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Caring for Your Skin

This is an excerpt from Live Well Comprehensive High School Health With Web Resource by Karen E. McConnell,Terri D. Farrar & Charles B. Corbin.

Your skin is a part of your body, and it responds to the choices you make. Following a good skin care regimen is important. Skin is healthiest when you drink plenty of water, eat a healthy diet, and get regular physical activity. On the other hand, smoking, being exposed to too much sunlight, and experiencing a lot of stress make the skin less healthy.

Recognizing and Treating Common Skin Problems

Everyone will experience skin problems or skin irritations at some point in their life. Skin issues can occur for numerous reasons aside from hygiene habit. Environmental circumstances, exposure to irritants and chemicals, aging processes, and side effects from medicines and medical treatments all play roles in causing skin conditions. Sometimes the appearance of the skin can also serve as a clue that other medical conditions like hepatitis might be present. Most skin problems are temporary and can be treated. The next section describes a few of the most common skin conditions.

Acne is a condition that affects your skin’s oil glands and hair follicles. These glands make oil, and they push dead skin cells to the surface of the skin. The mixture of oil and dead skin cells sometimes forms a plug. When this happens, the area can become infected and form a pimple. Acne is a collection of pimples that mostly occurs on the face, neck, back, chest, and shoulders. The best way to prevent and treat pimples is to keep the skin clean. Acne is most likely to result from hormone changes during puberty combined with personal hygiene practices. Acne is not, however, the result of commonly misunderstood causes such as caffeine and chocolate. Washing your face two times a day with warm water and gentle soap can help prevent acne. If you have severe acne, it is a good idea to see a dermatologist. Both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications may help treat acne.

Acne Medication

Over-the-counter acne medicines typically include one of the following active ingredients.

  • Benzoyl peroxide. This ingredient kills the bacteria that cause acne and helps remove excess oil that can clog pores. With concentrations ranging from 2.5 to 10 percent, possible side effects can include dry skin, scaling, burning, redness, and stinging. Use care when applying these products because they can bleach your hair and clothing. If your skin shows irritation, select a product with a lower concentration.
  • Salicylic acid. This ingredient helps prevent pores from becoming plugged but can cause mild stinging and skin irritation. Products that contain salicylic acid are available in strengths from 0.5 to 5 percent.
  • Alpha hydroxy acids. Glycolic acid and lactic acid are the two acids found in OTC medication. They treat acne by helping to remove dead skin cells and by reducing inflammation. They can also stimulate the growth of new, smoother skin. These products can help the overall appearance of skin.

When choosing an acne product, consider the following information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The acne product that’s best for you depends on many factors, including your skin type, the type and severity of your acne, and your skin care preferences. Here are some general guidelines for choosing and using acne products:

  • Begin with benzoyl peroxide. If you’re not sure which acne product to buy, start with one that contains benzoyl peroxide. It is effective and often well tolerated.
  • Start with lower strength acne products. This can help minimize redness, dry skin, and other skin problems. If the product doesn’t seem to help, gradually select products with higher concentrations.
  • Use products with different active ingredients to treat stubborn acne. Acne ingredients work in different ways, and using more than one can be helpful. Try one at night and another in the morning.
  • Be patient. Treating acne with acne products takes time and patience. It may take two or three months of daily use for a result to be seen.

Eczema is also called dermatitis (see figure 2.2). A majority of the different types of eczema causes dry, itchy skin and rashes either on the face, inside the elbows and behind the knees, or on the hands and feet. Eczema is not contagious. The cause is not known, but most doctors believe it is a result of both genetic and environmental factors. Eczema may get better or worse over time, but it is often a long-term condition. Treatments may include medicines, skin creams, light therapy, and good skin care.

Sunburns will make the skin turn red and hot to the touch. They typically fade on their own after a few days. If you are sunburned too often, it can cause dry or wrinkled skin, dark spots, rough spots, and skin cancers, such as melanoma. It is important to stay out of the sun and to protect your skin from the sun by wearing protective gear, clothing, and sunscreen when you are outside.

Preventing and Detecting Skin Cancer

Skin cancer (melanoma) is the most common cancer in the United States. Sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer. Only half of all teens report using sunscreen on a regular basis, and 80 percent believe that tan skin makes people look healthier. Unfortunately, sun exposure is especially risky for teenagers because the body is growing, and the cells are rapidly multiplying. Over the long term, tanning can also cause the skin to lose its elastic quality. This means that the skin will wrinkle. Sun spots or uneven skin tone can also occur. It is important to inspect your skin regularly for changes that might suggest skin cancer. When doing a skin check, be sure to check all visible parts of your skin along with your scalp, armpits, spaces between fingers and toes, and genitals and use the ABCDE method (see figure 2.3). To prevent skin cancer and to keep your skin looking as healthy as possible, you should also follow these recommendations from the CDC.

  • Seek shade, especially in the middle of the day.
  • Wear clothing that covers and protects your skin, such as hats, long sleeves, and long pants. This includes looking for lightweight and breathable fabrics that are specially treated to keep dangerous rays from hitting your skin.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim to protect your neck, ears, and face.
  • Wear sunglasses that block UVA (long wave) and UVB (short wave) sun rays.
  • Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.
  • Avoid tanning indoors or outdoors.

Figure 2.3 The ABCDE method. Reprinted from National Cancer Institute (1990).
Figure 2.3 The ABCDE method.
Reprinted from National Cancer Institute (1990).

More Excerpts From Live Well Comprehensive High School Health With Web Resource