It keeps your insides from falling out. It helps you warm up when you're cold and can cool you off when you're hot. It lets you feel things by touch. It protects you.
What is this wondrous stuff? Your skin, of course! And what does your skin ask for in return for all the wonderful things it does? Just a little care and consideration. So let's learn how to take good care of the skin you're in.
Why Be Nice to Your Skin?
Like the heart, stomach, and brain, your skin is an organ. In fact, it's the largest organ in your body, but it's still easy to take skin for granted. Unless there's a problem, you may not think about your skin very much. But skin has an important job to do.
Your skin is constantly protecting you. Your skin keeps infections out of your body and keeps you from getting sick. When you take care of your skin, you're helping your skin do its job. And taking care of your skin today will help prevent future problems, like wrinkles and even skin cancer.
Clean Skin Is Happy Skin
One simple way to take care of your skin is to keep it clean. Keeping your hands clean is especially important because your hands can spread germs to the skin on other parts of your body.
When washing your hands, use water that's comfortably warm. Wet your hands, then lather up with a mild soap. You should lather and rub everywhere, including the palms, the wrists, between the fingers, and under the nails. Rinse well, dry thoroughly with a clean towel, and you're done!
You'll also want to use water that's warm, not too hot, when you take a shower or bath. Use a gentle soap to clean your body. Don't forget under your arms and behind your ears! Your face needs attention, especially as you enter puberty and the skin on your face gets more oily. It's a good idea to wash your face once or twice daily with warm water and a mild cleanser.
If you look in the drugstore, you'll see shelf after shelf of skin care products, but kids don't usually need anything more than a gentle soap. Talk to a parent or your doctor if you have questions about what to use on your skin.
If you have dry, flaky, or itchy skin, you might use a moisturizing lotion or cream. When choosing a moisturizer, pick one without a lot of colors and perfumes. Petroleum jelly can work for some kids. If you are worried about pimples, look for a moisturizer that is non-comedogenic (won't cause pimples).
With pimples, you might think that scrubbing your face is the way to get rid of them. But actually, your skin will be less likely to break out if you clean it gently, using your fingertips, not a rough washcloth. If you have trouble with pimples, talk with your doctor about which cleansers are best to use.
Allergies to Skin Care Products
Sometimes when you use a new kind of soap or other skin product, your skin may get irritated or you may get an allergic reaction. If you get a rash or if your skin feels itchy, hot, dry, or like it's burning, tell an adult. Stop using the product and don't forget that it caused a reaction. You don't want to use it again or buy a product with the same active ingredient.
To test a new product, place a tiny bit of it on the inside of your wrist or arm. Watch for any redness or irritation over the next 24 hours. If your skin becomes red or irritated, don't use the product. Sometimes, your skin is fine with a new product the first time, or few times, you use it, but then your skin gets red or irritated later on. You'll want to stop using the product whenever redness or irritation occurs.
Screening Your Skin From Damage
There is one product that everyone needs: sunscreen. Even if your skin is naturally dark, you still need to use a sunscreen. Protecting your skin from the sun prevents sunburn, which hurts and is a kind of skin damage. Sunscreen also can help prevent wrinkles when you get older and can decrease the risk of skin cancer, which is caused by exposure to the sun's harmful rays.
Choose a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or 45, and apply it evenly. Try not to miss any spots, such as your neck or the middle of your back. Have a friend or your parent help you with the hard-to-reach spots. Follow the directions on the sunscreen, which often recommend reapplying it, especially after swimming or sweating.
Because sunscreen cannot protect your skin completely from the sun, it's also a good idea to wear a brimmed hat and use a lip balm containing sunscreen. If you need more protection from the sun, wear long sleeves and pants. Also, avoid the sun between 10 AM and 2 PM.
Soothing Skin That's Sore
Everybody gets little scrapes and cuts on their skin. When this happens to you, be sure to wash the area with warm water and a mild soap. Talk to one of your parents about whether to use an antibiotic (say: an-tie-bye-ah-tik) cream or ointment. This can kill germs at the site of the cut and prevent an infection. Covering a cut with a bandage helps keep it clean.
When you have a more serious cut, you may need to go to the doctor or the emergency department. A deep cut might need stitches to heal properly. Instead of stitching a cut together with special thread, in some cases, doctors can use a special kind of glue.
Burns are another serious problem for your skin. Prevent them by staying away from fire (such as matches, candles, and fireplaces) and steering clear of stoves, irons, and other sources of heat. If you accidentally get burned, tell a grown-up so he or she can get you the care you need.
Solving Skin Problems
Bug bites, bee stings, and poison ivy are all common skin problems. Try not to scratch! Scratching can tear your skin and is another way for germs to get in there and possibly cause an infection. Your mom or dad can help you by applying an ointment or cream to fight the itch.
If it's chickenpox that's making you itch, your mom or dad can help you apply some calamine lotion. Taking a bath with a little oatmeal in it - or an oatmeal-based bath powder - also can make you more comfortable. Scratching chickenpox can cause infections. Scratching also can cause scars where your chickenpox were.
Eczema (say: ek-zuh-muh) is another itchy problem. You're more likely to have this dry skin condition if you have asthma, hay fever, or other allergies. If a moisturizing cream doesn't work, you may need to see your doctor or a dermatologist (say: dur-muh-tah-luh-jist), a doctor who specializes in skin care.
Urticaria (say: ur-tuh-kar-ee-ah), also known as hives, is a type of skin rash that causes red blotches or bumps that itch. Hives can be caused by an infection, or an allergic reaction to an insect bite, or something you ate, breathed in, or touched. Your mom or dad might give you medicine, such as an antihistamine, to reduce the swelling or itching related to the hives. If someone has hives and other symptoms, such as trouble breathing, the person needs to go to the emergency department.
You may not think of it as skin, but you have skin on your scalp, where your hair grows. Sometimes, this skin can get flaky and fall off. This might be dandruff, the little white flakes you can sometimes see if you are wearing a dark-colored shirt. Talk to your mom or dad about this and they can buy you a special shampoo, or talk to the doctor about getting a medicated shampoo to control dandruff.
We've been talking a lot about the problems your skin can have, but don't forget how super your skin is. Your skin has amazing healing ability. Remember the last time you had a cut? What happened to it? Let us guess - your skin completely healed or left only a small scar? See what we mean? Your skin is simply skintastic!
Reviewed by: Patrice Hyde, MD
Date reviewed: September 2007