For decades, teens have been subject to unhelpful and misleading advice about how to treat acne. They are told their skin would clear up if they washed their faces more often and cut down on junk food. The truth is, however, that teen acne is caused not by a poor diet or hygiene, but by changing hormones that increase oil production. This leads to clogged pores, blackheads, and breakouts. Fortunately, proper care from a dermatologist can help resolve your child’s acne and prevent both scarring and the emotional impact of skin issues.
Causes of Teen Acne
Although some people are more prone to acne than others because of a family history of this condition, up to 85 percent of teens experience blemishes during adolescence. During puberty, both boys and girls have an increase in androgen levels. These hormones trigger increased oil production and enlargement of pores, both of which contribute to acne development.
Other factors that increase the risk for acne include taking certain medications (such as prescriptions for epilepsy), rubbing the skin, picking at blemishes, and experiencing emotional stress. Girls may notice that breakouts occur or get worse each month as their menstrual period approaches.
Self-Care for Teen Acne
When teens begin to develop acne, most parents reach for over-the-counter products to improve the skin. Avoid harsh products that contain alcohol, which can dry the skin and actually increase oil production. Gentle formulas with benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are the most effective. Stick to no more than two of these products and have your child use them consistently for a few weeks before evaluating the results.
A gentle skin care routine for teens could include washing twice a day with a benzoyl peroxide wash, using a spot treatment with salicylic acid and finishing with an oil-free moisturizer. Hydrating skin is important to avoid triggering the overproduction of oil. Look for non-comedogenic formulas, which won’t clog the pores.
When washing the face, use water that is warm, but not hot. Gently massage with the fingertips rather than using a washcloth, which can be irritating to inflamed skin. Contrary to popular belief, washing too often can actually make acne worse, not better.
Those who play sports should shower and wash the face right after practices and games. This is especially important for players who wear a sweaty helmet or hat and for those who tend to develop blemishes on the back and shoulders.
Teens who wear makeup should use it only when necessary and remove it at night with a gentle cleanser. As with moisturizers, look for cosmetic formulas labeled “oil-free” or “non-comedogenic.”
Those with acne should wash their hair every day and keep it tied back from the face to avoid transferring oil onto the skin. Teens who shave and have acne may want to opt for an electric razor rather than a blade, which can irritate blemishes.
Discourage your teen from squeezing pimples or picking at the skin, which can cause infection and scarring. This can also make acne worse, since touching the face transfers dirt and bacteria from the hands.
Though commercials advertise products that can clear the skin overnight, this creates unrealistic expectations for teens who are bothered by their blemishes. Remind your child that acne treatments take weeks of consistent use to work properly.
Medical Treatments to Consider
If your teen is bothered by breakouts even after adopting a skin care routine like the one described above, medical treatment may be warranted. A dermatologist will evaluate your child’s skin and may recommend a stronger cleansing regimen that can be obtained with a prescription.
When using prescription creams, cleansers, lotions and gels for acne, your teen should discontinue use of over-the-counter products unless otherwise instructed by the care provider. Keep in mind that medicated skin products must be used consistently for about three months before results will be apparent.
Oral medications can also be effective for teen acne treatment. Antibiotics can help reduce bacteria that leads to chronic facial breakouts. These are usually prescribed for short-term use. For girls, oral contraceptives can manage hormone levels to limit oil production, which also reduces breakouts.
Some dermatologists offer laser light therapy, an in-office treatment that decreases inflammation and kills acne-causing bacteria. Another inpatient treatment is a salicylic acid peel, a topical treatment to unclog pores that have not responded to other treatments.
Some teenagers develop cystic acne, which is characterized by large, painful pimples under the skin. Corticosteroid injections can reduce inflammation in the affected area, which alleviates redness and discomfort. In the most severe cases, your teen’s dermatologist may prescribe isotretinoin, which can control cystic acne. This medication is associated with side effects and requires monitoring by the dermatologist throughout treatment. Isotretinoin is taken once a day for four to five months and reduces the size of the oil glands to limit production and decrease pore size.
When to See a Dermatologist
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, teens should see a doctor as soon as acne develops. This allows treatment to work quickly and can prevent mild cases of acne from becoming severe. This also reduces the risk for blemishes that lead to permanent scars. Some teens develop dark spots called hyperpigmentation in the wake of acne.
The AAD also notes that early treatment often reduces the need to use stronger acne medications. This in turn leads to less monitoring of the condition and fewer office appointments over time. Although acne is often considered only an adolescent condition, individuals who are not treated often have blemishes throughout adult life.
While teen acne was once considered a minor issue, today, we know that it can have a serious impact on a child’s self-esteem. Those with severe acne may even become depressed and withdraw from their peers. In addition, emotional stress can make breakouts worse, which compounds the problem further. Fortunately, modern treatment options provide solutions for teens affected by acne.
Skin care and cosmetology at the Florida Academy can help your teen look and feel his or her best during treatment for acne. Our technicians will recommend products to soothe, gently cleanse and hydrate the skin and makeup that reduces the appearance of blemishes without making acne worse. Call 239-489-2282 to learn more about our comprehensive, affordable salon services.