We all know the teenage years can be rough. Social status, peer pressure, and school stress can be a lot to deal with. Add a little acne to the mix and life for some teens feels completely unbearable. The good news is there are treatments to help keep acne-prone skin under control. Here’s what you need to know.
CAUSES OF ACNE IN TEENS
The scientific reason for teen acne is pretty simple. You have oil glands within your skin; during puberty, these oil glands are directly influenced by the overproduction of androgens. These hormones cause your oil glands to go into overdrive, producing more oil than they can use or handle. As a result, pores become clogged up with excess oil and dead skin cells. Clogged pores lose the ability to effectively channel away bacteria, leaving many teens to struggle with low-to-moderate Propionibacterium acnes infection.
The excess oil production alone isn’t really the problem, nor is the clogged pores. Real problems arise when pores become irritated or infected and riddled with raised red bumps, whiteheads, and blackheads. Whiteheads form when the pores close; blackheads form when the pores clog but stay open.
Whiteheads aren’t necessarily a sign of infection. Infection occurs when the aforementioned bacteria gets into the blocked pore. This will cause additional inflammation and painful cysts beneath the skin.
Puberty isn’t the only reason your hormones go haywire. Young women have even more significant hormonal imbalances to deal with as they start menstruation. Pregnancy and birth control pills can both increase or decrease the risk of acne, too.
But it isn’t fair to say that hormones are the main cause, either. Not washing cosmetics off of the face properly can be a huge concern, as can anything ranging from the wrong choice in skincare product to an irritating hair product. Anything near your skin that can block your pores can trigger a bout of acne.
It’s important to wash your skin after you exercise so that sweat doesn’t clog your pores. People who work in hot and humid climates tend to have trouble with sweat-related acne. Even stress can confuse the body and create extra oil production. That’s why you may seem to break out before important events.
TREATING TEENAGE ACNE
How you should treat teenage acne depends on the severity of your breakouts. You may find you have small breakouts here and there, with a more significant breakout during times of stress, or you may experience worsening symptoms only during your cycle.
Some teens do have significant, ongoing acne outbreaks that may require medical intervention. While this kind of condition is rare, sufferers almost always require oral or injected medications to at least bring it under control. This includes adult forms of acne, like cystic acne. Washing or using topical products at home simply isn’t enough.
For mild acne, it’s important to have a regular cleansing routine. Wash your face with warm water and use your fingertips to massage your cleanser into your skin. Do not use a washcloth to apply the cleanser. It can be too abrasive and will absorb your product. You should use a regular cleanser in the mornings and an acne cleanser with benzoyl peroxide in the evenings.
Never, ever, skip your evening wash. Your skin provides a barrier for your body throughout the day. Think of it like your car’s windshield — everything in the air, including toxins and free radicals, hits your skin as you move about your day. Cleansing your skin before you go to sleep will enhance its ability to heal itself while you sleep.
For mild forms of acne, you can apply a spot treatment. Most products include salicylic acid. Do this single step after your normal wash, but not after your treated wash. Apply a light moisturizer that is listed as oil free.
Some ongoing acne issues require dermatological intervention. Your doctor may recommend laser treatments to get rid of bacteria or steroid injections for painful lesions. Some women find the hormones associated with birth control pills create balance that slows or eradicates their breakouts.
Talk to your dermatologist or aesthetician if over-the-counter acne washes and treatments don’t seem to be enough. There are stronger options available from a doctor or aesthetician. In severe cases, your dermatologist may need to prescribe an antibiotic specifically formulated for treating Propionibacterium acnes.
BUMMED ABOUT ACNE SCARS?
Not thrilled with the scars your acne is leaving behind? First, make sure you never pop, squeeze, or pick your whiteheads, blackheads, pustules, or cysts. We know there is often a sense of relief associated with releasing that pressure, but breaking your skin open will create discolorations and scars. Try:
A non-invasive treatment that uses small crystals to slough the dead skin cells and refresh your skin.
A more invasive treatment used to resurface the skin. This treatment is incredibly effective with scarring.
Different types of lasers can flatten raised scars, decrease redness, or contour pitted areas.
Can be used in extreme cases to fill in depressed areas between scars.
May help to reduce excess oil production in oily areas (like the t-zone.
Facials, chemical peels, and even retinoic acid treatments may help even out your skin tone. Talk to your dermatologist or aesthetician for more information on which type of treatment may be best for your skin. It’s important to have realistic expectations based on the amount of damage to your skin. While you can often significantly improve the appearance of scarring, it may never look exactly like it did before.
Teen acne isn’t fun, but trust us when we say you aren’t alone in fighting the battle. Get into the habit of washing your face twice per day as early as you can and stay on top of spot-treating your acne spots as soon as they appear.
Don’t be afraid to seek medical attention if you feel your acne issues are overwhelming or severe. There is help available and you do not need to live in pain. If you or someone you love is suffering from teen acne, reach out to a medical spa for advice.