Help your teen manage acne

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
  • Grade two is the most common
    among teens and includes blackheads,
    whiteheads and red, inflamed
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.

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