Parent's Guide to Skin Conditions: From Infant to Teenager - The Dermatology Review

Parent’s Guide to Skin Conditions: From Infant to Teenager

As a parent, it’s your job to keep your child healthy and safe. Your work can start with the skin. 

While serious skin problems in children are rare, parents can take steps to prevent or treat the common conditions that attack the skin. These are common skin conditions that affect children, from infants to teenagers:

What You Need to Know About Cradle Cap

You look down at your baby’s head, and you see something that looks a bit like a lacy bonnet even though you know your baby’s head is bare. Cradle cap could be the cause. 

Experts aren’t quite sure what causes this rash, but it could be tied to a mother’s hormonal changes during pregnancy. A baby’s oil glands move into overdrive in response, and all that oil builds up and creates a scaly redness. 

You can treat the issue and help your baby feel better with:

  • Baby shampoo. Use a mild detergent on your baby’s scalp once per day.
  • Brushes. A soft toothbrush can help you loosen the flakes and rub them away. 
  • Medication. If the rash worsens, your baby’s doctor may prescribe a mild steroid cream. 

Most babies improve within a few months of birth as their hormone levels equalize. But your gentle care can keep the problem from worsening, and you might keep your baby from digging at their scalp too.

What You Need to Know About Diaper Rash

Diapers are designed to keep your baby’s urine and stool from soaking into clothing, furniture, and bedding. But all the moisture a baby’s body produces can sit tightly against the skin, and that causes a nasty and painful rash in time.

About half of all babies will have a diaper rash at least once. But there are plenty of things parents can do to prevent the problem from coming back.

Your diaper rash to-do list should involve:

  • Frequent changes. Don’t delay changing a wet, soiled diaper. Remove the problem as soon as you can. 
  • Gentle cleansing. Rubbing too hard or using strong chemicals can further irritate chafed skin. Be gentle with your product choices and your hands. 
  • Barriers. Use a diaper cream to protect baby’s skin from the acids and enzymes in urine. 

Experts also recommend letting your baby spend time out of diapers. Skin exposed to fresh air has a better chance to heal. Put a waterproof barrier below baby to protect your home during these playtimes. 

What You Need to Know About Heat Rash

Your child’s body is lined with ducts that secrete sweat, and they work overtime when the weather is hot. Each drop of moisture they put out can help your child to cool off. But sometimes, those pores can’t do their work effectively.

A heat rash forms during times of high heat and high humidity. It’s commonly found in places where sweat collects, such as your child’s:

  • Armpits
  • Back
  • Behind elbows and knees 
  • Chest 
  • Groin 

Removing your child from the hot, humid environment helps. But it may take a day or two for the itchy rash to fade away completely. If your child develops this problem once, it’s wise to look for ways to reduce the risk of future outbreaks. 

What You Need to Know About Birthmarks

When you thought about your baby during pregnancy, you envisioned smooth skin with a consistent color. Maybe your baby would have pink cheeks or darker lips, but you thought all other areas would have the same color. Seeing a birthmark can be a bit surprising. 

Babies develop two main types of birthmarks: vascular (caused by unusual blood vessels) and pigmentary (caused by pigment cells). Neither is caused by something a mother eats or drinks during pregnancy

Most birthmarks are harmless. While they may not go away completely, they shouldn’t cause your baby longstanding harm. If you’re concerned, ask your doctor:

  • Is this birthmark normal?
  • Will it get bigger or smaller?
  • Should it cause complications?
  • Is there anything I can do to help?

What You Need to Know About Herpes

A virus causes herpes, and many people never know they have it. But children of any age can show symptoms when they’re exposed. 

Tiny children, for example, can be exposed to herpes during birth. It’s very rare for babies to be born with herpes, but it does happen. Children like this may have lesions on their mouth or their genitals. 

It’s not uncommon for older children to develop cold sores, and those are also caused by herpes. If you or another adult has the virus, and you give a child a kiss on the mouth, that gesture of affection could transmit the virus. Cold sores caused by the virus go away within a week or two, but they can come back again throughout life. 

Sexually active people (including teenagers) can also contract herpes, and their blisters can form on the genitals. The first outbreak is the most severe, but later outbreaks can remain quite painful. 

There is no cure for herpes, and people who are exposed will remain carriers of the virus for the rest of their lives. Your child may benefit from medications to help reduce the number and severity of outbreaks, but you’ll also need to discuss the virus and ensure that your child understands that the illness can pass to others.

