Most Common Skin Conditions Affecting Adolescents

The adolescent years herald significant changes in your body, including your skin. Some are exciting, but some are embarrassing. It is necessary to discuss all changes with parents and doctors because some can even be deadly. Curious about all the ins and outs? We've got you covered.

Adolescent skin conditions

Skin conditions among adolescents are more common than you would think. Skin diseases are not just for adults. Some skin conditions begin in adolescence or childhood and become lifelong issues for patients. Parents need to be aware of the most common skin problems, so they can act quickly and get their children the treatment they need. Prompt, correct treatment ensures quicker resolution of problems and less future complications.

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1. Acne

Acne is the most common skin condition that adolescents experience. It is vital to get it under control with a good routine as soon as possible to prevent permanent scarring. Acne is caused by many factors, including genetics, medications such as steroids, and health conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome.

Acne signs and symptoms

There are several different types of acne, which have different signs and symptoms. Regardless of the type of acne, cases can range from mild or moderate to severe. Severe cases of acne require prompt medical attention.

Here are the different types of acne:

  • Comedonal acne. This form of acne occurs when your pores get clogged with dirt and oil. If they are open comedones, they are called blackheads. If they are closed comedones, they are called whiteheads.
  • Inflammatory acne. This type of acne results from dirt, oil, and bacteria that has been trapped in the pores and created a tender, inflamed pink bump. They can be small papules or large nodules.
  • Cystic acne. Cystic acne is the most difficult to treat. It occurs when large, painful cysts form under the skin. When they resolve, they almost always leave scarring.

Acne treatments

Treatment consists of a healthy lifestyle, good hygiene, and medications. Some of the following treatments can help manage acne. Talk to your dermatologist because they can design the right treatment regimen for you.

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Treatments include:

  • Using only oil-free, non-comedogenic products on your skin
  • Washing your face twice a day
  • Using moisturizer twice a day
  • Exfoliating once or twice each week
  • Sticking to a low-carb diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Not picking at acne to avoid scarring
  • Washing immediately after exercising or sweating
  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Using acne medications as directed by your dermatologist:
    • Topicals (benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, retinoids, antibiotics)
    • Peels (salicylic acid, retinoids, glycolic acid)
    • Pills (antibiotics, retinoids, hormone therapies)

2. Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema that has genetic and environmental components. Atopic dermatitis often runs in families and is worsened by certain climates, particularly those that are cold and dry. It is important to treat this condition immediately to prevent infection and scarring.

Atopic dermatitis signs and symptoms

Cases of atopic dermatitis can be mild, moderate, or severe. Some patients with severe cases may even require hospitalization. It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms so you can seek treatment immediately.

Signs and symptoms of atopic dermatitis include:

  • Itching (usually the first sign)
  • Rashes (these appear later)
  • Reddish-pink scaled patches in the creases of elbows, knees, wrists, and ankles
  • Oozing and scabbing of wounds
  • Thickening of the skin from repeated scratching
  • Discoloration
  • Scarring
  • Tender, red, swollen areas with pus

Atopic dermatitis treatments

Lifestyle changes, good hygiene, and medications can help keep atopic dermatitis under control. It is crucial to stick to proper hygiene after your atopic dermatitis flare is under control to prevent future flares. The sooner you treat atopic dermatitis, the less chance of infection and scarring.

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Some specific recommendations for atopic dermatitis include:

  • Cleansing twice a day
  • Moisturizing at least twice a day
  • Using a humidifier
  • Avoiding extreme temperature changes
  • Always testing new products on a small spot of skin before using
  • Using dye- and fragrance-free soaps, moisturizers, sunscreens, and laundry detergent. Avoid fabric softener and bleach on your clothing, towels, and sheets.
  • Wearing loose-fitting, cotton clothing, as well as cotton sheets and towels
  • Lowering your stress levels
  • Avoiding getting sick
  • Trying phototherapy
  • Using your medications as directed by your doctor:
    • Topical medications (steroids or immunomodulators like Protopic, Elidel, and Eucrisa)
    • Systemic medications (antihistamines, seroids, or immunomodulators like Dupixent, Azathioprine, Cyclosporin, Mycophenolate mofetil, and Methotrexate)

3. Dandruff

Dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis) is an itchy rash that affects the face, chest, and scalp. It appears on particular areas of the face, like eyebrows, beard areas, sides of the nose, and ears. It is not contagious, but it is chronic and can require daily treatments.

Dandruff signs and symptoms

Dandruff can sometimes be confused with other types of dermatitis, like atopic dermatitis. This is in part due to the fact that the rashes look similar. The correct diagnosis and treatment is critical, so see you doctor right away if you develop a facial rash.

Signs and symptoms of dandruff include:

  • Itching or burning
  • White flakes
  • Oily skin
  • Thick, yellow crusting

Dandruff treatments

It is often a lifelong, chronic condition that does not have a cure. However, there are treatments to keep dandruff under control. Lifelong use of these products is often necessary.

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Treatments include:

  • Shampoos with ingredients such as coal tar, zinc pyrithione, selenium sulfide, ketoconazole, and salicylic acid.
  • Topicals, steroid liquids, or foams.
  • Steroid pills (for severe cases).
  • Washing affected areas daily.

4. Athlete's foot

Athlete's foot (tinea pedis) is a fungal infection of the skin on the feet. Fungus grows in warm and wet places, so it frequently occurs in athletes who have sweaty feet and wear closed shoes or sneakers.

