Acne may top the charts when it comes to skin miseries, but a handful of others are worth knowing about.

Allergic and contact dermatitis

Dermatitis means skin irritation. The cause may be something you are allergic to or just an irritating substance; the result is usually redness, hives, or a rash. An example of contact dermatitis is poison ivy. Certain harsh chemicals, detergents, and even fabrics (such as wool) or metal jeweiry (often those containing nickel and zinc) may also cause a rash when they touch skin.

Allergic dermatitis is caused by exposure to a substance to which an individual is allergic. The substance may be eaten or it simply may touch the skin. Some people get rashes or hives from shellfish, for example, or certain fruits or vegetables. Some medicines or chemicals in skin creams may cause an allergic reaction. Allergies usually are just annoying; in some cases, however, they may be life-threatening.

Calamine lotion or other soothing anti-itch preparations may relieve the symptoms, but it is a good idea to have a doctor find out what has caused the reaction so it can be avoided in the future.

Athlete’s foot

This itchy condition usually is caused by one of several types of fungus that grow between the toes and under the nails. The dark, moist environment of a foot inside shoes and socks (especially if they are sweaty) is ideal for this relative of ringworm (also a fungus, not a worm at all). Contrary to popular belief, it is not spread from one person to another. The best prevention is to dry feet well after bathing (especially between the toes); wear cotton socks and leather or canvas shoes, all of which help moisture to evaporate; change your socks daily and let your shoes air out between wearings.

Over-the-counter foot powders may help relieve itching, but it the flaking and cracking last more than two weeks, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor.

Cold sores or fever blisters

These tiny reddish blisters are caused by a member of a virus family that also includes ones that cause chicken pox, mononucleosis, and genital herpes. The culprit in cold sores is called herpes simplex type 1; the cause is neither the common cold nor a fever. The blisters usually appear around the mouth and on the gums, and range from ugly but only mildly irritating to extremely painful. The virus is spread through close contact with an infected person – kissing, contact with an oozing blister during sports such as wrestling, for example, or using the same towel, washcloth, drinking glass, or eating utensil. For most people and in most cases, the blisters dry up and go away without any treatment. People with weakened immune systems, however, must be treated with strong antiviral medicine right away. Medicine should also be given to those who have a very painful or widespread case. Unfortunately, the virus does not vanish. It migrates to the nerves and hibernates, which means it can return months or even years later at times of stress. Fever and sun exposure are among the things that can cause a recurrence.


A snowstorm of white flakes from the scalp means more than the normal flaking of the stratum corneum. Dandruff results when a faster than normal turnover of cells meets a heavier than normal buildup of oil on the scalp and hair. Guess what? That makes the teen years prime time for dandruff.

What to do? Wash your hair every day with a mild shampoo. Some doctors suggest using baby shampoo, so the frequent washing won’t dry your hair. Get down to the scalp and rub well with your fingertips, but don’t scratch.

If that doesn’t work, try a “dandruff” shampoo. These contain either selenium sulfide or zinc pyrithione. It may help to get one of each and use them alternately.

If you have especially heavy flaking that does not respond to these approaches, ask a doctor. The problem may not be dandruff, but a more serious condition for which prescription medication is needed.


In teens, these itchy, scaly skin patches often turn up on the hands and feet, in the elbow folds, and behind the knees. The cause is usually an allergy to something. Stress, sweaty exercise, overuse of strong soap and hot water, and tight or scratchy clothing can make things worse. A doctor can try to discover the cause and advise about ways to avoid an outbreak. Several prescription medications are available that can help too.