What Is Dermatosis?

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Dermatosis refers to several skin conditions and may involve the hair and nails as well. It includes any irregularity or lesion on the skin.

Conditions of the skin, also known as dermatoses, can be caused by a variety of factors, including infections, irritation, autoimmune diseases, or cancer.

Treatment for dermatosis depends on the cause, and may include topical steroids, moisturizers, antibiotics, antifungals, or chemotherapy.

Because there are several different types of dermatoses, it can be difficult to diagnose yourself. See your dermatologist to find out what is causing your skin problem and how to treat it. 

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Dermatosis Terminology

Dermatosis means any skin irregularity or lesion. Skin conditions that cause inflammation of the skin, such as eczema, are known as dermatitis.

The following conditions are examples of dermatoses:

  • Lesion: An area of the skin that is different than the surrounding skin
  • Macule: A flat, discolored area of skin
  • Papule: A solid or cystic raised spot on the skin that is less than 1 cm wide
  • Nodule: A growth on the skin
  • Plaque: A thick patch of skin
  • Pustule: A small, pus-filled lesion
  • Rash: An area of irritated or swollen skin
  • Vesicle: A small, fluid-filled blister

Types of Dermatosis 

Our skin is the largest organ of the body. You could experience myriad conditions that affect your skin. 


Acne is a very common skin problem that occurs when the pores on your skin become clogged from dirt, oil, or bacteria. Once your pore is clogged, pimples form on the skin. Acne most often appears on the face, back, chest, and shoulders. 

Alopecia Areata

Alopecia areata is a dermatosis that causes round patches of hair to fall out. The hair usually falls out in quarter-sized patches, but this condition rarely results in total hair loss. It can happen to hair anywhere on the body, including the scalp, face, underarms, and ears. 

Epidermolysis Bullosa

Epidermolysis bullosa causes fragile skin that tears or blisters easily. Symptoms usually begin at birth and worsen as you get older. There is no cure for epidermolysis bullosa, but it can be successfully managed with treatment. 

Hidradenitis Suppurativa

Hidradenitis suppurativa, also known as acne inversa, is a chronic skin condition that causes acne breakouts on and under the skin. The pimple-like bumps form a tunnel under the skin and can cause scarring. 


Ichthyosis is a group of skin conditions that cause dry, scaly skin. The patches of scales are usually itchy, rough, and red. 


Impetigo is a common skin infection caused by bacteria. It is very contagious and can be spread through skin-to-skin contact. It is common in young children and athletes like wrestlers. The infection usually starts as itchy sores that later crust over. 

Keratosis Pilaris

Keratosis pilaris, also known as chicken skin, occurs when tiny red bumps appear on the skin. This condition is very common and harmless. The bumps may become more noticeable when your skin is dry. 

Lichen Sclerosus

Lichen sclerosus is a skin condition that usually affects the genital and anal areas. It causes small white spots on the skin that grow into thicker patches over time. Lichen sclerosus may cause scarring and raise your risk of skin cancer.


Lupus is an autoimmune condition that affects the skin in several ways. It may cause sores, thick patches of scales, a widespread rash, and a butterfly rash on the skin. It may also affect the joints and lungs. 

Molluscum Contagiosum 

Molluscum contagiosum is a viral infection of the skin that is common in young children. Children who have eczema are more likely to develop this condition. It is contagious until all of the small, firm bumps resolve. 


Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes thick plaques of the skin. It occurs when skin cells regenerate too quickly. This causes the dead skin cells to accumulate on the skin instead of flaking off as they should. The plaques of skin that develop are usually silvery-white and itchy. 


Ringworm is caused by a fungal infection of the skin. Both athlete’s foot and jock itch are examples of ringworm infections. 

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. The most common forms are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer and requires treatment right away. 


Vitiligo is a chronic condition that causes patches of skin to lose their color, also known as pigment. There is no cure for vitiligo but the discoloration can be treated. 

Less Common Types of Dermatoses

  • Ashy dermatosis: Ashy dermatosis, also known as erythema dyschromicum perstans, is a chronic condition that causes hyperpigmented macules on the trunk of the body. 
  • Pachyonychia congenita: Pachyonychia congenita is a rare genetic skin condition that is usually diagnosed at birth. It causes overgrowth of nails and thick, painful calluses on the feet.  
  • Pemphigus: Pemphigus is a group of skin diseases that cause blisters on the inside of the mouth, nose, throat, eyes, and genitals. It is an autoimmune disorder and is rare in the United States.

Causes of Dermatosis

The causes of dermatosis vary by condition:

  • Acne occurs when skin pores become clogged with oil, dirt, or bacteria. It is more common during adolescence because the increase in hormones during this period causes the skin’s oil glands to increase oil production. This leads to a buildup of oil on the skin. 
  • Pemphigus, psoriasis, and lupus are autoimmune disorders, where the immune system attacks healthy cells by mistake. 
  • Epidermolysis bullosa, ichthyosis, and pachyonychia congenita are caused by a gene mutation inherited by a parent. 
  • Impetigo occurs when bacteria enter the skin. Molluscum contagiosum is caused by a viral infection of the skin. 
  • Skin cancer is caused by an overgrowth of abnormal skin cells, and is usually related to ultraviolet (UV) rays exposure. 

