What does atopic skin have to do with genetics?

What does atopic skin have to do with genetics?


Do you suffer from atopic skin or do you have a close case? Not surprisingly, it is a fairly common disease that usually occurs in childhood and manifests with symptoms such as eczema, inflammation, or itching. It is a multifactorial pathology in which different factors such as genetic, environmental, and immunological intervene, among others. In this article we explain it to you and, in addition, we give you some tips so that you can alleviate its symptoms.

The skin: functions of the largest organ of the body

As we saw in the article Basic care for sensitive skin, the skin is the largest organ in the human body and is made up of 3 layers: the epidermis (the outermost), the dermis (intermediate), and the hypodermis (the inner). Its main function is to act as a protective barrier against external agents of various kinds, such as ultraviolet radiation, heat or cold, chemical elements, or microorganisms. In addition, it also serves to regulate body temperature, prevent water loss, synthesize vitamin D and allows us to perceive textures, temperatures, pressure, and pain, thanks to the sense of touch.

What is atopic skin or atopic dermatitis?

Atopic skin, also called atopic dermatitis, is a chronic inflammatory skin disease characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Severe itching: intense itching is one of the most characteristic symptoms of atopic skin.
  • Extremely dry skin (xerosis cutaneous), rough to the touch, and very dehydrated.
  • Red spots with small blisters that, when scratched, release fluid and create a scab.
  • Redness or erythema, mainly in the hands and feet, neck, elbows, knees, and eyelids.
  • Scaly and very thickened skin around the joints.
  • They present frequent infections because the skin cannot exert its function of protective barrier.

Atopic dermatitis manifests itself in the form of outbreaks, that is, episodes in which the symptoms appear in a more evident and annoying way alternate with others of improvement in which they are mitigated.

Current situation of atopic skin

Atopic skin is the most common and recurrent chronic inflammatory skin disease in children around the world. The prevalence varies depending on the geographical area, although a global prevalence of 10-20% in children and 1-3 in adults are accepted.

A recent study suggests that the increase could be related to environmental factors, such as seasonality and climate, as well as lifestyle in genetically predisposed individuals. The study concludes that the environmental factors that could affect the development of atopic skin are seasonality and climate, since their incidence was higher in winter and spring, and increased in colder years.

The increase in cases of this disease has been related to exposure to pollutants since the incidence is higher in urban areas compared to rural areas.

In 60% of cases, atopic skin appears for the first time before the first six months of life, with the appearance of red spots on the face and hands. The disease progresses in the form of periodic outbreaks for approximately two years and can interfere with the daily life of children, such as interfering with the quality of sleep, due to the intense itching they produce.

Atopic skin occurs more often in people with a personal or family history of atopic diseases. Atopic diseases include, in addition to atopic skin, rhinoconjunctivitis and asthma. In fact, up to 80% of patients with atopic dermatitis can develop another atopic disease.

It is recommended that, although there is no manifestation of these pathologies in the newborn, measures are taken to prevent it from appearing in the event of family history, since even the risk of presenting atopic skin is 2-3 times higher if they have an atopic parent and 3-5 times larger if both are.

The prognosis for atopic dermatitis is generally favorable. 50% of cases of atopic skin disappear around 3 years of age, and up to 75% do so before adolescence. In some cases, it persists for life, but symptoms can be controlled with proper management.

What Causes Atopic Skin?

Atopic skin is a complex multifactorial disease, that is, its development is caused by the combination of different environmental, immunological, and genetic factors.

Therefore, although a genetic predisposition is a fundamental factor when developing atopic skin, it is not enough by itself, since external elements such as eating habits or air pollution in urban areas also have to intervene, for example.

Atopic skin and its relationship with genetics

And what influence does genetics have on the appearance of atopic skin? Well, there are certain genetic variations that affect the ability of the skin to serve as a protective barrier, (which as we explained before is its main function). In this way, atopic skin is vulnerable to external aggressions and infections caused by scratching the nails themselves. This triggers a process known as the atopic skin cycle, in which the symptoms themselves become triggers.

In some cases, it has been observed that atopic skin can be caused by mutations in a single gene. Certain studies indicate that the FLG gene has a higher association with this pathology. This gene codes for profilaggrin, a precursor of filaggrin, a protein that plays a fundamental role in the structure of the epidermis, and in its role as a protective barrier.

If the FLG gene is altered, it contributes to the appearance of allergic diseases such as atopic dermatitis, since the protective function of the skin is affected.

As we have seen, when a parent has atopic skin, the chances that their children will also suffer from it are approximately 30%. In the event that both parents are affected, these increase to 70%.

Although, as you can see, genetics greatly influences the appearance of atopic skin, we must not forget that it is a multifactorial disease, and therefore exposure to certain environmental factors also intervenes in its development, just as it also occurs in the case of rare skin diseases.

Tips for caring for atopic skin

At the moment, the skin or atopic dermatitis does not have a definitive cure, although, as we explained previously, in most cases its symptoms diminish in the transition from childhood to adulthood.

If you have this disease, it is important to take the following measures to avoid the appearance of outbreaks as much as possible :

  • Keep the skin hydrated by using creams specifically formulated for atopic skin.
  • Choose to clothing made from natural fabrics such as cotton or linen.
  • Avoid extremely hot or cold temperatures.
  • Wearing sunscreen all year round is very important to avoid exposure to ultraviolet rays.
  • Use lukewarm water in the showers and do not prolong them for more than 10 minutes.
  • Do not abuse heaters or air conditioners.
  • Avoid situations of emotional stress.

If the outbreaks continue to appear despite care, your doctor will probably prescribe a treatment with corticosteroids, which mitigate inflammation, reducing itching, scratching, and skin irritation, which helps to restore the structure of the skin.


We hope that this article has been interesting for you and, if you or a close relative have atopic dermatitis, the tips to prevent the appearance of outbreaks will be useful to you. Although at the moment there is no cure, taking care of the skin is very important to prevent the disease from escalating. As you have seen, multiple factors such as environmental and genetic intervene in the development of atopic skin.

We hope you liked the article, and as always, from Veritas, we encourage you to take proactive care of your health. If you want to know how we can help you in the field of health prevention visit our website.


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