If you are currently raising a teenager, you might be noticing that he or she is going through a slew of changes at the moment. They may be going through a growth-spurt and their bodies are beginning to change, they may have an insatiable appetite and you feel like they are eating you out of house and home, they may be more moody or sensitive and some days you may wonder if even know them at all. All of these changes are a part of puberty and while some changes can be exciting for your teen, there are plenty of changes that are annoying, like acne. As someone who dealt with acne as a teen herself, I completely sympathize with my patients who are frustrated by problem skin. When I first started at ABC Pediatrics 5 years ago, I realized that many of my teenage patients had questions about acne and how they could treat it. Because of this, I created a hand-out to summarize the acne information I go over during the adolescent visit (see here) and this post is a summary of that. Please read on to see how you can help your teen if they are suffering from acne.
So what is acne anyway? Basically, it is when the pores in the skin become clogged and infected. The skin has tiny pores which contain hair follicles and glands that produce oil to lubricate the skin and hair. During puberty, oil glands sometimes will make too much oil. This, along with dead skin cells, can cause a plug to form that clogs pores and causes acne. Furthermore, this plug attracts bacteria that can cause inflammation. There are three forms of acne: blackheads, whiteheads and pimples or cysts. Blackheads (open comedones) form when a pore is clogged, but stay open. Whiteheads (closed comedones) form when a pore is clogged and closes up. Finally, pimples or cysts are inflammatory lesions meaning that once a pore is clogged and closes up it can become infected.
Acne is treated by performing good skin hygiene and using medication(s) that help to unclog pores, reduce the number of bacteria on the skin and decrease or stop excess oil production. There are over-the-counter medications that can be helpful for milder cases of acne, like benzoyl peroxide, but if those are tried, and there is no improvement or worsening, it may be time to seek medical advice and make your child an appointment with his or her primary care provider.
It is important to have a good skin care routine as well. Make sure your teen is gently washing (not scrubbing) her face with a mild cleanser at least twice a day and then splashing her face with cool water and patting (not rubbing) dry. I find that many teens are excessively scrubbing their skin which can cause further irritation and makes things worse. If your teen is using an acne medication, apply it sparingly to affected areas as directed. It is important to stress to your teen that they need to give things time to improve. Unfortunately, there is no magic, overnight fix. To make matters worse, acne often gets worse before it gets better, especially when starting an acne medication. The time frame typically goes like this: things usually worsen around weeks 1 to 2 into treatment and then things gradually improve from there. Your teen should allow up to 8 weeks to see a difference in her skin. It is sometimes helpful to take a weekly photo and you can both monitor progress (this helps your practitioners out as well!). Make sure that any lotions and/or make-up your teen puts on her face are “non-comedogenic” (meaning it won’t clog pores). Finally, if your teen participates in sports or is very physically active, make sure that she washes her face after activity as well as in the morning and evening before bed.
Having acne is hard, but it is not hopeless! There are plenty of treatment options available to help your teen move towards clearer skin. Still have questions or maybe one that is more specific to your teen’s situation? Please do not hesitate to contact us at ABC Pediatrics if we can be of further assistance. We are happy to help!
Information presented was adapted from:
Mary-Faith Fuller, CPNP
I am a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who has worked at ABC Pediatrics since January 2014.