Should they be called the Skin-tastic Four?

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 You have to hand it to those Marvel superheroes. Even with their busy crime-fighting schedule, they just can't seem to stay away from movie theaters. Spiderman, The X-Men, and The Hulk are popular movie material because their realistic human issues complement their eye-popping powers. But eyes wide with wonder can't help but see skin that's less than super. Like their comic book peers, the Fantastic Four have not only personal problems, but dermatological dilemmas as well.

Jessica Alba's acne is not Invisible

Jessica Alba's role may turn Invisible...
...but her blemishes are not.

Actress Jessica Alba makes a glamorous and no longer girlish "Invisible Woman." Yet despite her fine features, she is prone to something anyone would want to vanish: Adult acne. The epidermal epidemic continues as stress and hormonal factors cause yet another movie star's pores to become congested. Trapped oil and protein cause inflammation as intractable and insidious as any super villain. While antibiotics and vitamin A creams can slowly clear the condition, swollen cysts demand treatment before the cameras roll. Dermatologists can inject small amounts of dilute cortisone into distressing zits. Occasionally over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide creams can help vaporize the tiny volcanoes. Since there are few effective spot treatments for acne, Alba may need to continue to search for ways to make her acne Invisible.

The true "Mr. Fantastic?"

Mr. Fantastic can stretch at will.
Much like this fellow from the circus sideshow.

Where did Marvel comics founder Stan Lee get all his wild ideas? The leader of the FF, Mr. Fantastic, is able to stretch his form like a living rubber band. What would compel Lee to create a character with the consistency of salt water taffy? If you've noticed a similarity to rival DC Comic's "Plastic Man," tell it to the lawyers. We'd like to think that Lee was inspired by images like this classic photo from an old sideshow. Many so-called "circus freaks" actually had genetic conditions, like albinism, ichtyosis, or other birth disorders.

Ehlers Danlos syndrome (EDS) is a group of diseases characterized by abnormal elastic tissue. The skin of some with EDS may be especially stretchy. Others develop extremely flexible joints, like the fellow seen at the left. Certain cases may include life threatening defects of the heart and blood vessels. While there is currently no cure for EDS, researchers have identified the molecular basis for many of the varieties. Due to difficulties in performing regular work, some with EDS still entertain in high brow circus shows such as Cirque de Soleil. In this setting, their workplace flexibility allows them to stretch on the job.

Michael Chiklis' skin things

Actor Michael Chiklis is transformed...
...into the scaly-skinned creature called the Thing.
Without scales (and hair) it's easy to see...
...Chiklis' actual birthmark.

Speaking of circus attractions, some performers were said to resemble reptiles. The "Alligator Man" had another type of genetic disorder: ichthyosis, or intensely dry skin. While mild forms may respond to strong moisturizers, others, such as lamellar ichthyosis, can appear scaly enough to resemble The Thing. Skin this dry greatly increases the risk of the itchy inflammation called eczema. Not to mention the unfortunate social stigma that an associated with an extensive skin condition. Actor Michael Chiklis may relate to the potential social issues surrounding inherited skin conditions. While he is an unintentional leader in the crusade promoting the beauty of baldness, his lack of locks reveals a small birthmark. The back of his scalp shows a discrete port wine stain similar to those seen on celebs as diverse as an R & B diva, a Russian leader, and a Pumpkin Smasher. Something tells us that if anyone were to tease Chiklis about his mark, they wouldn't have to check their watch to see that "It's Clobberin' Time!"

The Human Torch: A Hunka Hunka Burnin' skin

In dermatology, while there is plenty to see, physical symptoms are relatively few. Docs usually want to know if a pesky problem either itches or hurts. When patients feel a burning sensation of their skin, the problem's possible causes are narrowed as quickly as the Human Torch can light a bunsen burner. That degree of intense pain can happen with nerve disorders, such as shingles. This reactivation of the chicken pox virus is associated with major nerve inflammation prompting patients require major pain meds. Immediate antiviral pills and cortisone treatments can reduce the reaction.

The red hot bacterial infection called cellulitis invokes a similarly incendiary sensation. Usually caused by strep bacteria, smooth red areas occur on the legs, face, or elsewhere. The burning pain is only rarely associated with fever. Antibiotics, rest, and elevation of the affected area are needed to extinguish the fire.

Last but not least, we've got the physician with the faulty face: Dr. Doom. Doom's a meanie with a mug so mutilated that he models a metal mask. Sound familiar? No, we're not talking about Leonardo DiCaprio's "Iron Mask." Nor do we mean the golden-voiced ghoul doomed to singing tired Andrew Lloyd Webber tunes. Need more hints? This guy sports a black cape. Destroying planet Alderaan is at the top of his "to-do" list. He puts the "DV" in "DVD." Give up? If you're done with this Foursome, take a trip at lightspeed to the Darth side.


© 1996-2008 Vail Reese M.D.

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