Skin conditions can be exacerbated by a lack of sleep, exposure to the sun, and nicotine. 

We do not know the exact cause of all dermatoses. For example, hidradenitis suppurativa does not have a known cause, but is thought to be influenced by genetics, hormones, and environmental factors. Lichen sclerosus may be related to an overactive immune system, while vitiligo may be related to an autoimmune disease. 


A dermatologist can diagnose dermatosis. Many skin conditions share common symptoms, and it can be challenging to differentiate one from the other. Your dermatologist will be able to determine the type of dermatosis you have by examining your skin. 

Once your dermatologist has performed a thorough physical exam, they may order additional tests. A blood test may be ordered if an autoimmune condition is suspected. Your doctor may also obtain a skin biopsy and study the skin cells under a microscope to make a diagnosis. 

When To Call the Doctor

Many dermatoses are normal and will resolve on their own. If you have tried treating your skin irritation at home and are not noticing any improvement, make an appointment with your primary care doctor or dermatologist. Be on the lookout for signs of infection, such as pus or fever. If you are concerned that a new skin growth could be cancerous, make an appointment with your doctor right away. 


Treatment for dermatosis depends on the underlying cause. For example, a fungal infection of the skin like ringworm can only be effectively treated with an antifungal medication. While some dermatoses require a wait-and-see approach, others require treatment right away.

Treatment for other types of dermatosis include:

  • Acne is often treated with one or a combination of a retinoid, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and antibiotic. 
  • Your dermatologist may recommend waiting to treat alopecia areata since this condition sometimes resolves on its own. They may recommend treatment with corticosteroids, Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors, phototherapy, or biologics if it doesn't. 
  • Epidermolysis bullosa cannot be cured, but can be managed with pain relievers and good wound care. 
  • Hidradenitis suppurativa treatment depends on the severity of the condition and may include biologics, antibiotics, corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, retinoids, and hormonal treatments. 
  • Skin infections like impetigo require antibiotic treatment. 
  • Phototherapy may be used to treat psoriasis and vitiligo. 
  • Skin cancer is treatable when diagnosed and treated early. Treatment may include removal of the cancerous growth, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. 

Most treatment plans for dermatosis include keeping the skin clean and dry. Using a quality moisturizer without artificial dyes or scents may also help. 

Preventing Flare-Ups

Each type of dermatosis has its own triggers. The best way to prevent flare-ups is to carefully observe your skin for changes. In addition to paying close attention to your skin, there are several self-care strategies that you can start trying at home. 

Moisturize Regularly

Dry skin can quickly become irritated, especially during cold, dry months in the winter. Give your skin the moisture it craves by using a quality moisturizer that is free of artificial dyes and scents. Be sure to moisturize after a shower or bath, as this is the time when your skin is most ready to absorb moisture. Keep your skin hydrated by drinking plenty of water as well. 

Remember Sunscreen

Exposure to the sun’s UV rays leads to sunburn, skin discoloration, and eventually skin cancer. Even on cloudy or cold days, apply sunscreen to your face and any other areas that are exposed before you head out the door. 

Don’t Sit In Sweat

Any time your skin is covered in sweat, oil and bacteria are more likely to mix with the sweat and clog your pores. This can lead to acne breakouts and other skin irritations.

After spending time in the hot sun or working out, shower and wash your face right away. Avoid sitting in damp clothes or allowing the sweat to sit on your face for extended periods of time. 

Opt for Cotton Clothing

To avoid irritating your skin, choose loose-fitted, cotton clothing. Cotton allows your skin to breathe and won’t trap moisture like other fabrics. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are systemic dermatoses? 

Systemic dermatoses are skin irregularities or lesions that affect the entire body. Examples include autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis or systemic lupus erythematosus

What is the difference between dermatitis and dermatosis?

Dermatitis refers to a skin condition that causes inflammation of the skin. Examples include eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, and cellulitis. The name of the condition usually ends with “-itis,” which means swelling. 

Is dermatosis contagious? 

The short answer is it depends. If your case of dermatosis is caused by an infection, then it may be contagious. Impetigo, for example, is a common bacterial skin infection that is highly contagious. 

Dermatoses caused by an autoimmune condition or cancer are not contagious, and there is no need to take special precautions to avoid spreading it.


Dermatosis is an umbrella term that encompasses many conditions that cause skin irregularities. Not all dermatoses are preventable because some are autoimmune or caused by genetic mutations. Monitor your skin for any changes if you have dermatosis, and reach out to your healthcare provider for help as soon as you notice any changes.

A Word From Verywell

Dermatosis refers to several different types of skin conditions. Any irregularity of the skin is considered a dermatosis. If the skin is inflamed, however, the condition is considered dermatitis, not dermatosis. 

If you suspect that you are experiencing dermatosis, see your dermatologist to be examined. They can help you figure out the correct diagnosis. There are several different treatment options when it comes to your skin. Working with a specialist can help you pick the right treatment fast. 

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH
Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.