Written by Christine Case-Lo
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on May 10, 2013

Dermatoses Overview

Dermatosis is a term that refers to diseases of the integumentary system. The integumentary system includes everything on the surface of the body, including the skin, nails, hair, and skin glands. “Derma” means skin and “osis” means disease or condition. Any condition affecting the skin could be called a dermatosis. Normally, dermatosis is used for skin conditions that do not involve inflammation (those would be called dermatitis).

What Is Dermatosis?

Dermatosis is a condition that affects the skin, nails, hair or glands. The term does not include skin conditions involving inflammation. Another term for a dermatosis is a cutaneous condition.

Your skin is the largest organ on your body, and there are thousands of documented conditions that affect the skin. Hair and nails are also affected by a wide variety of conditions.

Skin has several layers, including the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutaneous tissue. A dermatosis may involve changes in any or all of these skin layers. Terms you may hear to describe dermatosis of the skin condition include:

  • lesion: an area of skin that is abnormal
  • macule: a change in color or consistency of the skin
  • papule: a bump on the skin smaller than 1 cm in diameter
  • nodule: a bump on the skin larger than 1 cm in diameter
  • plaque: a large area of affected skin that may flake or peel with defined edges
  • vesicles and bullae: raised bumps that are filled with fluid
  • lichenification: thickening and discoloration of skin like lichen on a tree
  • pustules: a bump that contains pus, possibly due to infection
  • rash: a wide variety of conditions that are red, raised up from the skin, most likely due to inflammation

Common Skin Conditions

There are thousands of skin conditions; some of most common dermatoses that may send you to your doctor include:

  • acne: a disease of the oil glands in skin that can cause pimples and scarring
  • impetigo: a skin infection caused by bacteria
  • melanoma: a severe skin cancer
  • basal cell carcinoma: the most common form of skin cancer that strikes in the top layer of the skin
  • moles (melanocytic nevus): dark growths on the skin
  • actinic keratosis: crusty pre-cancerous growths caused by sun damage
  • alopecia areata: hair loss in round patches
  • erythema nodosum: inflammation of fat under the skin of the shins, resulting in red lumps
  • lupus erythrematosus: an autoimmune disease that may create a “butterfly” rash on the face as one symptom
  • morphea: localized scleroderma, hardened patches of skin
  • vitiligo: depigmentation (whitening) of patches of skin
  • head lice infestation
  • tinea: fungal infection of skin that leaves round marks
  • wrinkles

There are many other skin conditions that involve inflammation and rashes, such as psoriasis, eczema, rosacea, and hives. These can be due to infection, allergic reactions, or autoimmune disease. These are typically referred to as a “dermatitis” not as “dermatosis,” although dermatosis is often used to refer to all skin conditions.

Examples of Dermatosis

While not as common as the skin conditions listed above, there are a wide variety of diseases that have “dermatosis” in their name. Some examples include:

  • rheumatoid neutrophilic dermatosis: a skin manifestation of rheumatoid arthritis
  • acute febrile neutrophilic dermatosis (Sweet’s syndrome): red, swollen rash with fever and papules filled with white blood cells
  • dermatosis papulosa nigra: many small, benign, dark skin lesions on the face, often in dark-skinned people
  • dermatosis neglecta: wart-like plaque caused by inadequate washing of a patch of skin
  • dermatosis cinecienta: ashy-colored, symmetrical patches of thickened skin beginning in individuals under 40 years old
  • linear lichenoid dermatosis: skin condition in children that results in small, scaly papules
  • digitate dermatosis: finger shaped psoriatic rash at the side of waist
  • contagious pustular dermatosis: papules caused by direct contact with sheep affected with sheep pox
  • transient acantholytic dermatosis (Grover’s disease): chronic, itchy blistering triggered by heat or sweating
  • juvenile plantar dermatosis: cracking and peeling of the weight-bearing soles of the feet in children

Difficulties of Diagnosis

It is very difficult to correctly diagnose skin conditions without the help of an expert physician. Often, biopsies must be examined under a microscope in order for a definitive diagnosis to be made. Changes in skin can be external—due to a skin infection or contact with an outside substance such as poison oak, or internal—reflecting a disease within the body such as lupus or measles. Because there are thousands of possible skin conditions, it is important to discuss any changes with your skin with your doctor. Also, it is important to talk with your doctor before attempting any treatment.

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