From infancy to our senior years the variety of skin disorders we are most susceptible to changes. Also, treatments for dermal-related ailments differ according to the age of those affected. This guide provides information about some of the most common skin disorders affecting people throughout the following life stages; babies, children, teenagers, pregnant women, adults, and older people. This is intended as a guide only, if you have any concerns you should see your doctor or dermatologist especially when it comes to more vulnerable groups such as babies, children, those who are pregnant and older people.
Common Skin disorders Throughout All Life Stages
- Eczema and Dermatitis– general terms which refer to skin irritations including rashes, itching, swelling, and sore skin. The most common places to have eczema are:
- Inside of elbows and knees
However, it can appear anywhere, in patches, or in severe cases all over the body. It is not contagious and can have a multitude of causes including allergies, sensitivities, environmental factors, skincare products, foods, and genetics. Eczema varies enormously in severity with symptoms including:
- Dry skin or rough patches
- Scaly skin
Prevention is not always possible or easy. As environmental factors are often a cause of eczema it is important to try to be aware of what triggers it or makes it worse. Avoiding chemicals including fragranced products is often helpful. Some people find that using antihistamine products has positive effects if a cause is an allergic reaction to pet dander for example. Doctors will sometimes prescribe steroid-based creams and lotions to ease symptoms if they are severe. Avoid scratching as this can worsen symptoms and introduce bacteria to sores causing infection.
- Sunburn – despite being preventable sunburn is one of the most common skin problems affecting people of all ages. Although it is usually mild and treatable at home, avoiding sunburn is important to prevent premature aging of the skin but more importantly to avoid skin cancers caused by overexposure to harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays. Symptoms of sunburn include pink-tinged, or reddening of the skin, leading to dryness and/or peeling, skin that feels hot to the touch and is sore. In more serious cases there may be fluid-filled blisters. Severe cases can cause dehydration, nausea, confusion, headaches, tiredness, and ulcerous wounds.
Preventing sunburn is important as repeated exposure to UV rays, especially repeated severe sunburn can cause skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma. To prevent sunburn it is important to avoid prolonged exposure to the sun. Wear clothing that will protect skin from the sun; hat, sunglasses, t-shirts or long sleeves and pants and if your skin is exposed wear a high factor sunscreen, reapply regularly and after swimming. Treatments for sunburn include:
- Drinking plenty of water
- Cooling packs or cold showers
- Ibuprofen or similar anti-inflammatory medication
- Lavender oil
- Specially formulated after-sun products
New-born Skin Issues
For new parents, any issue with their newborn’s skin can causes unease and fear. This fear is not unfounded as some rashes can be indicative of a serious illness. If you are in any doubt about your newborn’s health is always best to contact your pediatrician. However, to give you some peace of mind the following are some of the most common skin issues which affect newborn babies and young infants
- Milia – also called milk-spots. These small white spots are simply blocked pores and can occur at any age but are very common in newborn babies. About half of all new-borns will have milia. They can be born with them or they can appear over the first few days usually over the nose and cheeks. They go away by themselves within a few weeks. They are not harmful, there is no prevention or treatment required. However, do not try to pick or pop them because you could cause an infection by introducing bacteria to your baby’s skin. These are sometimes confused with baby acne, see below.
- Baby Acne – Also called erythema toxicum, which sounds worse than it is. Sometimes confused with milia, baby acne is different. The spots tend to be larger than milia and will usually be red, perhaps with while pustules; more like the kind of pimples that you see on teenage skin. It is common, affecting around 20-40% of babies when they are just a couple of weeks old. As with teenage acne, it is thought to have a hormonal cause, perhaps as a result of the mothers’ hormones still inside the baby’s system. Unlike teenage acne, you should not use any products it will simply go away by itself over a few weeks. Do not pick the spots as you could cause an infection.
- Cradle cap/Seborrheic dermatitis – is a harmless condition affecting half of all babies. It is not itchy or sore. It appears as yellowish, greasy, flaky crusts on the scalp, eyebrows, and sometimes other parts of the body. It can leave the baby’s skin looking red. There is no way to prevent cradle cap and will go away by itself with time. Washing the hair with baby shampoo will loosen crusts which can be then brushed away with a soft-bristled hairbrush. You could also massage with olive oil to loosen crusts before washing. Do not pick at the crusts in case you cause an infection.
