Sometimes it may seem like your skin is impossible to manage, especially when you wake up and find a huge zit on your nose or a cold sore at the corner of your mouth. The good news is that there are ways to prevent and treat common skin problems — read on for some tips.
A pimple starts when the pores in the skin become clogged with a type of oil called sebum, which normally lubricates the skin and hair. Acne is common during puberty when hormones go into overdrive, causing the skin to overproduce sebum. Because many oil-producing glands are on the forehead, nose, and chin, this area — the T-zone — is where a person is most prone to pimples.
Here are some tips to help prevent breakouts and clear them up as fast as possible:
- Wash your face twice a day (no more) with warm water and a mild soap made for people with acne. Gently massage your face with circular motions. Don't scrub. Overwashing and scrubbing can cause skin to become irritated. After cleansing, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends applying an over-the-counter (no prescription needed) lotion containing benzoyl peroxide. This will decrease oil and bacteria.
- Don't pop pimples. It's tempting, but here's why you shouldn't: Popping pimples can push infected material further into the skin, leading to more swelling and redness, and even scarring. If you notice a pimple coming before a big event, like the prom, a dermatologist can often treat it for you with less risk of scarring or infection.
- Avoid touching your face with your fingers or leaning your face on objects that collect sebum and skin residue like your phone. Touching your face can spread the bacteria that cause pores to become inflamed and irritated. To keep bacteria at bay, wash your hands before applying anything to your face, such as treatment creams or makeup.
- If you wear glasses or sunglasses, make sure you clean them frequently to keep oil from clogging the pores around your eyes and nose.
- If you get acne on your body, try not to wear tight clothes. They don't allow skin to breathe and may cause irritation. Scarves, headbands, and caps can collect dirt and oil, too.
- Remove your makeup before you go to sleep. When buying makeup, make sure you choose brands that say "noncomedogenic" or "nonacnegenic" on the label. Throw away old makeup that smells or looks different from when you first bought it.
- Keep hair clean and out of your face to prevent additional dirt and oil from clogging your pores.
- Protect your skin from the sun. It may seem like a tan masks acne, but it's only temporary. A tan may worsen your acne, not improve it. Tanning also causes damage to skin that will eventually lead to wrinkles and increase your risk of skin cancer.
If you're concerned about acne, talk to a dermatologist. Dermatologists offer a range of treatments that help to prevent and acne scars. A dermatologist can help you find the treatment method that's best for you and can also give you lots of useful tips for dealing with acne and caring for your skin type. Some salons and spas have trained skin specialists, called estheticians, who can offer advice and skin care treatments.
Sun and Skin
We all know we need to protect our skin from the sun's harmful rays. Of course, it's impossible to avoid the sun — who wants to hide indoors when it feels so great to get outside? And the sun's not all bad, anyway: Sunlight helps our bodies create vitamin D. So follow these tips when you're outdoors to help manage sun exposure:
- Wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, even if it's cloudy or you don't plan on spending a lot of time outdoors. If you sweat a lot or go swimming, reapply sunscreen every 11/2 to 2 hours (even if the bottle says the sunscreen is waterproof).
- Choose a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Look for the words "broad spectrum protection" or UVA protection in addition to the SPF of 15 or greater. Select a sunscreen that says "nonacnegenic" or "noncomedogenic" on the label to help keep pores clear.
- The sun's rays are strongest between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM, so reapply sunscreen frequently and take breaks indoors if you can. If your shadow is longer than you are tall, then it's a safer time to be in the sun (you should still wear sunscreen, though).
- Apply more sunscreen (with higher SPF) when you're around reflective surfaces like water, snow, or ice.
- We all know that the sun can damage skin, but did you know it can contribute to eye problems, too? Protect your face and eyes with a hat and sunglasses that provide 100% UV protection.
- Some medications, such as prescription acne medications, can increase your sensitivity to the sun (and to tanning beds). So if you're taking medication, increase your sun protection.
- If you want the glow of a tan, try faking it with self-tanners or salon spray-on treatments. Avoid tanning beds. They still contain some of the same harmful UV rays as the sun.
