What your adolescent should know about acne flare-ups, sun safety and infection prevention.
Warmer weather means rising temperatures, increased sun exposure and a greater visibility of teen skin problems such as acne and infections. Your teens may feel a sense of urgency to improve their skin for upcoming summer activities and events. The information that follows may help you and your teens manage their skin challenges during the summer season.
Up to 80 percent of adolescents experience acne, the most common skin condition in the U.S. As temperatures increase, teens with acne experience skin transformations. Some may feel that sun exposure dries up their acne, thus making it less visible. Unfortunately, the oil-producing (sebaceous) glands respond in kind by producing more oil to compensate for any dryness.
Also, sweat-producing (eccrine) glands are activated more during summer, due to an increase in temperature and activity. This in turn enhances oil production and allows bacteria to thrive within oily skin layers. Since acne is an oil-based skin condition, removing layers of sweat and oil by cleansing twice a day is important.
Use a non-medicated, gentle cleanser as soon as sweat-producing activity has ended. Astringents, toners and exfoliating agents may be too harsh for many teens with acne. Using medicines that complement your skin type will assist acne flare-ups while preventing harsh side effects. Some medications used to treat acne may promote increased sun sensitivity and may require the daily use of oil-free sunscreen. A referral to a dermatology clinic for more effective acne management may benefit those who are self-conscious about their acne, are not improving with over-the-counter (OTC) medications or who have scarring. Medications given by a dermatologist or primary care provider may be tailored to better control acne while meeting seasonal challenges with greater ease and satisfaction.
The risk of sun damage is very real for teens trying to clear up their acne by “catching some rays.” Melanoma is now the number-one cancer in the 25-to-29 age-group, and the second most common type of cancer in those ages 15 to 29.
One in five Americans will have skin cancer diagnosed during their lifetime. Prevention and protection are key. For acne-prone skin, an oil-free sunscreen is best. For all other skin, a broad-spectrum sunscreen is optimal to protect from both UVA and UVB harmful rays.
The American Academy of Dermatology suggests at least SPF 15 to prevent sun damage, with reapplication every two hours. If you miss the reapplication window, the risk of damage will be lessened if you use a higher SPF initially. Also, water- resistant formulas are the best choice notwithstanding the need to reapply when swimming. In 2011 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration set forth new guidelines removing the unwarranted labeling of waterproof on any sunscreen.
INFECTION RISK AND PREVENTION
An increase in outdoor activities during the summer makes athletes especially prone to skin infections of the viral, fungal and bacterial nature. Skin-to-skin contact or shared equipment is a common vehicle for transfer of these organisms. Team members must be made aware of their responsibility and the need for cleanliness whenever possible. Any settings in which pads or helmets are shared provide a dark, warm, moist environment for organisms to multiply and spread. Cleaning/disinfecting equipment daily with either manufacturer-recommended cleansers or acetic acid (vinegar) can prevent the spreading of germs.
To prevent infections surrounding heat-related activities, keep scrapes or cuts clean and medicated at the onset of the wound. Protect blister-prone skin on feet or extremities by using a spray or dressings and by ensuring properly fitted footwear. You can buy moisture-wicking clothing to keep moist skin dry. OTC powders such as cornstarch or Zeasorb™ may promote dryness when moisture becomes challenging. Wear protective footwear or sandals while showering in locker rooms. Teammates should not share towels, soap bars or razors.
An individual or family member should perform regular skin checks for any red, swollen or pus-containing cuts/sores/ wounds. Skin infections run the risk of causing harmful and life-threatening complications. Your teen should see a dermatologist or primary care provider if fever or chills are present, or if a wound is not healing easily.
As Ben Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This applies to preventing heat-related skin problems as well. It’s never too early or too late to encourage a healthy skin routine for your teen. Educating your teens about skincare not only will help protect their skin now, but will make them aware of their role in promoting healthy skin going forward.
Christi Cantu, MSN, CPNP, is a certified PNP who has specialized in pediatric dermatology for the past eight years. She currently works for the Pediatric Dermatology of North Texas and serves as Associate Clinical Professor for University of Texas at Arlington and Associate Clinical Professor for Texas Women’s University.