Back to School Skin Health – Combatting Common Classroom Skin Concerns

September 3, 2019

Children with classroom skin concerns

Back to school season is both eagerly anticipated and dreaded by parents. We’re excited to send the kids back to school, but there’s a lot of added stress and a lengthy to-do list that comes along with getting kids back in the classroom. At U.S. Dermatology Partners Fairfax, Dr. Kathleen Ellison has years of experience working with parents, kids, and teens who are struggling with classroom skin concerns. In this blog, Dr. Ellison runs down common skin concerns for kids during the school year as well as how to help kids keep their skin healthy.

Classroom Skin Concerns: Viral Skin Infections

When kids go back to school, they will come in contact with numerous other children who can quickly spread viral infections. Some of the common viral infections that manifest as skin health concerns include:


Highly contagious, 95% of adults in the U.S. had chickenpox as children. Caused by the varicella-zoster virus, chickenpox can be spread through direct contact and even through the air, making it one of the most easily spread childhood viral infections. A vaccination for chickenpox has been available for more than 20 years, and it has been effective in limiting the severity of chickenpox outbreaks.

If your child does have chickenpox, they may notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Rash and itching
  • Fatigue and irritability
  • Fever
  • Generally ill-feeling with cough, runny nose, etc.
  • Change in appetite
  • Muscle and joint pain

Treatment for chickenpox is typically geared toward addressing the symptoms, including calamine lotion and cool baths for itching, acetaminophen for fever, increased fluid intake, and plenty of rest. In severe cases, antiviral drugs may be prescribed.


Measles, also known as rubeola, is a condition caused by the measles virus. Spread through mucus and discharge from the mouth and nose, even a few drops spread by an uncovered cough can lead to a new case of measles. Most kids skip this common viral infection thanks to vaccinations they receive as infants and toddlers.

If your child does have measles, they may notice the following symptoms:

  • Red, flat skin rash that starts on the face and spreads
  • Severe, hacking cough
  • Eye irritation
  • Fever
  • Red bumps with white centers inside the cheek (typically appear a few days after skin rash)

Untreated, measles can lead to ear infections, pneumonia, croup, and brain inflammation, so seek treatment right away if you notice any of the warning signs. Treatment for measles is the same as is recommended for chickenpox, including calamine lotion and cool baths for itching, acetaminophen for fever, increased fluid intake, and plenty of rest. In severe cases, antiviral drugs may be prescribed.


You may hear rubella referred to as German measles, and it is often misdiagnosed as traditional measles. Caused by the rubivirus, rubella is spread through mucus and nasal drip like measles. In most cases, kids receive a vaccine for rubella at the same time that they receive the measles vaccine. The incubation period is one of the main things that differentiates rubella from traditional measles. It can take two to four weeks after exposure for signs of rubella to develop and many kids are contagious before they even know.

If your child does have Rubella, they may notice the following symptoms:

  • Typically, begins with a week or few days feeling generally ill – low fever, chills, stomach upset
  • Then, a pink rash with raised lesions appears on the face
  • The facial rash may seem to improve as it spreads to other parts of the body
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Older children and adults with rubella may notice muscle and joint pain

To prevent the spread of measles, kids should stay home for at least a week after the first appearance of the rash. Treatment for rubella is the same as is recommended for chickenpox, including calamine lotion and cool baths for itching, acetaminophen for fever, increased fluid intake, and plenty of rest. In severe cases, antiviral drugs may be prescribed.

Fifth Disease

Like other viral infections, fifth disease is spread through direct contact with mucus and discharge from infected people. It is caused by the human parvovirus, and because people are most contagious before the appearance of the telltale rash, it can spread quickly through schools. Unlike other common childhood viral infections, there is no vaccine for fifth disease.

If your child has fifth disease, they may notice the following symptoms:

  • Fever, headache, eye redness, and sore throat
  • Bright red rash on face described as looking like slapped cheeks
  • Rash spreads quickly to other areas and lasts several days
  • Rash and itching continue or worsen when exposed to sunlight or elevated temperatures

Treatment for fifth disease is the same as is recommended for chickenpox, including calamine lotion and cool baths for itching, acetaminophen for fever, increased fluid intake, and plenty of rest. In severe cases, antiviral drugs may be prescribed.

