Skin symptoms like dryness, redness, or rough patches typically catch the eye, because they’re cosmetic—but they may not only be skin deep. Some skin symptoms might be the result of a hidden health condition or nutrient deficiency, not a skin issue.
According to Todd Sontag, DO, Family Medicine at Orlando Health, some nutrient deficiencies can pop up in combination with other conditions—like celiac disease or diabetes, for instance. Take note of all new skin symptoms and bring them to your doctor. And while you wait for your visit, it’s never a bad idea to focus on eating more vitamin-rich fruits and veggies.
Don’t skip the doctor’s visit and try to treat deficiencies yourself—or attempt to treat the skin condition, but ignore the underlying issue. “It’s important to see your physician to get an accurate diagnosis,” says Sontag. “It is also common for someone to have more than one nutritional deficiency at one time.” A doctor can determine whether an inadequate intake of vitamins is due to poor eating habits or an absorption issue in the gut, he says.
Always consult your doctor before trying topical remedies or taking any vitamins or supplements. “Over-treating or over-supplementing can lead to additional problems,” says Sontag. Here, six skin symptoms and potential underlying issues Sontag recommends showing your doc.
6 Skin Conditions That May Signal Underlying Health Issues
Chronic Dry Skin
Skin that’s constantly dry or peeling could be a sign of a nutrient need. “Your diet might be deficient in zinc, vitamin A, or essential fatty acids,” says Sontag. “Those symptoms could also be the manifestation of a systemic condition, like thyroid disorders.” Get a doctor’s appointment on you calendar, and make sure you’re eating balanced meals that include zinc (lean meat, dairy, nuts), vitamin A (sweet potatoes, dark, leafy greens) and add fatty acids (walnuts, flaxseeds, fish).
Significant Hair Loss
If your hair starts collecting in the shower drain, on your bathroom floor or in your brush, you might be losing strands due to deficiencies of protein, biotin, or zinc. “It can also be a result of systemic conditions like thyroid disorders and fungal infections, or an autoimmune condition,” says Sontag. “The treatment is based on the cause, and is usually reversible.” Call your doctor for a consult, and up your protein intake with fish, lean meat, soy or nuts; add biotin with eggs, almonds, and whole-wheat products; and nosh more zinc with red meat, poultry, beans or nuts.
Nails that sink in or “spoon,” creating a concave shape instead of their gentle curve along the nail bed, might signal an iron deficiency, says Sontag. “It can also be caused by a thyroid disorder, as well as some autoimmune conditions.” See your doctor to rule out health conditions, while adding more iron to your meals with the help of red meat, dark greens, and fortified whole-grain cereals.
Don’t ignore patches of skin that look dirty and have a velvety feel, says Sontag. “They commonly appear on the neck, armpit and groin, and could be an early sign of diabetes, among other conditions,” he says. “You’ll need to see the doctor to have lab work done and identify the source of the problem.”
Skin splitting at the corners of the mouth in the winter are common, but if the wounds won’t heal or the inflammation seems abnormal, see your doctor. “This can signal a deficiency of vitamin B2 (riboflavin), iron, or zinc,” Sontag says. “It could also be caused by a bacterial or fungal infection—in which case your physician will need prescribe the right course of treatment.” In the meantime, you can get more vitamin B2 into your diet by eating milk, mushrooms, and almonds; iron from red meat and dark, leafy greens; and zinc from lean meat, nuts or whole grains.
Very Itchy Skin
There’s the occasional patch of dry, itchy skin—and then there’s extremely itchy skin, complete with a burning sensation, possible blisters and bumps. “This is commonly seen on the elbows, knees, buttocks, and shoulders,” says Sontag, “and can be caused by a gluten allergy, thyroid disease, or other condition.” You’ll need to see physician to be properly diagnosed. If it’s a gluten issue, Sontag says the problem could take six to 12 months to clear up.
When the root cause is identified and treated, most skin issues can be cleared up. But it’s important to have your doctor check it out to identify the issue and put you on a plan to fully treat the condition and its symptoms.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.