Skin Complaints in Infants and Children
- Diaper (or Nappy) rash – this is very common among infants, most get it at least once. It appears as red patches on your baby’s bottom and/or genitals. The red patches may be raised, it looks sore and can feel hot to the touch. There might also be blisters or spots. In mild cases, your baby won’t notice but it can become very sore. The following can help to prevent and treat it:
- Change your baby’s diaper regularly and as soon as possible after a bowel movement
- Use gentle soaps and bubble baths especially formulated for babies or just use warm water
- Clean and dry the area thoroughly but gently
- Allow your baby plenty of time without a diaper to allow air circulation
- Use a barrier cream
- Use a recommended diaper rash cream
- Ringworm – despite the name this is a fungal infection and is not caused by a worm or other parasite. Ringworm appears anywhere on the body usually as a red and/or silver rash in a ring shape. It can spread and there can be more than one rash and it may be sore, dry, swollen, and itchy. It is contagious and is spread by other persons or animals including via towels and bedding. It can also be contracted via soil although this is less likely. You can both treat and prevent it from spreading by treating it as soon as possible with an anti-fungal cream or spray from the pharmacy.
- Impetigo –a skin infection common in children but can affect anyone. Although not serious it is highly contagious. It starts as a small patch of sore, red skin like a blister that bursts leaving yellowy-brown crusts. It spreads to other parts of your body and can be itchy and/or sore. Occasionally impetigo causes other symptoms such as a temperature, feeling generally unwell and tired. It is easily treated with antibiotics from your doctor and is no longer infectious 48 hours after treatment has started. Symptoms clear up with a treatment in around a week. Untreated, it will remain infectious and will last a few weeks.
- Chicken Pox – a very infectious and common childhood illness (although adults can get it too). It is known for its spotty rash which is very itchy. Red spots turn into fluid-filled blisters which burst and scab over. The rash is accompanied and often preceded by a high temperature, headache, tiredness and generally feeling unwell. There is no treatment and it goes away on its own after 7 to14 days. You can soothe the itch with oatmeal baths, creams from the pharmacist, and other symptoms can be alleviated with paracetamol. Do not use ibuprofen for chickenpox as it can cause serious skin infections. There is a vaccine available for chickenpox and once you have had the disease you are unlikely to get it again.
Common Skin Disorders in Teenagers
- Acne – although it can affect people of any age it is the most common skin disorder in teenagers. During puberty excess sebum (skin’s natural moisturizer) blocks pores causing spots, pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads. If Propionibacterium acnes is present this causes the redness, swelling, pustules, cysts, pus-filled, painful lumps, and nodules of acne. Acne most commonly affects the face, neck, back, and chest but can appear anywhere on the body. Sometimes acne can be improved or controlled with lifestyle changes and improvements to skincare regimes. However, dermatologists or doctors sometimes suggest the following treatments:
- Antibacterial or sebum reducing ointments and creams
- Hormone treatments
- Chemical peels
- Dermabrasion (more usual for the scarring acne can cause)
- Light therapy
- Isotretinoin – a retinoid or vitamin A treatment only used in severe cases
- Laser treatment
Acne can cause embarrassment, anxiety, social problems, and even depression for those who experience it and these symptoms are important to address.
- Dandruff – common although not harmful it can cause sufferers, especially teenagers for, embarrassment and anxiety. It can also cause itching and a burning sensation on the scalp. There is no known cause and is not due to lack of hygiene. Symptoms are a flaky, dry scalp. Flakes will be visible on shoulders as well as in the hair. Various home treatments can be bought over the counter– look for ingredients such as zinc pyrithione, tar or coal tar, and selenium sulfide. Alternatively, a doctor or dermatologist may prescribe shampoos or other treatments including in some cases steroid-based treatments.
- Athletes Foot –a fungal infection that is usually found on the feet. It is exacerbated by sweat and shows as red, itchy, inflamed rash, especially between toes. It can be alleviated with over-the-counter anti-fungal creams, powders, and sprays which treat the foot and are recommended to use inside socks and shoes as well. It can be difficult to eradicate and as such can be a chronic problem for those that suffer from it.
- Cold Sores – caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) cold sores start as a small blister or pustule near the mouth or nose, or occasionally elsewhere on the face. The blister is characteristically tingly and itchy at the outset, grows and fills with fluid, and bursts leaving flaky scabs. Due to proximity to the mouth, they are easily ruptured by everyday activities such as eating, drinking, and talking this can cause the sore to grow as well as become painful. The virus can remain dormant for many years but a cold sore can be triggered by stress as well as changes in hormone levels, which is why they can be so common among teens. They usually recur regularly over periods of years. HSV-1 can also cause other such as fever, tiredness, swollen glands, and generally feeling unwell. Cold sores usually go away by themselves but to ease discomfort topical creams and numbing agents either as prescribed by a dermatologist or over the counter can help.
Skin Disorders During Pregnancy
- Pruritus – this means itchy skin and is a common complaint during pregnancy. Reasons for this include changes in hormones and chemicals as well as skin stretching as the baby grows. Although it is usually harmless, albeit annoying and uncomfortable it can also be a symptom of various, more serious complications so is best to check with a doctor. Once anything more serious has been ruled out it can be relieved with moisturizers or skin-calming lotions such as calamine but check with your pharmacist.