Roseola (Sixth Disease)

Roseola is a common virus caused by the human herpesvirus 6 and is sometimes called sixth disease. While this condition typically occurs in younger children before the age of three, it can be highly contagious if an outbreak occurs at school. There is no vaccine for roseola, so the key to preventing the spread of roseola is to avoid exposure.

If your child has roseola, they may notice the following symptoms:

  • High fever that spikes quickly and can last for several days
  • Tiredness and irritability
  • Swelling of face and eyelids
  • After the fever decreases, a rash appears on the trunk and limbs first and spreads to the face

Treatment for roseola is the same as is recommended for chickenpox, including calamine lotion and cool baths for itching, acetaminophen for fever, increased fluid intake, and plenty of rest. In severe cases, antiviral drugs may be prescribed.

Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease (not to be confused with foot-and-mouth disease) is a mild viral infection caused by the coxsackievirus that is common in kids. It takes its name, hand-foot-mouth disease from the areas most affected by the condition, which leads to rashes on hands and feet and sores in the mouth.

If your child has hand-foot-and-mouth disease, they may notice the following symptoms:

  • Fever, sore throat, general ill health
  • Painful sores on the tongue, gums, and inside of cheeks
  • Red rash on palms, soles of feet, and sometimes buttocks
  • Rashes typically do not itch, but they often blister
  • Loss of appetite, fatigue, and irritability

Treatment for hand-foot-and-mouth disease is the same as is recommended for chickenpox, including calamine lotion and cool baths for itching, acetaminophen for fever, increased fluid intake, and plenty of rest. In severe cases, antiviral drugs may be prescribed.

Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum cantagiosum is a common viral skin condition. Most common in children, molluscum cantagiosum is caused by the poxvirus. In most cases, the only symptoms are pink or skin-colored bumps on the skin. They may appear in any area of the body, but they are usually concentrated in this area. For some, the lumps sink down in the center over time. There are usually no other symptoms or side effects, and the bumps clear on their own in six to nine months. For severe cases, we may remove the lesions or use topical ointments to speed healing.


Many people don’t know that warts are actually caused by papillomavirus, and while they can develop at any age, they are more common in children. Like most other viral infections, warts are contagious, which means they can spread to other parts of the body and to other people. In most cases, warts aren’t painful, and they clear up on their own. There are many different types of warts, and if they do cause discomfort or irritation, your dermatologist can remove them through freezing, dissolving with acid, laser therapy, and other treatment options.

Classroom Skin Concerns: Fungal Skin Infections

In addition to viral infections, fungal skin infections are also common in children. Fungi live on the skin naturally, but when the body’s healthy balance is upset, it can lead to fungal infection. The two most common types of fungal skin infections are tinea capitis (ringworm) and tinea versicolor.

Tinea Capitis – Ringworm

Tinea capitis is typically referred to as ringworm, and it is actually the same organism that causes athlete’s foot and jock itch. Highly contagious, ringworm can easily spread from person to person, between people and animals, and even from one part of the body to another. Treatment is essential to ensure the fungal infection is contained.

Common symptoms of ringworm include:

  • A painful, itchy rash that usually looks like a small, red ring in the affected area
  • On feet, the ring-shaped rash is less common, but you may notice itchy, whiteish patches and blistering
  • General itching and inflammation of the skin

Treatment will typically include oral and/or topical antifungal medications. We may also prescribe medicated shampoos or body wash. Steroids and other medications to reduce inflammation may also be prescribed.

Tinea Versicolor

This common fungal skin condition is not usually painful or contagious, but tinea versicolor can cause some embarrassment due to its impact on appearance.