Cold sores usually show up as tender blisters on the lips. They are caused by a type of herpes virus (HSV-1, which most often is not sexually transmitted) so they are contagious from person to person. Once you get this virus it stays in your body, meaning you'll probably get cold sores every now and then throughout your life.
Here are ways you can help prevent cold sores from making an appearance (or reappearance if you've had them in the past):
- Avoid getting cold sores in the first place by not sharing stuff like lip balm, toothbrushes, or drinks with other people who might have cold sores. The virus that causes cold sores is transmitted through the nose (in mucus) and the mouth (in saliva).
- People who have the virus know that cold sores can flare up from things like too much sun, stress, or being sick. Just one more reason to lather on that suntan lotion, eat well, exercise, and get plenty of sleep!
If you do have a cold sore, here are some tips for keeping yourself comfortable:
- Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen if the cold sores are painful.
- Suck on ice pops or cubes to ease pain and keep cold sores cool.
- Stay away from acidic foods (like oranges, tomatoes, and lemonade) and salty, spicy foods, which can cause irritation.
- Don't pick at cold sores while you're waiting for them to go away. They may bleed or become infected with bacteria or you could spread the virus.
Usually, cold sores go away on their own after a week or two. But if you get them frequently or they're a problem, talk to your doctor or dermatologist, who may be able to prescribe medication to alleviate symptoms and shorten the amount of time cold sores last.
Eczema is a condition that causes skin to become red, itchy, and dry. If you have eczema, you might notice that you are prone to getting itchy rashes — especially in places like where your elbows and knees bend or on your neck and face. The symptoms of eczema can vary from person to person.
Though you can't cure eczema forever, you can take steps to prevent it from flaring:
- Stay away from things like harsh detergents, perfumed soaps, and heavily fragranced lotions that tend to irritate the skin and trigger eczema.
- Because hot water dries by quick evaporation and over-washing with soap may dry skin, take short, warm showers and baths. If you're going to have your hands in water for a long time (like when you're washing dishes or your car), try wearing gloves. Detergent can dry and irritate skin.
- Soothe your skin with regular applications of a fragrance-free moisturizer to prevent itching and dryness. Creams generally moisturize a bit better and last longer than lotions for most people. Creams work best if applied when the skin is slightly wet, like just after bathing.
- Be careful which fabrics you wear. Cotton is good because it's breathable and soft. (But if you are exercising, some of the newer synthetic materials actually keep you drier and are better for you than cotton.) Try to stay away from materials like wool or spandex that may cause irritation or allergic reactions.
- Keep stress in check. Because stress can lead to eczema flares, try activities like yoga or walking after a long day to keep your stress levels low.
- If you wear makeup, look for brands that are free of dyes and fragrances that can aggravate eczema.
If you're having trouble managing your eczema, talk to a dermatologist, who can suggest ways to better control it.
Other Skin Conditions
Warts are tiny skin infections caused by viruses of the human papilloma virus (HPV) family. There's no way to prevent warts from occurring (other than avoiding contact with people who have them). But if you do get them, don't rub, pick, or scratch them because you can spread the virus and get new warts.
Some over-the-counter medications containing special acids can help get rid of warts, but it's always a good idea to see your doctor before trying one. If you find warts in your genital area, you should see your doctor, who can recommend the best treatment method for that sensitive area.
Another type of wart-like viral infection is molluscum contagiosum. (It's not as scary as its name sounds!) Like warts, it can be transmitted through scratching and sexual contact.
Fine white or purplish lines on the skin called stretch marks are pretty common in most teens. Stretch marks are formed when the tissue under your skin is pulled by rapid growth or stretching, like during puberty. Stretch marks usually fade on their own over time. Talk to a dermatologist if you're concerned about them.
Because our skin is the most visible reflection of what's going on in our bodies, people equate healthy skin with beauty. But healthy skin is about more than just good looks; it's essential to our survival. So keep your skin glowing with the right skin care techniques and by eating well and getting lots of exercise.
Reviewed by: Patrice Hyde, MD
Date reviewed: February 2011
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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