What You Need to Know About Dandruff

Cells that line your child’s scalp grow, die, and flake away on a tightly regulated schedule. But sometimes, things go awry, and your child produces far too many cells at a time. When they flake off, they leave clouds of cells on your child’s clothing.

Some experts say dandruff is overtreated. It’s common, they say, and people should approach the condition with understanding instead of medications.

But others point out that dandruff has been associated with both bacteria and fungal cultures. That means some people have skin that flakes away due to a condition that could worsen. 

If your child experiences dandruff:

  • Talk with your doctor. Some medications made for dandruff aren’t appropriate to use on very young children. 
  • Clean with care. If your doctor approves a medicated shampoo, follow the instructions on the label carefully. 
  • Be gentle. Don’t attack dandruff outbreaks with metal combs or other harsh techniques. You could open up sores that lead to bacterial infections. 

Older children may not want to discuss dandruff. Be respectful of their nervousness and their need for privacy. But ensure that you’re offering support and medical care when you can, so your child doesn’t feel alone in fighting back.

What You Need to Know About Eczema

Your child’s skin looks red, flaky, and sore. And your child complains about itching or pain, and you notice a lot of digging or scratching at the sore spots. Your child could have eczema. 

About 18 million Americans have eczema, and many of them are children. The condition is associated with allergic diseases, including asthma, but the ultimate cause of the disorder is unknown. 

Avoiding outbreak triggers may help, and they’re very specific to your child. Some people experience worsening skin when they encounter:

  • Perfumes or cosmetic products.
  • Harsh detergents or some brands of soap. 
  • Cold or hot weather. 
  • Specific foods. 
  • Dust mites.

Watch over your child’s symptoms carefully, especially when you introduce a new food or product. You may find a way to ease future outbreaks. 

And ask your doctor for help in managing symptoms. Many people with eczema say the itching that comes with the disorder is unbearable, and it can impact the way they sleep or work. Ask if medications could help to soothe the sore skin so your child can feel better. 

What You Need to Know About Ringworm

Despite the name, a child with ringworm isn’t dealing with a worm at all. Ringworm is a fungal infection, and it’s somewhat common in children.

You may notice several small, red, circular lesions on your child’s hands and feet. The skin may look inflamed and sore, but your child may not complain about any type of pain or discomfort. 

Ringworm is spread by contact, and a child could encounter spores embedded in:

  • Pet fur. Cats, dogs, guinea pigs, and cattle can also harbor ringworm. 
  • Soil. Dirt can hold ringworm spores, and a child could touch them during play. 
  • Linens. Clothes, towels, and sheets handled by people with ringworm can infect a child. 

Talk to your child’s doctor about the lesions you’ve seen. Some over-the-counter treatments aren’t appropriate for very young children, and in severe cases, your child might need a prescription medication

What You Need to Know About Warts

It’s very rare for infants to develop warts. But as your child grows and begins to stand, walk, and run, the risk grows. Warts are caused by a virus, and it remains active in soil, on bathroom floors, and more. 

Between 10 and 20 percent of school-age children have warts. You might see them on toes, the soles of the feet, or fingers. They can be unsightly, and your child may be embarrassed about them. 

About half of all warts go away on their own within a year, even if you do nothing at all. But if your child is impatient, and you have your doctor’s approval, over-the-counter medications containing salicylic acid could help to dissolve the wart.

What You Need to Know About Measles

Your child is covered with a red, itchy rash. A fever develops, and your child’s temperature rises and rises. You may also notice that your child has a cough or runny nose. These measles symptoms should cause concern. 

One person in five will be hospitalized due to a measles infection. The condition doesn’t just cause spots and speckles on the skin. The high fever can cause your child’s brain to swell, and that can be deadly. 

Measles infections are almost entirely preventable with vaccines. But some families choose to skip this vital step. In 2020, 12 confirmed cases happened in the United States.

Talk to your doctor if you have any vaccine concerns. But remember that vaccines could mean prevention of a life-threatening problem.

What You Need to Know About Chickenpox

A rash and high fever also characterize chickenpox. While this condition was common in young people years ago, it’s now easy to prevent with a vaccine.

