— By Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D.
Many people do not realize the importance of skin care, which, if overlooked, can lead to a variety of skin problems that are exacerbated by obesity.
Skin is the largest organ of the body and it creates a protective barrier from external dangers. It also regulates our temperature, produces vitamin D, and helps detect infection. However, many people do not realize the importance of skin care, which — if overlooked — can lead to a variety of skin problems that are exacerbated by obesity.
Fat has a poor blood supply, which causes sweating1 and leads to the buildup of excess moisture, and causes irritation, lesions, pressure injuries, or infection. Skin can become vulnerable to deterioration, particularly for people with obesity who have skin folds. There are several types of skin conditions related to obesity, including psoriasis, acanthosis nigricans and cellulitis.
- Psoriasis is a chronic, auto-immune disease caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. It is characterized by red, itchy, scaly plaques, generally on elbows, knees, and on the scalp. Obesity is an independent risk factor for both the onset of psoriasis and its severity. Psoriasis is not contagious, but there is a strong genetic connection, so siblings or children within a family are more likely to have it if another family member is affected.2
- Acanthosis nigricans affect people with obesity and is more common among those with skin folds or who have diabetes. It causes skin to darken and sometimes thicken around the neck, armpits, or groin. Creams may be prescribed to lighten or soften areas of acanthosis nigricans, but treating the underlying cause through weight loss is the best practical and most scientific treatment.
- Cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection that most commonly affects the skin on the lower legs, although it can appear in other area. The infection occurs when bacteria enters through cracked or broken skin, which becomes red, swollen, warm, and painful. Obesity is an independent risk factor for cellulitis and body mass index is associated with an increased risk of infection and hospitalization.
Treating Skin Conditions
Weight loss can positively resolve many of skin conditions and potentially restore skin to its natural state. A Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD) program, such as New Direction Advanced, is effective for people with obesity, and weight loss can help to not only address many skin condition, it may help prevent them.
Moisture control also is critical to minimize these types of skin conditions. It is recommended that patients use a soft, absorbent cloth to keep skin clean and dry, and prescribe topical creams to help with irritation. Drinking plenty of water is imperative and wearing loose clothing that “breathes” or wicks away sweat also can help.