Dermatographia (aka “skin writing”) is a rare, auto-immune skin condition which affects about five percent of the human population. Individuals impacted by this condition have hypersensitive skin and even minor injuries, rubbing, or scratching can cause raised, red lines and ridges to appear on the affected area. Other symptoms include itching, swelling, inflammation, and hive-like welts on the skin. Hives form when skin cells known as “mast cells” become sensitive to physical stimulation like scratching and release histamines. This then causes blood to leak out of blood vessels under the skin. In 2008, an artist named Ariana Page Russell used this condition as basis for art by drawing designs and patterns on it as though it were a canvas.
Dermatographia is not a serious condition and symptoms do not normally last very long. However, scratching and rubbing can cause irritation and discomfort. Triggers include rubbing against clothing and bedsheets, exposure to cold, heat, and sunlight, and/or applying pressure to the skin in some way. It may also be caused by stress or emotion. In most cases, symptoms disappear between 30 minutes to two hours following the irritation but in some cases they may last hours or even days. This may cause sufferers to experience pain and a burning sensation.
The causes of dermatographia are unknown but some believe it to be an allergic reaction of some kind. It may also have a genetic basis. Moreover, other skin disorders like dry skin or dermatitis increases the risk of dermatographia. Dermatographia has not been conclusively tied to gender or any particular ethnicity; however, it seems to be more prevalent in young adults between the ages of 20 and 30.
The most common means of treating dermatographia is through anti-histamines and steroids to relieve symptoms. Anti-histamines block the release of histamines by the immune system. They are not, however, guaranteed to cure hives and can have side effects. Herbal and/or other natural remedies may also be used to treat dermatographia. Self-care measures such as drinking plenty of water, using moisturizers to keep the skin hydrated, and simply not scratching one’s skin should also be followed to the extent possible.