Simple Skin Checklist & Red Flags

Written by Kristina Collins, M.D., FAAD

It’s never too early to get to know your skin and start taking care of it. Although it’s really rare, abnormal moles and skin cancers can occur in adolescents, so take a look at your skin once a month to check for any changes. There are certain changes on your skin that mean it’s time to see a dermatologist. So let someone know if you have noticed any of the following red flags.

Abnormal moles

When you take a look at your skin once a month, it’s a great idea to check out the various dark spots on your body called moles or nevi. Moles may be present at birth or can show up later in life. You can continue to get new ones up until about age 40. These skin marks are made up of cells called melanocytes that produce pigment in the skin. It’s a good idea to look out for changes in these growths and let a health professional know if one of them starts to become noticeably larger, changes in color, becomes asymmetrical (where both sides don’t match each other), or develops jagged borders. Skin growths that itch or bleed may also need a look. Moles can be unique marks for an individual and aren’t anything to be embarrassed about. We ALL have special and unique marks on our skin. But if a mole is growing or making you feel insecure, then it could be time to see a dermatologist. If you would like to try to prevent the development of new moles make sure to wear sunblock or use sun-protective clothing every day. Protection from the sun is the only way to stop or slow the development of new moles, sun spots, or freckles.

Family History

Has your birth mom, birth dad, or any siblings been diagnosed with melanoma? If anyone in your immediate biological family has been diagnosed with melanoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer, we recommend that you have a skin check during your annual physical just to look you over.

Acne Scarring

It is normal to get some acne as an adolescent but if there are more than ten inflammatory lesions at a time or deep painful nodules, you may need to see a dermatologist for treatment. These deep nodules have the potential to scar, so if you start seeing marks left on the skin from your acne, let your caregivers know that you may need some help taking care of your skin. There are some natural remedies for acne scarring but be sure to speak to your doctor or dermatologist about natural remedies and other treatment options for acne scarring that might be right for you.

Rash

If you have a rash that is impacting your activities or self-esteem you can always get help. Let’s face it, being a preteen or teen is complicated enough without skin problems holding you back. Lots of individuals have rashes like eczema or psoriasis and these problems often require a visit to the dermatologist to get it under control. If you have an itchy rash or other skin problem that just doesn’t seem to go away with good, daily hygiene and skin care then let a parent or caregiver know you need a little help.

Hair loss

If you notice patches of hair falling out on your skin/scalp, you may have a condition called alopecia areata. The good news is, this is usually reversible with treatment. However, you will need to see a dermatologist to get creams or special in-office injections to remedy the bald patches. Other reasons for hair loss include hormonal imbalances, poor nutrition, hair treatments or styling techniques that are damaging to the hair, medical illness or condition, etc. For some people solutions include wearing hair pieces (including toppers), extensions, wigs, headbands, or hats. Others may decide to embrace their thinning hair or “bald is beautiful look.” See BLOOM’s Hair Care section for more on alopecia and traction alopecia.

Sore/Ulcer in Genital Area

Not all problems on the vulva (the external female genital area), the penis, or the scrotum are sexually transmitted, but a painful sore in the genital region can sometimes be the result of a herpes infection. Tan and brown warts can also occur in the genital area due to exposure to a sexually transmitted infection called human papillomavirus (HPV). Other skin conditions can occur in the genital region that are not sexually transmitted, including contact dermatitis (a type of allergic reaction), psoriasis (a common skin condition that often causes red rashes on the knees, elbows, scalp, folds between the buttocks, and groin), and fungal infections. Any of these issues usually call for a trip to the doctor to check the area and get treatment options.