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Diseases And Disturbances Of The Skin

Sources: A Handbook Of Health

Their Chief Causes. Skin troubles are of two main kinds according to

their cause: internal, due to the irritation of waste-poisons, or

toxins, in the blood; and external, from direct injury or irritation

of the skin from without.

The latter are often due to the wearing of too tight or too heavy

clothing, or the failure properly to wash, cleanse, and ventilate the

skin. Some of the lesser disturbances come
from the chafing of collars,

wristlets, and belts, and are, of course, relieved by loosening the

clothing or substituting soft, comfortable cotton for rasping flannels.

Others come from the use of too strong soaps, or the too frequent use of

hot water, or too vigorous scrubbing of the skin, and these can be

relieved by the avoidance of their cause.

Sunburn and Freckles and how to Cure Them. Upon the hands and face,

sunburn and freckles may occur from exposure to the weather. They are

not caused necessarily by exposure to direct sunlight; as the bright

light and the cold air out of doors, also, will produce this irritating

effect upon the skin.

The best way to cure sunburn is to bathe in cool water, take a night's

rest, then go out the next day, and the day after, and take another dose

of exposure, keeping this up until your face is hardened to stand a

reasonable amount of sun. If you are in proper condition, neither your

face nor your hands will sunburn uncomfortably. If they do, except under

extreme exposure, it is a sign that you have not been living out of

doors enough.

The various face-washes and creams and dusting powders which are used

for the relief of sunburn, while they may, if mild enough, make the face

feel somewhat more comfortable for a little time, owe most of their

virtues to the fact that they are generally used at bedtime and then get

the credit for the cure which nature works while you are asleep. If you

should buy them, and keep them on your dressing-table unopened, where

you could see them before you went to bed, you would in nine cases out

of ten be just as much better in the morning as if you had used them.

The only harm done by freckles is to your vanity. They and sunburn both,

in fact, are protective actions on nature's part, filling the skin with

coloring matter, or pigment, so as to protect it, and the tissues

below, from the irritating effects of the strong rays of light.

A like deposit of pigment, in greater amounts, in the skins of races who

live in or near the tropics, gives rise to the characteristic coloring

of the black, brown, and yellow races. The pigment, or coloring matter,

is of exactly the same kind in all, from the negro to the white. The

brown race having a little less of it than the negro, the yellow race a

little less yet, and the white least of all, though there is some of it

in even the whitest of skins.

Real Skin Diseases. Most of the serious and lasting diseases of the

skin are caused by the attack of germs. Perfect cleanliness and

ventilation are the best protection against them all; but if you should

be unfortunate enough to catch one of these diseases, your doctor will

be able to give you the mild germicide or antiseptic that will kill the

particular germ that may have lodged upon your skin.

The commonest form of inflammation of the skin is called eczema, and

eight-tenths of all eczemas are due to some mild germ, and can be cured

by the appropriate poison for it.

Other diseases, particularly of the scalp, such as ringworm and

dandruff, are due to other forms of vegetable germs, and may be cured

by their proper poisons; while others, such as the so-called prairie

itch (scabies), and lice in the hair, are due to the presence of tiny

animal parasites.

The Hookworm. Another disease which enters through the skin is the now

famous hookworm, or blood-sucking parasite, which has been found to be

so common in tropical regions and in our Southern States. This parasite

has the curious habit of attaching itself by hooks surrounding its

mouth (which gave it its name), to the lining of the human intestine,

particularly its upper third. There it swings, and lives by sucking the

blood of its victim. When the worm has once attached itself in the

intestine, it may live for from five to fifteen years. All this time it

is constantly laying eggs; and these eggs, which are so tiny that they

have to be put under a microscope to be seen, pass out in the feces; and

if they are not deposited in a proper water closet, or deep vault, but

scattered about upon the surface of the soil, the eggs quickly hatch

into tiny, little wriggling worms called larvae, which are still

scarcely large enough to be seen with the naked eye.

These larvae live in the soil; and, when it is wet and muddy, they get up

between the toes of boys and girls who are going barefoot, burrow their

way in through the skin, and produce a severe itching inflammation of

the skin of the feet, known as ground-itch, toe-itch or dew-itch.

When they have worked their way through the skin, they bore on into a

blood vessel, are carried to the heart, pumped by the heart into the

lungs, and there again work their way out of the blood vessels into the

bronchial, or air tubes, crawl up these through the windpipe and voice

organ into the throat, are swallowed into the stomach, and from there

pass on into the upper intestine to attach themselves for their

blood-sucking life. If they are sufficiently numerous, their victim

becomes thin, weak, and bloodless, with pale, puffy skin, and shortness

of breath; he is easily tired on the least exertion, and ready to fall a

victim to any disease, like tuberculosis, pneumonia, or typhoid, that

may happen to attack him.

Their spread can be absolutely prevented either by the strict use of

toilets or deep vaults, thus preventing the deposit of feces anywhere

upon the surface of the ground; or by the constant wearing of shoes or

sandals, thus preventing the larvae from attacking the feet and working

their way through the skin and body into the intestine.

