Teenage acne is a rite of passage that nearly everyone experiences. Most teens start to see the signs of acne around the age of 14 or at the onset of puberty. Typically, acne will be persistent through the teen years and sometimes into early adulthood.
Family practitioners at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital understand the social anxiety and frustration that often accompanies teenage acne. After assuring young patients that they are not alone in their suffering, our doctors remind teens of their role in treating acne, even before any medications are prescribed. We’ve compiled a number of hygiene tips to help teens get their acne under control:
Wash Skin Twice a Day
Because so many kids think that acne is caused by dirt, they tend to wash their skin multiple times a day. Acne is actually the result of bacteria that has become trapped in the skin’s oil glands, often as a result of the hormonal changes associated with puberty. Over- washing strips the skin’s oils, which can increase oil production and make acne worse.
Teens should gently wash their skin no more than twice daily—three times if they are very active—with a soap containing salicylic acid, such as Neutrogena Acne Wash or Clean and Clear. If acne medication has already been prescribed, a gentler soap like Cetaphil or Purpose should be used to avoid further irritating or drying out the skin.
Another myth commonly shared between teens is that moisturizers will make acne worse. In reality, teens should always use a non-comedogenic moisturizer such as Neutrogena or Cetaphil after washing. For extra credit, moisturizers with SPF 30 will protect skin against the sun’s harmful rays. This is especially important if acne medications are already being used.
Avoid Too Much Makeup
Many teenage girls apply generous amounts of cosmetics to cover their acne, which can actually backfire. Only make up that is non-comedogenic should be used and on a limited basis to reduce the clogging of pores.
Watch What You Eat
“High glycemic” foods that cause spikes in blood sugar have been shown to increase acne. A healthy diet rich in fiber, fruits and vegetables with limited amounts of breads, bagels and cakes may help to reduce acne flare ups.
Other tips for non-medicinal acne care include:
- Change pillowcases regularly
- Use a fresh towel daily
- Avoid touching the face
- Limit the use of hair care products
Over-the-counter medications can also be effective in controlling acne. Products containing benzoyl peroxide will help reduce the amount of bacteria, and those with sulphur provide both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. Any type of topical acne medication should be applied when the skin is completely dry since water can reduce the effectiveness of topical medications. A thin layer should be applied to the entire affected area. This will treat existing acne, as well as prevent new blemishes from forming.
When to See a Doctor
If no improvement is seen after six to eight weeks of a consistent regimen of over-the-counter products and/or hygiene habits, a doctor’s visit may be in order.
Before the visit, pay attention to any triggers such as menstruation, stress, new medications, a family history of acne, or any other symptoms that might suggest a hormonal influence. Doctor will use that information to determine the best treatment plan. It is also important to keep track of remedies that have been used and their effectiveness.
Depending upon the severity of each teen’s acne, a doctor may prescribe acne medication, often starting with a topical treatment:
- Topical antibiotics – These are sometimes combined with benzoyl peroxide to address the bacteria and inflammation.
- Retinoids (Retin-A, etc) – These act like an exfoliant to unplug pores.
If topical antibiotics are not effective, or if the acne is more severe, other treatments may be prescribed:
- Oral antibiotics – These have the same effect as topical antibiotics, but they are stronger.
- Hormonal treatments – In some cases, regulating your teen’s hormones will help treat acne.
Teenage acne, while embarrassing and frustrating, is quite treatable. Teens need to keep in mind almost all treatments require six to eight weeks before any improvement will be noticed. Their acne may even initially seem to get worse before it gets better.