contact. It can cause sores that turn into itchy, painful blisters. The infection can be dangerous if it affects babies and people with weakened immune systems.12
What to do: Once you catch this virus, it tends to stay in your body for life so there’s no cure for this condition as such and you may find that symptoms flare up from time to time. However, your doctor can prescribe antiviral medicines that help to reduce symptoms. Also, it’s been observed that some factors like bright sunlight, fatigue, and stress can trigger an outbreak of oral herpes in some people so identifying and avoiding your triggers can be useful.13 Natural remedies like vitamin E, anti-inflammatory licorice, and antiviral lemon oil or lemon balm may also be useful.1415 16
Fungal Attack: Ringworm, Athlete’s Foot, Yeast infections
Here are some common fungal infections that can affect your skin:
Despite the name, ringworm has nothing to do with worms. Ringworm or tinea corporis is a fungal skin infection caused by fungi called dermatophytes. It shows up as a circular rash with a red rim and clear skin in the center. Ringworm can get scaly with a raised or lumpy edge too. It can affect any part of the body – scalp, palms, soles, groin, and nails.
Ringworm is a highly contagious infection that can spread through direct contact with someone who has it or through touching contaminated items like clothing. You can also get ringworm from infected pets. In fact, cats commonly carry the fungus. Since this fungus loves moist warm areas, your chances of getting this infection go up if you sweat excessively.
What to do: Do see a doctor if your infection doesn’t improve in a couple of weeks. Antifungal medication may be prescribed to clear it up.17 18 19 Natural remedies like garlic and aloe vera can also help.
8. Athlete’s foot
The same fungus that causes ringworm in the body causes athlete’s foot in your feet. It commonly affects the area between your toes and the sides of your foot. You may experience dry, scaly, cracked skin between your toes and have an itching or burning sensation if you have this infection. Keeping your feet clean and dry, and your toenails short and clean, and avoiding walking barefoot in places like community showers that may be contaminated by the fungus can help prevent this infection. Athlete’s foot is likely to recur even after an incident is successfully treated.
What to do: Over-the-counter antifungal ointments are usually effective at treating Athlete’s foot. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe stronger antifungal medication. Natural remedies like garlic and diluted tea tree oil can also be useful.20
9. Yeast Infections
Candida or yeast infection on the skin is called cutaneous candidiasis. Candida is a very common fungus that’s present almost everywhere, including your body. However, your immune system generally manages to keep it in check. But certain factors like being ill or using antibiotics can lead to an overgrowth of this fungus, resulting in an infection. Yeast can infect skin anywhere on your body but it prefers moist, warm areas, where it can cause itchy skin and rashes. Parts like your groin or armpits are particularly at risk.
It is also a common cause of diaper rash and can cause thrush, a condition where you get white patches in the mouth. Candida also commonly infects women’s vagina where it causes symptoms like an abnormal vaginal discharge, a burning or itching sensation, pain during sexual intercourse or urination, and cracking of skin in the genital area.21 22
What to do: Antifungal medications that clear up yeast infections are easily available. If you’re looking for a natural remedy, both garlic and yogurt, which contains Lactobacillus bacteria, have been found to inhibit candida.23 24 Keeping your skin clean and dry can also help.25
Parasitic Infections: Lice And Scabies
Here’s a look at some common parasitic infections:
Lice are parasites that live on your head or body and feed on human blood. Three kinds of lice can infect you – head lice, body lice, and pubic lice (also known as crabs). If you have lice you may experience symptoms like itching and a rash. You may also be able to see lice eggs (known as nits) or live lice crawling about. Lice don’t fly or hop, but, instead, move about by crawling. Therefore, close contact with an infected person is generally needed to catch lice.
What to do: Pesticidal washes and shampoos are effective at getting rid of lice. Special combs with flat closely placed teeth too can be used to comb out head lice.26 27 Applying petroleum jelly to suffocate head lice is a remedy you can try. Or add a few drops of neem oil to your hair wash for an even stronger home remedy.28 You can also use diluted tea tree oil in different combinations to get rid of lice.
Scabies is caused by a tiny mite known as Sarcoptes scabei. The main sign of scabies is severe itching that tends to get worse at night. This condition can also cause a rash where the mites burrow into your skin. Scratching the rash too much can lead to skin infections like impetigo, and eczema or psoriasis can get worse. Scabies is typically spread by long periods of skin contact with someone who’s infected or by sexual contact. But it’s also possible to get scabies by sharing bedding, towels, or clothes with an infected person though this form of transmission is not very common.
What to do: Topical treatment options that contain insecticides to kill the mite are available. It’s advisable to disinfect the affected person’s bedding and clothes by washing in hot water. Treat family members or sexual partners at the same time to halt the infection.29 30 Neem oil can also work against scabies.31
|↑1||Healthy Skin Matters. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑2||Cellulitis. National Institutes of Health (NIH).|
|↑3||Connors, Martha and Larry Altshuler. The Everything Guide to Herbal Remedies: An easy-to-use reference for natural health care. Everything Books, 2009.|
|↑4, ↑7||Can honey fight superbugs like MRSA?. National Health Service.|
|↑6||Staphylococcal Infections. NIH.|
|↑9||Shingles Information Page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).|
|↑10||Warts American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).|
|↑12||Cold sore (herpes simplex virus) – Causes.
|↑13||Cold sore (herpes simplex virus) – Causes. National Health Service.|
|↑14||Fink, M., and J. Fink. “TREATMENT OF HERPES-SIMPLEX BY ALPHA-TOCOPHEROL (VITAMIN-E).” BRITISH DENTAL JOURNAL 148, no. 11-1 (1980): 246-246.|
|↑15||Mars, Brigitte, and Chrystle Fiedler. The Country Almanac of Home Remedies: Time-Tested & Almost Forgotten Wisdom for Treating Hundreds of Common Ailments, Aches & Pains Quickly and Naturally. Fair Winds Press (MA), 2014.|
|↑16||Allahverdiyev, A., N. Duran, M. Ozguven, and S. Koltas. “Antiviral activity of the volatile oils of Melissa officinalis L. against Herpes simplex virus type-2.” Phytomedicine 11, no. 7 (2004): 657-661.|
|↑17||Ringworm. Raising Children Network (Australia) Limited.|
|↑20||Athlete’s Foot. NIH.|
|↑21||Candida infection of the skin. NIH.|
|↑22||Vaginal yeast infection. NIH.|
|↑23||Lemar, Katey M., M. P. Turner, and David Lloyd. “Garlic (Allium sativum) as an anti‐Candida agent: a comparison of the efficacy of fresh garlic and freeze‐dried extracts.” Journal of Applied Microbiology 93, no. 3 (2002): 398-405.|
|↑24||Hilton, Eileen, Henry D. Isenberg, Phyllis Alperstein, Kenneth France, and Michael T. Borenstein. “Ingestion of yogurt containing Lactobacillus acidophilus as prophylaxis for candidal vaginitis.” Annals of Internal Medicine 116, no. 5 (1992): 353-357.|
|↑25||Yeast Infections. NIH.|
|↑26||How to get rid of head lice and nits. National health service.|
|↑28||Heukelbach, Jörg, Fabíola AS Oliveira, and Richard Speare. “A new shampoo based on neem (Azadirachta indica) is highly effective against head lice in vitro.” Parasitology research 99, no. 4 (2006): 353-356.|
|↑29||Scabies. National Health Service.|
|↑30||Skin Infections. NIH.|
|↑31||Arunachalan, Srikantha. Treatise On Ayurveda. Diamond Pocket Books (P) Ltd., 2004.|