Parenting is an endless journey of deciding what time is the right time to do what – and skincare is no different.
For most parents, three primary questions come to mind when they start thinking about their child’s skincare:
- How soon should I bring my child to the dermatologist?
- What skin problems are they susceptible to and when do I need to be on the lookout for those issues?
- Is skin cancer in kids something I need to worry about?
As you try to figure out the right time for your child’s first dermatology visit, we’re here to ease your mind and answer your questions.
The Right Time for Your Child’s First Dermatology Visit
We recommend parents bring their children to their first dermatologist screening between the ages of 12-15. In these early teenage years, kids are starting to battle acne, making it a prime opportunity for an initial skin screening.
A visit to the dermatologist will address the current problem of acne as well as start the conversation about safe sun practices and prevention of sun damage.
Skin Cancer in Kids
Take a deep breath. Melanoma and dangerous moles are exceedingly rare in patients under the age of 15. If you or a close family member have experienced melanoma, you may have a heightened concern about skin cancers in children. Otherwise, you may not have given it much thought.
If you have a family history of melanoma and your child has a significant number of moles, bringing them in at a younger age for an initial screening can be helpful. Fortunately, skin cancer in children is extremely uncommon. Typically, middle school is young enough for us to catch any suspicious skin issues before they develop into something more serious.
Plus, this is a good time to begin the conversation about the importance of sun protection and wearing sunscreen so they don’t get skin cancers later in life. One of the most detrimental things you can do to your skin at a young age is fail to protect it from the sun. It is critically important for children to develop the habit of wearing sunscreen and learn to protect their skin.
Don’t forget about eye protection from the sun too. Teenagers, remember to wear sunglasses when you’re outside, particularly at sports practices. Also, avoid tanning beds. There is clear research that shows an increased risk of melanoma with the use of tanning beds.
Common Skin Issues for Kids and Teens
While skin cancer in kids isn’t a common occurrence, there are multiple skin conditions that could affect your child, specifically acne and rashes.
Acne is basically a right of passage that many of us go through during our teenage years. One of my goals as a dermatologist is not only to help teenagers treat acne but to prevent the scarring that may come from it. Scarring is much more difficult to treat than it is to prevent.
Acne is a frustrating skin disease and it takes time and patience using treatments to see improvements.
Typically, the biggest mistake teens make when it comes to acne is not sticking to a routine, or not sticking to the routine long enough. Many patients will try multiple products for 1-2 weeks at a time, then trash it because they believe it doesn’t work. In reality, it takes most treatments 2-3 months to bring visible improvement to the skin. Rather than jump from product to product, teenagers need to simplify their routine.
How do you find a routine that actually works? Talk to your doctor about finding a treatment regimen that’s best for your type of acne — then stick to it for at least three months before following up with your doctor.
There are a lot of products that promise to cure your acne quickly. Don’t be fooled. If a cream promises to cure your acne within a week, they’re lying. Acne is inflammation — and inflammation always needs time to respond to treatment.
Sunscreen is also vitally important to prevent acne scarring. Regular application of sunscreen will help prevent some of the red marks that acne can leave behind. Plus, it can reduce and minimize scarring. Your skin is already inflamed because of the acne, so adding the irritation of a sunburn compounds the issue and makes long-term scars more likely. Be smart about your sunscreen.
Kids are also prone to experience rashes. We commonly see rashes form after a cold, virus, or in response to a new medication. If you notice red, itchy, dry skin on your child that doesn’t fade in a few weeks, talk to your dermatologist about the best treatment.
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a red, itchy, inflamed rash that commonly appears in childhood and can last into adulthood. Children may need a prescription to control the inflammation that comes with this skin condition.
If your child is experiencing eczema, there’s probably a genetic component at play. Families with a history of seasonal allergies and/or asthma may be at higher risk for developing eczema or having children with eczema. There’s a lot of information (and misinformation) about eczema online. If you suspect eczema on your child, a consultation with a dermatologist is the best first step.
There is not a cure for eczema, but we can manage the symptoms. We typically start with good skincare, including gentle soaps, thick lotions, and reducing the frequency and duration of bathing time. If necessary, we can also prescribe topical creams and ointments to decrease the inflammation. Now, we also have a biologic medication called Dupixent that is extremely effective for treating severe eczema in people age 12 and older.
How Often Should My Child Visit The Dermatologist?
For eczema and acne patients, we typically recommend a follow-up appointment every three months. For general skin and mole checks, we see young patients every few years as long as they’re checking in with their pediatrician annually.
How To Best Care For Your Child’s Skin
Beyond visiting the dermatologist, it’s important to keep preventing sun damage every day on your child. It’s safe to start using sunscreen at six months of age. We recommend physical blocking sunscreens containing titanium or zinc oxide as the active ingredient. These are safe on small children and better protect their skin.
Other easy ways to protect your kids from the sun include long-sleeved sun shirts, sun hands, and keeping them out of direct sunlight between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm.
We know sun protection for kids isn’t as easy as it sounds, but do your best. Parents, don’t be too hard on yourself. Get sunscreen on your kids any way you can. Sunscreen comes in the form of creams, ointments, sprays, and sticks — use what works. The most important thing is to protect your child from the sun, no matter how you choose to do it.
Parenting is tough — don’t let skin concerns make it even tougher. Apply sunscreen regularly and contact your dermatologist if your child has a rash or other skin symptom that doesn’t clear. Otherwise, wait until middle school and bring them in when their acne flares. It’s the perfect time to start teaching great skincare habits that will last a lifetime.
Dr. Julia Kreger is a board-certified dermatologist in Glenwood and Vail, CO. She specializes in the prevention, early detection, and treatment of skin cancer, as well as improving the aesthetics of patients’ skin. Dr. Kreger is an active member of the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Society of Mohs Surgery, the Women’s Dermatologic Society, and the Colorado Dermatologic Society. In her spare time, she is an avid outdoorswoman, having climbed 95 of Colorado’s Centennial Peaks. She enjoys skiing, long distance running, and spending time with her fiancé and three dogs.
Learn more about Dr. Kreger.