Fortunately, the disease is as curable as it is common, and two doses of

a proper germicide, with a day in bed, and a laxative, will promptly

cure it except in the worst cases.

The Rashes of Measles, Scarlet Fever, etc. Many of the infectious

fevers, such as measles, scarlet fever, chicken-pox, and smallpox, are

attended by rashes, or eruptions, upon the surface of the skin, due to

a special gathering or accumulation of the particular germs causing each

disease, just under the skin. When the skin sheds, or flakes off, after

the illness, the germs are shed in the scales and float, or are carried

about, and thus spread the disease to others.

These rashes or eruptions are not dangerous in themselves, though often

very uncomfortable, but help us to recognize the disease; they probably

show us the sort of thing that is going on in the deeper parts of the

body. If you imagine that your throat and bronchial tubes and lungs are

peppered as full of the disease spots as your skin is, in measles and in

scarlet fever, you will readily understand why your throat is so sore

and why you have so much tickling and coughing.

The Health of the Scalp and Hair. The scalp, being covered by hair,

does not perspire so freely as the rest of the skin of the body; but a

considerable amount of oily waste matter is poured out on it, and the

surface of its skin scales off in exactly the same way as does the rest

of the body. If this accumulation of tiny scales and grease is not

properly brushed out, it forms an excellent seed-bed for some of the

milder kinds of germs that attack the skin; and a scurfy, itchy

condition of the scalp is set up, known as dandruff.

The best way to keep the scalp clean of these accumulations of greasy

scales is by vigorous and regular brushing with a moderately stiff, but

flexible, bristle brush. Wire brushes should not be used, as the wires

scratch and irritate the delicate scalp and do more harm than good. If

you watch a groom brushing and currying the coat of a thoroughbred

horse, you will get a fair idea of hew you ought to treat your own scalp

at least twice a day, night and morning.

If this currying of the hair be thoroughly done, and the head washed

with soap and hot water about once a week for short hair and twice a

month for long hair, most of the dangers of dandruff and of other

infections of the scalp will be avoided. One thing to be remembered is,

don't brush too hard or too deep. There is an old saying and a good one,

You can't brush the scalp too little, or the hair too much.

Wetting the hair for the purpose of slicking it or combing it, is

about as bad a thing as could be done; for the moisture sets up a sort

of rancid fermentation in the natural oil of the scalp, giving the

well-known sour smell to hair that is combed instead of brushed, and

furnishing a splendid soil for germs and bugs of all sorts to breed in.

There is no objection to boys' and men's wetting their hair in cold

water as often as they wish, provided that they rub it thoroughly dry

afterward and give it a brisk currying with the brush.

Hair oils and greases of all sorts are sanitary nuisances, and mere

half-civilized and lazy substitutes for proper brushing and washing.

There is no drug known to medicine which will cause hair to grow, or

make it thicker or curlier. All hair tonics claiming to do this are


Corns, Calluses, and Warts. Our skin not only made our hair, teeth,

and nails, but still retains in every part a trace of its nail-making

powers, so that under pressure or irritation, it can thicken up into a

heavy leather-like substance which we call callus. This is naturally

and healthfully present in the soles of the feet and the palms of the

hands. Savage, or barbarous, races who wear no shoes get the skin of

their soles thickened into a regular human leather, almost half an inch

thick, and as tough as rawhide. A somewhat similar condition develops in

the palms of the hands of those who work hard with spades, axes, or

other tools.

Any good process carried to excess becomes bad, and this is true of this

power of callus formation in the skin; for parts of it which are under

constant pressure, like the surface of the toes inside the shoe, and

particularly of the outside toes, the little and the big toe, develop

under that pressure patches of thickened, horny skin, which we call

corns. These patches start to grow into cone-shaped projections or

buttons; but being prevented from growing outward by the pressure of the

shoe, they turn upon themselves and burrow into the skin itself, and we

get the well-known ingrowing corn.

If there is anything in the human body which we ought to be thoroughly

ashamed of, it is corns; for they are caused by our own vanity, and

nothing else, in cramping our feet into shoes one or two sizes too small

for them. There are a number of things that can be done to relieve the

discomfort of the corn, but the only sure way is to remove its cause,

namely, the tight shoe.

Under other kinds of irritation, the skin has the power of growing

curious little button-like buds, or projections, which we call warts.

These are commonest in childhood, and generally disappear at about

twelve or fifteen years of age, when we no longer delight in dirt, and

glory in mud pies.

They can be produced upon the hands of grown men and women by irritating

fluids and substances, such as wet sugar in the case of bakers and

confectioners, and various color-stains in dye works. They seldom last

for more than a few months, and usually narrow at their base and drop

off, when the particular irritation that caused them ceases. On this

account it is seldom worth while to try to remove them by burning with

acids or cutting them off; and it is best not to pick at, or irritate,

or scratch them too much.