Athlete's foot signs and symptoms

It is important to differentiate athlete's foot from other causes of foot rashes, like psoriasis. Correct and prompt treatment of athlete's foot will prevent the worsening and spread of the infection. Athlete's foot is contagious, so see you doctor right away if you get a foot rash.

Signs and symptoms of athlete’s foot include:

  • Reddish-pink scaly rashes on the bottom and sides of the feet
  • Itching or burning
  • Blisters and open wounds that ooze
  • White, macerated skin between the toes

Athlete's foot treatments

Athlete's foot is contagious and requires treatment. However, it can recur even after proper treatment. Proper prevention techniques are important, especially if you live in a hot, humid climate.

Some treatments for athlete’s foot include:

  • Keeping your feet dry
  • Wearing flip-flops if you shower in public places, like the gym
  • Cleaning your shoes frequently
  • Using topical antifungal creams, powders, and sprays
  • Taking oral antifungal pills if directed by your doctor

5. Moles

Moles (nevi) are benign collections of pigment-producing cells that can accumulate anywhere on the body. They can become cancerous due to genetics or exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds. It is imperative you have your moles examined by a dermatologist every year.

Mole signs and symptoms

Moles are usually asymptomatic. If your mole begins to hurt, itch, or bleed, see your dermatologist immediately. This could be a sign of cancer.

You can use the acronym ABCDE to remember the warning signs that indicate a mole may become cancerous and turn into a melanoma:

  • A = Asymmetry; if you draw an imaginary line through the mole, the two sides would not be identical.
  • B = Borders; the borders of a cancerous mole are jagged, ill-defined, and irregular.
  • C = Colors; a cancerous mole is often multi-colored with spots of brown, black, tan, white, pink, red, blue, and/or purple.
  • D = Diameter; cancerous moles are usually bigger than 6 mm (the size of a pencil eraser).
  • E = Evolving; cancerous moles often change size, shape, and/or color.

Mole treatments

If a mole changes or is new, your dermatologist may biopsy or remove it completely to check for cancer. Do not delay if you experience symptoms or see visible changes in your moles. Prompt treatment can save your life.

6. Warts

Warts are a common viral skin infection that often occur on the hands and feet. This is called the human papillomavirus (HPV), which usually enters the body through a cut on the skin. While there is no cure for the HPV infection, the skin lesions it produces can be treated. Once resolved, there is a chance it can recur.

Wart signs and symptoms

Most cases of warts cause distress due to their appearance, especially if they become large. If they become large and itchy, avoid scratching or picking at them. This can cause the spread of the virus to other parts of your body.

The signs and symptoms of warts include:

  • Flat-topped or rough pink bumps
  • Pin-point black dots on top of a wart
  • Several bumps clustered together
  • Pain and limited function in the general area, if warts grow too large
  • Some cases of HPV may also be asymptomatic, meaning the warts will not cause any pain or itching

Wart treatments

It is possible to spread this to others. It is most ideal to get prompt treatment while the warts are small. The smaller they are, the easier they are to treat, and the quicker they resolve. A delay in treatment can make them more difficult to eradicate.

Treatments for warts include:

  • Salicylic acid creams, liquids, and pads
  • Over-the-counter freezing spray
  • Liquid nitrogen treatments performed by a doctor
  • Surgical removal
  • Laser therapy
  • Cantharidin treatments provided by a doctor
  • Immunotherapy injections provided by a doctor
  • Lifestyle changes, such as wearing flip-flops when showering in public places, like the gym

7. Cold sores

Cold sores are a viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). This virus is contagious and spread by direct contact. It most often occurs on the lips, but may appear anywhere on the skin.

Cold sore signs and symptoms

The initial outbreak of a cold sore is usually the worst and causes the most symptoms. Subsequent outbreaks may have no symptoms at all in many cases. Even if you do not experience any symptoms, you are still contagious and must exercise caution.

Some signs and symptoms of cold sores include:

  • A single painful blister or bump
  • A cluster of painful blisters or bumps
  • Fever or chills
  • Fatigue or muscle weakness
  • Enlarged glands, which are called lymph nodes

Cold sore treatment

Even though there is no cure for the HSV infection, there are treatments that keep outbreaks under control. Since there is no cure, it can recur after treatment. If it recurs often, you may need to take medication daily to prevent outbreaks. Some treatments for cold sores include:

  • Topical, antiviral ointments and creams
  • Oral antiviral pills
  • Pain medications
  • Avoiding sun, sickness, and trauma, since these factors can trigger an outbreak
  • Avoiding direct contact with others until the cold sore(s) heal

Tips for healthy skin

Proper hygiene is key to keeping your skin healthy for your entire life. You are never too early to start proper skin care. Beginning good habits as an adolescent will ensure continuation into adulthood.

Here are some basic skin care tips:

  • Wash your face twice a day and immediately after sports.
  • Use moisturizer daily.
  • Apply SPF 50 sunscreen daily, and every 1–2 hours you are outdoors. Do not forget chapstick with sunscreen SPF 50.
  • Use proper sun protection, such as wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and sun protection UPF 50 clothing.
  • Seek shade when outside and avoid peak hours of the day (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
  • Do not pick, scratch, or rub at your skin.
  • If you get a cut or scrape, cleanse it daily, apply antibiotic ointment, and keep it covered until it heals.
  • If you notice any changes to your skin, new skin lesions, or develop rashes, see your dermatologist immediately.

The prevalence of skin disorders in adolescents is high, reaching high levels in some areas of the world. It is important for parents to be aware of the most common skin disorders so they can act promptly. If your child develops new lesions or rashes on the skin, see your dermatologist immediately for diagnosis and treatment.

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