Chickenpox outbreaks come with predictable symptoms such as:

  • Blisters. Your child could have as many as 500 of them
  • Fever. Your child may feel hot to the touch, look flushed, and seem disoriented.
  • Pain. Your child may complain of a headache or chills. 
  • Fatigue. Your child may want to sleep all the time, even through meals. 

Chickenpox is serious, and the high fevers it causes can lead to brain swelling and dehydration. Vaccination prevents these problems. A two-dose series is more than 90 percent effective

If you’re concerned about vaccines or you have questions about how they work, talk to your child’s doctor.

What You Need to Know About Scabies

Your child has a pimple-like bump that itches terribly. Your child may talk to you about it, or you may notice the relentless scratching. In time, you notice that your child has more and more of these lesions. The issue could be caused by scabies. 

A tiny mite is responsible for scabies, and it passes from person to person through direct contact. Your child may pick it up through a touch, handholding, or a hug. And while the lesions are present, your child can give the problem to others. 

Scabies is easily treated with medications, but everyone in the household should be treated. Your child’s bedding and clothing should be washed too, as mites might be left behind to re-infect your family. 

Since a scabies outbreak can look very similar to other types of skin infections (including acne), it’s best to get a formal diagnosis from a doctor before you start treatment.

What You Need to Know About Lice

A tiny parasite makes a home in your child’s hair. We often associate lice outbreaks with seeing tiny eggs or nits. But lice bites can leave behind damage that looks like a rash. 

Lice are about the size of a sesame seed, and if you part your child’s hair, you may see them crawling or moving. To check for them:

  • Part your child’s hair.
  • Shine a bright light on the area.
  • Look for crawling or moving things. 
  • Brush hair out with a comb to complete your check. 

Your child isn’t at risk for disease due to a lice infestation, but the itching can be so intense that your child may find it hard to sleep. Digging at the bugs can lead to open sores and infections. 

Pesticides can help to kill lice, but take your child to the doctor before you use them. Applying medications to open sores can be painful, and some children need antibiotics to help them overcome the damage their scratching has caused. 

What You Need to Know About Acne

A face marked by deep, red, sore splotches is a rite of passage for most teenagers. As hormone levels rise during adolescence, oil glands malfunction and acne develops. The lesions are unsightly, and sometimes they’re painful. 

Most people stop having acne outbreaks by the time they reach age 30. But your child might panic at the thought of experiencing these issues for even one minute more. 

Help your child to develop good hygiene habits. Remind your child to:

  • Wash regularly. Gently wash the face and neck up to twice a day, and rinse again after sweating. 
  • Avoid abrasion. Skip the heavy-duty scrubs and use a gentle cleanser instead. Apply it with fingertips only. 
  • Rinse carefully. Use lukewarm water to remove all traces of cleanser. 
  • Keep their hands away from their face. Don’t pop or squeeze lesions, as this can worsen outbreaks and lead to scarring. It’s best to avoid touching the face since fingers can spread dirt and bacteria that lead to outbreaks.

Remind your child that acne is common and that it’s not a sign of uncleanliness. It’s something most people endure as they grow, and it too will pass.

What You Need to Know About Sun Exposure


As your child ages, the sunshine may start calling. Older children love to play outside during warm and sunny days. And your teenagers may congregate on the beach or beside lakes. All of these habits could lead to sun-related damage.

A child’s skin is always growing and changing, but sun damage can linger. Your child’s risk of skin cancer doubles with five or more sunburns

Purchase sunscreen for your child, and encourage daily use. Slip a bottle into your child’s purse or backpack, and send text reminders to encourage frequent applications. Supply hats and scarves to protect heads and necks, and choose wraparound sunglasses to protect the eyes. 

Model good behavior for your child too, and wear your own sunscreen and protective clothing. If your child sees you taking these steps, doing so may become natural for them.

References
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Common Diaper Rashes and Treatments. (January 2020). American Academy of Pediatrics.
Patient Education: Diaper Rash in Infants and Children. (October 2020). UpToDate.
Summer Skin Rashes. Australian Government Department of Health.
Miliaria. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.
Birthmarks. (August 2016). Nemours.
Common Newborn Rashes and Birthmarks. (June 2020). American Academy of Family Physicians.
Herpes Simplex Virus. (May 2020). World Health Organization.
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Genital Herpes. (October 2018). Nemours.
Dandruff: The Most Commercially Exploited Skin Disease. (April 2010). Indian Journal of Dermatology.
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