Common symptoms of tinea versicolor include:

  • Light-colored patches of skin typically appearing on the chest or back
  • The patches grow or become lighter in heat, humidity, and after sun exposure
  • Infection may develop in the top layers of skin with tinea versicolor
  • Discolored areas worsen during illness and when taking specific medications, including steroids

In most cases, tinea versicolor is easily treated at home. Many people show significant improvement in symptoms by applying dandruff shampoo to the affected areas overnight. The fungus often clears up after just a few treatments. In more serious cases, we may prescribe oral or topical antifungal medications.

Classroom Skin Concerns: Parasitic Infections

Parasites are small organisms that live on or in the body. Common parasitic infections in children include head lice and scabies.

Head Lice

Head lice are small, parasitic insects that live on the scalp. According to Dr. Ellison, “Head lice are common in the classroom or for those who share helmets and sports equipment. If your child’s scalp is itchy and you suspect lice, make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician or dermatologist for evaluation and treatment.” Recommended treatments for lice include using a lice shampoo as directed, using combs to remove lice, showering frequently, and washing clothes and sheets in hot water.


Scabies is an infection that occurs when small mites live on the skin’s surface. The mites burrow into the skin and lay eggs. These eggs hatch after a few days, leading to irritation, inflammation, and itching. Even if the mites are removed, the resulting skin infection can still be spread between people. Scabies typically appears as small, red, itchy bumps. Scabies is treatable, using prescription creams to get rid of the mites as well as ointments and oral medications to relieve itching, inflammation, and discomfort. In most cases, we recommend the entire family be treated for scabies at the same time.

Managing Skin Health When Kids & Teens go Back to School

In order to keep kids safe and healthy this school year, you can also take steps to prevent common skin health concerns.

Start the Year Right with a Great Skincare Routine

Dr. Ellison recommends, “When establishing your new back to school schedule, make sure children and teens have a skincare routine in place. A good daily routine should include using a gentle facial cleanser as well as a moisturizer that contains sunscreen.” In the morning, children should wash their faces and apply a lightweight moisturizer with SPF 30 or higher. At night, make sure adolescents and teens remove all makeup before going to sleep. Kids should also wash their faces thoroughly. Make sure to introduce any new products into your child’s skincare routine slowly, adding too many products too quickly can irritate the skin. Your dermatologist can help create and refine the right skincare routine.

The Importance of Stress Management in Acne Treatment

According to Dr. Ellison, “Stress, whether related to an upcoming exam, the SAT, or simply the change in routine when returning from summer break, can worsen acne and other skin conditions.” If acne occurs, try to resist the urge to pop pimples. This can lead to scarring as well as red or dark spots on the skin. Make an appointment with your dermatologist to create an acne treatment action plan to prevent breakouts and treat flareups as they occur.

Athlete’s Skincare Plan

One thing many parents don’t think about when signing kids up for sports is how athletics may impact skin health. Dr. Ellison says, “If they’re participating in sports, make sure to think about your child’s skin. Before participating in practice or games outside, make sure to apply sunscreen. I recommend broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or greater. Sports sunscreens can feel lighter and less greasy on the skin. Make sure that your sunscreens are non-comedogenic (won’t cause breakouts)!”

Folliculitis, a bacterial infection of the hair follicle, may also be more likely in young athletes. Sweaty workouts, protective equipment rubbing the skin, and other factors can all increase the risk for folliculitis. According to Dr. Ellison, “I recommend using cleansing wipes or taking a shower after a workout to help prevent folliculitis and acne breakouts. Also, make sure to wash clothing and sports bras after every use.”

When to Contact U.S. Dermatology Partners

In many cases, your child’s pediatrician will be able to treat these common childhood skin concerns. If treatment is ineffective or your child struggles with a recurrent or chronic complaint, whether it’s acne, eczema, dandruff, or other skin problems, your dermatologist can help you address and treat these conditions. Make an appointment with your local U.S. Dermatology Partners team to help show your best self this school year! If you live in the Fairfax, VA area, Dr. Ellison and her team would love to see you, and with more than U.S. Dermatology Partners locations in eight states, there’s a practice location near you.

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