Help your teen manage acne

By Erin Dym on February 19, 2013
For just about every teen, acne is a source of stress and concern. The onset of puberty brings with it changes in hormones and lifestyle that can lead to varying degrees of the dreaded pimple.

Acne is the most common reason people visit a dermatologist, according to the Canadian Dermatology Association. Teens are especially prone due to the surge in male hormones caused by puberty.

These androgens cause sebaceous glands beneath the surface of the skin to grow and produce more sebum (an oily substance) than normal. Combined with dirt and dead skin cells, the skin’s pores or hair follicles can become clogged, leading to redness and swelling.

Sometimes the inflammation can be worsened by the presence of a bacteria known as Propionibacterium acnes. Add to that genetics, the use of the wrong hair and makeup products, a poor facial routine, and teenage eating and sleeping habits, and you’ve got the recipe for blackheads, whiteheads and pustules in varying levels of severity.

How bad can it get?

There are four grades of acne:
  • Grade one involves non-inflamed lesions like blackheads and whiteheads. 
  • Grade two is the most common among teens and includes blackheads, whiteheads and red, inflamed pustules. 
  • Grade three involves more severe forms of inflammation. More pustules develop and often, acne can be found on other body parts, as well as the face. 
  • Grade four involves nodular cystic acne that is severe or debilitating psychologically. Studies have shown that this kind of acne can cause depression in teens. If you or your partner had grade four acne, your child has a 50 percent chance of getting it, too. If both parents had that type of acne, that likelihood increases to 100 percent. 

Using makeup to cover acne can cause more acne. So can squeezing or picking pimples (so-called bathroom surgery), which can cause scarring or secondary infection.

Treatment tips

If left untreated, acne can lead to skin discolouration and permanent scarring. In the short-term, it can affect your child’s self-esteem.

There are several over-the-counter treatments that include the active ingredients benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. If those treatments are not working, or if your teen has severe acne, ask your doctor for a referral to a dermatologist.

Your child might require a medication with isotretinoin, an antibiotic or a low-dose oral contraceptive (for girls).

How do you help your teen manage acne?

Heather Vounnou, training manager for Dermalogica Canada, recommends sticking to a skin-care routine.

  • Cleanse, but don’t overcleanse. Take note of what your teen is washing with and how often. Suggest a soap-free foaming cleanser first thing in the morning and before bed. 

  • Exfoliation is important, but avoid a scrub. Using a cleanser containing salicylic acid – an oil-loving hydroxy acid – will loosen dead skin cells without scrubbing. Advise your teen to do this three times a week. 

  • Hydrate the skin with an oil-free moisturizer morning and night. Boys should get into this habit, too. 

  • Consider consulting a professional skin therapist. They will conduct an “ace mapping skin analysis” and educate your teen on what products to buy and avoid. “Often people are desperate for a solution and they turn down the wrong avenues,” says Heather. “Seeing a specialist is better than experimenting with products and hoping for the best.” 

  • Educate your teen to avoid foods with high sugar content or refined carbohydrates, which release sugar into the blood, causing the oil glands to produce that thick, sticky sebum. 

  • Remind your teen not to touch his or her skin and that 50 percent of acne clears. Picking causes contamination. 

  • Change your teen’s pillowcase regularly to prevent hair oil from clogging pores. 

  • Advise your teen to avoid hair and makeup products that contain mineral oils and colorants – both are known to worsen acne.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February/March 2013.

By Erin Dym| February 19, 2013

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