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. This article is devoted to the most common skin conditions affecting adolescents, including acne, atopic dermatitis, dandruff, athlete's foot, moles, warts, and cold sores.
Acne Signs and Symptoms
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 scarring. Acne is caused by many factors, including genetics, medications such as steroids, and health conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome.
There are several 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 become 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.
Treatment consists of a healthy lifestyle, good hygiene, and medications. Some of the following treatments can help someone manage acne:
- Use only oil-free, non-comedogenic products on your skin.
- Wash your face twice a day.
- Use moisturizer twice a day.
- Exfoliate once or twice each week.
- Stick to a low-carb diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Do not pick at your acne because you will scar.
- Wash immediately after exercising or sweating.
- Get plenty of sleep.
Use 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)
Atopic Dermatitis Signs and Symptoms
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.
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
- Tender, red, swollen areas with pus
Atopic Dermatitis Treatment
Lifestyle changes, good hygiene, and medications can help keep atopic dermatitis under control. Some specific recommendations for atopic dermatitis include:
- Cleanse twice a day.
- Moisturize at least twice a day.
- Use a humidifier.
- Avoid extreme temperature changes.
- Always test new products on a small spot of skin before using.
- Use dye- and fragrance-free soaps, moisturizers, sunscreens, and laundry detergent. Avoid fabric softener and bleach on your clothing, towels, and sheets.
- Wear loose-fitting, cotton clothing as well as cotton sheets and towels.
- Lower your stress levels.
- Avoid getting sick.
- Try phototherapy.
Use your medications as directed by your doctor:
- Topical medications (Steroids, Immunomodulators such as Protopic, Elidel, and Eucrisa).
- Systemic medications (Antihistamines, Steroids, Immunomodulators such as Dupixent, Azathioprine, Cyclosporin, Mycophenolate mofetil, and Methotrexate).
Dandruff Signs and Symptoms
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.
Signs and symptoms of dandruff include:
- Itching or burning
- White flakes
- Oily skin
- Thick, yellow crusting
It is often a lifelong condition that does not have a cure. There are treatments to keep dandruff under control:
- 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)
- Wash affected areas daily
Athlete's Foot Signs and Symptoms
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.
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 Treatment
Athlete's foot is contagious and requires treatment. However, it can recur even after proper treatment. Some treatments for Athlete’s Foot include:
- Keep your feet dry.
- Wear flip-flops if you shower in public places, like the gym.
- Clean your shoes frequently.
- Use topical antifungal creams, powders, and sprays.
- Take oral antifungal pills, if directed by your doctor.
Moles Signs and Symptoms
Moles 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.
You can use the acronym ABCDE to remember 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 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser)
- E = Evolving; cancerous moles often change size, shape, and/or color
If a mole changes or appears, see your dermatologist immediately. Prompt treatment can save your life.
Warts Signs and Symptoms
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.
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 there are no warts on the skin
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 quicker they resolve with. 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
Cold Sores Signs and Symptoms
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.
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 Sores 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
Changes in the skin are normal during adolescence.
If you develop any rashes or skin bumps, always see your dermatologist.
Prompt treatment is beneficial and, in some cases, lifesaving.
American Academy of Dermatology (www.aad.org).
Bolognia, J, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer, JV. (2012). Dermatology. Philadelphia: Elsevier Saunders.
Skin Cancer Foundation (www.skincancer.org). Moles