As your youngest patients begin the return to the classroom, pediatric dermatologist Latanya Benjamin, MD, FAAD, FAAP, offers perspectives in education and skin care tips.
As a pediatric dermatologist, I understand that back-to-school season can be a hectic and overwhelming time for both parents and children. In addition to the usual school supply shopping list and restarting homework, it is important to prioritize the health and well-being of kids’ skin during this transition. Here are some practical tips that you can share with your patient families to ensure a successful school year.
Back-to-school time can also bring about exacerbation of certain skin conditions, such as eczema and acne. Atopic dermatitis tends to flare up during the summertime in many children. The heat and humidity can exacerbate their symptoms, causing itch, redness, and discomfort. Parents should encourage their children to stay hydrated, wear loose and breathable clothing, and regularly moisturize the skin to help manage eczema flareups.
Encourage parents to establish a simple and consistent skin care routine for their children. This routine should include gentle cleansing, moisturizing, and skin protection. Remind them to choose products that are hypoallergenic and free of any potential allergens or irritants.
To ease back into a skin care routine, caregivers should encourage their children to wash their face regularly. For adolescents dealing with acne, a mild facial cleanser that incorporates an acne-fighting ingredient (eg, salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide) can be beneficial.
Molluscum contagiosum is an extremely common viral infection affecting 6 million Americans. It typically affects young pediatric patients and can spread easily in warm water, such as in swimming pools, water parks, and whirpool baths. At the initial visit to my office, caregivers have usually already tried ineffective OTC products that are not FDA approved or have been reassured by their primary care physician not to treat. I recommend that as dermatology health care providers we treat molluscum. My first-line agent has always been careful spot application with cantharidin, as it is known to be effective and well tolerated by children, and carries a high satisfaction rate by caregivers.1 As of July 21, 2023, we now have available the first FDA-approved treatment drug-device, VP-102 (Ycanth) with cantharidin 0.7% topical solution and gentian.2 It is approved for both adult and pediatric patients as young as age 2 years. Don’t wait for molluscum to take its natural course. Waiting can lead to spreading. Treat!
As we wrap up the summer season, with the heat, travel, summer camps, and other crowded environments, increased rates of other common transmissible diseases can be seen in pediatric patients, such as impetigo and plantar warts.
Additionally, parents should be vigilant about potential infestations like bedbugs and head lice. These pesky parasites can easily spread in crowded environments, such as communal areas or sleep away camps. If a child has been exposed to or shows signs of infestation, prompt action should be taken to prevent further spread. Thoroughly inspecting the child’s belongings, washing and drying clothing and bedding at high temperatures, and treating an infestation with appropriate medical therapies are all essential.
It is crucial to address these concerns before children return to school. By doing so, parents can avoid the risk of transmission to other siblings at home or to classmates. A visit to a dermatology provider can help provide timely treatments and offer preventive measures, thus providing a safe environment for all students returning to school.
Parents should educate their children about personal hygiene practices, such as regular handwashing and avoiding sharing towels or personal items, to help prevent the transmission of diseases. Teach children the importance of proper hand hygiene, especially during the school year, when they are more exposed to germs. Encourage them to wash their hands frequently with mild soap and water, especially before eating lunch and after using the restroom. If soap and water are not readily available, remind them to use hand sanitizers.
I recommend that caregivers review all their children’s medications and dosing schedule before going back to school. This is particularly important for children who require medication during school hours. If any medications can be taken once a day (eg, isotretinoin), twice daily, or once weekly (refrigerated injectables), opt for before school and/or after school administration or on the weekend. For those who need to apply topical (eg, sunscreen) or take oral medication (eg, hydroxyzine) during the school day, be sure to provide parents with a physician note.
To avoid last-minute surprises, caregivers should thoroughly check all medications and their expiration dates. If any medication is expired, prescription refills should be provided, including an ample supply for school and at home (including if shared between 2 households).
Another important schedule change for kids involves extracurricular activities. As a pediatric dermatologist, I often review what their after-school activities will be in order to alter therapies where I can to support adherence. For example, in my patients with acne, I often switch from a topical antibiotic solution to the same antibiotic in a pledget wipe preparation. Busy teens are able to continue effective treatment throughout the day after sweating when they are unable to return home for many hours.
Families should try to schedule a visit to the dermatologist before they go back to school. This allows for an update of treatment care plans and ensures that the child is equipped with the most suitable products and strategies to address their specific skin care needs. This proactive approach will help ensure that their child’s skin health is optimized and that they have the necessary support to effectively manage their skin care routine.
Additionally, educating school staff about chronic, congenital, or rarer skin conditions, and their potential impact on a child’s emotional well-being, can help create a more inclusive and understanding environment. In working together with the school, parents, and the child, it becomes easier to provide the necessary support and resources needed to address any potential concerns (ie overheating at recess and shedding scales in the classroom for patients with ichthyosis). Remind parents to keep an open line of communication throughout the school year with their child’s teacher and relevant school staff, as they can play a crucial role in monitoring and addressing any potential issues.
As we navigate the back-to-school season and its associated activities, it is important to prioritize children’s skin health. Being proactive in addressing eczema flare-ups, preventing the spread of transmissible diseases and infestations, and seeking medical care when necessary will contribute to a healthier environment and more comfortable experience for children upon their return to school. By sharing these practical tips with your patients’ families, you can help them navigate the back-to-school season.
Latanya Benjamin, MD, FAAD, FAAP, is a double board-certified and fellowship-trained pediatric dermatologist. She was a former professor at Stanford University and currently serves as an associate professor at Florida Atlantic University Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine. She also currently serves as the codirector of the Foundation of Medicine course, and directs the Communication, Compassion & Collaborative Care thread for training medical students.