- Stretch marks – these harmless streaks or lines fade to silver over time but often start out purple, red, pink, brown, or black. Stretch marks are caused by rapid growth and or weight gain which is why they are common in pregnancy, although anyone can get them at any age. Although some say that keeping well hydrated and moisturizing the skin can prevent stretch marks there is little scientific basis for this. Stretch marks do fade but will not go away completely, but some treatments such as microdermabrasion, laser treatments and retinoid creams (not to be used during pregnancy) can reduce their appearance.
- Chloasma, melasma and hyperpigmentation –. This condition is temporary, harmless, and affects half to three-quarters of all pregnant women, and is especially common in darker-skinned women. The signs of melasma can range from freckles, moles, and areolas appearing darker to having larger blotches of patches of darker skin usually on your cheeks and forehead hence the nickname ‘mask of pregnancy. It is caused by fluctuations in hormones which cause the body to produce more melanin. Although you cannot completely prevent this condition you can reduce the severity by keeping out of the sun, wearing high factor sunscreen, eating plenty of folic-acid-rich foods. After pregnancy, the pigmentation will fade.
- Spider angiomas – these enlarged blood vessels in the skin are so-called because of their appearance; the large blood vessel being the body of the ‘spider’ with smaller blood vessels extending out from them (the legs). They are very common in pregnancy as they can be caused by an increase in estrogen levels. They are harmless and usually go away on their own after pregnancy. There is no treatment but they can be masked with concealer.
Common Skin Disorders in Adults
- Rosacea –a long-term skin disorder characterized by red, flushed skin on the face. Also sometimes visible blood vessels and white pustules over the cheeks. Symptoms appear sporadically and are often brought on and exacerbated by:
- Alcohol – especially red wine
- Spicy food
- Vigorous exercise
- Hormonal changes
- Some medications especially those that dilate your blood vessels
- Hot drinks
- Some products and cosmetics
It is most common in people between the ages of 35-50, in women, people with fairer skin, and those with a family history of rosacea. Some skincare products or even water can cause stinging or mild discomfort so more gentle products may be more suitable during a flare-up. An additional complication of rosacea is sometimes over a long period, and especially in men, it can cause thickening of the skin on the nose giving it a bulbous appearance (rhinophyma).
A doctor or dermatologist may suggest treatments for rosacea which can help to manage symptoms but cannot cure them. They include:
- Creams and or gels prescribed by a doctor or dermatologist
- A long course of antibiotics for up to 4 months
- IPL (intense pulsed light)
Common Skin Disorders in Mature Skin
- Pruritus – is the term for itchy skin but despite this sounding fairly innocuous not only can pruritus be a symptom of potentially serious diseases but can cause anxiety, insomnia. Furthermore, as people age their skin becomes thinner this means that scratching skin when it itches is more hazardous as it is more likely to split which can lead to infections.
- Infections – seniors are more likely to experience skin infections due to the changes that occur as part of the aging process. Thinner, drier skin, decreased healing ability, and increased susceptibility to disease all make skin infections more common among elderly people.
- Cellulitis – a potentially serious bacterial skin infection. Symptoms include swelling, redness that spreads quickly, pain, dimpling of the skin, sometimes fever, and feeling generally unwell. Cellulitis is caused by bacteria entering the skin through cuts, grazes, or insect bites and in particular by the bacteria streptococcus and MRSA. With a timely diagnosis, it can usually be treated with antibiotics though in severe cases surgery is sometimes required.
- Skin Cancer – although skin malignancies can affect people of any age, older people are more susceptible as older skin loses the ability to replace damaged cells and to regulate cell growth. Older skin is also more susceptible because damage caused by the UV rays builds up over time. Furthermore, dangers posed by UV rays is relatively new knowledge. Signs of skin cancer include growths, discolored patches, sores that don’t heal, irregular, new, or different moles. Any of these signs should be reported to a doctor who will then decide if a biopsy or surgical removal is required.
- Shingles – although shingles, which is a viral infection, the varicella-zoster the same virus that causes chickenpox, can affect people of any age it is more common in people over 50 years of age. If someone has had chickenpox, they can get shingles. It is characterized by fluid-filled blisters that burst and are susceptible to infection. It is also accompanied by fever, body aches and pains, tiredness, nausea, and swollen glands. It can lead to severe complications including pneumonia
British Skin Foundation – Know your skin inside out
Common Skin Conditions for People Over 70 (aarp.org)
DermNet NZ – All about the skin | DermNet NZ
Geriatric dermatoses: a clinical review of skin diseases in an aging population – PubMed (nih.gov)
Newborn Skin: Common Skin Problems (nih.gov)
Pregnancy and skin – PubMed (nih.gov)
Rosacea – British Skin Foundation
Skin Diseases, Conditions & Disorders| NIAMS (nih.gov)
Tips for Taking Care of Your Skin (for Teens) – Nemours KidsHealth