Few of us can make it through our teenage years without a breakout. According to the National Institutes for Health, an approximated 80 percent of the population battles acne between the ages of 11 and 30. And if you were one of the few who only experienced acne on your face, congratulations, as it can appear on your neck, shoulders, chest or back.
The evolution of hormones tends to be the culprit, as hormones can increase oil production. When this oil, or sebum, then combines with dead skin cells to clog pores, bacteria and inflammation result – and thus, you have acne. Because bacteria doesn’t have anywhere to go, this is what causes those embarrassing bumps.
Skin can be even further aggravated when a teen is aggressively trying to battle the issue with too many products, picking at the skin or popping pimples. It’s a part of life, unfortunately. And it can take a toll on an already rocky self-confidence. In fact, there are studies that show teens who have acne are more likely to be depressed and have low self-worth and anxiety.
And these annoying little spots have a tendency to show at inconvenient times – prom, a first date or a group presentation. It’s true, acne has no regard for your personal life. But it’s definitely nothing to panic over.
It helps to understand the different types of acne before you start treating it. Not all acne is the same and there can be different causes for each.
Types of Acne:
These develop when sebaceous glands are blocked with oil, dirt and bacteria. These are pimples that haven’t surfaced yet, so as it forms it pushes up from underneath the skin to form a white tip.
These are literally black and are the result of oxidation – a chemical reaction that occurs when the oil reacts with oxygen in the air. These can show up anywhere, but you will typically find them on your nose, chin, lip area or outer ear.
Dermatologists call these papules or pustules. Papules are solid and rise up on your skin. Pustules are pimples that rise up but are filled with a yellow or green pus. Ick!
These are pimples that go deeper under the skin and can be extremely painful.
Nodules also go under the skin, but have a solid consistency.
When your skin is producing more oil, the greater the chance is that a few of these suckers are going to pop up. And it’s hard to know when that will happen and for how long, as genetics are definitely a factor with acne.
What can be done to combat teen acne? First, it’s important to understand the myths. Contrary to popular belief, greasy food does not cause acne. However, sugar can lead insulin levels to skyrocket and lead to more testosterone production. Sugar also may cause inflammation and your skin will start producing more sebum as a natural defense.
And you may believe that using a moisturizer on already oily skin seems like a bad idea – you’re wrong! Moisturizers that contain glycerin, hyaluronic acid actually help keep your sebum production in check, but it shouldn’t be used as your primary tool to get rid of acne, think of it more as good for your skin’s general health.
What Should You Do?
- Wash your face
It might seem overly simple but many teens have not yet learned good skincare routines. And with the hustle and bustle of teenage life, they might forget and claim they don’t have time. It’s imperative for acne-prone teens to wash their face twice daily, with a non-soap cleanser. Regular soap can dry your face out, which may lead to even more oil production, so you’ll end up in the same boat.
There are quite a few products on the market, but you’ll need to find something that cleanses the skin without irritating it. Search for non-comedogenic products which won’t clog pores.
Another key ingredient to search for is zinc pidolate, which has astringent, anti-inflammatory properties shown to improve acne. Cleansers with ingredients like glycolic acid, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide can be very helpful for those with acne, but be careful as they can be irritating and drying. If possible, try to find a foam cleanser as these are typically better for oily skin.
- Spot treat your blemishes
The best time to do this is immediately. If you feel a pimple might develop, start applying a spot treatment immediately and continue to treat it until it goes away completely. Try to find a product containing a retinoid, benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. The process of calming pimples down can take 5-7 days, so stay diligent with applying the spot treatment.
- Exfoliate – but not too much
Teens tend to get obsessive about clearing up their acne and they’ll start using a harsh exfoliant like apricot scrubs, or scrubs with beads. It’s best to use a gentle exfoliant once a week, in the form of glycolic pads. You’ll want something that’s alcohol-free since alcohol can lead to over-drying.
- Don’t wear restrictive clothing
If your breakouts are happening on your chest and back, don’t wear tight clothing. Also, avoid putting bandages on pimples. You don’t want to aggravate already clogged pores.
- Don’t pop your pimples
Teens have a compulsion to pick and pop, but this can lead to scarring your already inflamed skin. Plus, it can just make the situation worse. If bacteria and oil spread to other parts of your face, you’re looking at more acne. And, teen fingernails aren’t always the cleanest, so you could be adding bacteria and dirt to your face. It’s tempting though, we know.
- See a dermatologist
Acne is a common condition among teens, and if you’re battling it using all the steps above and still having a tough time getting it under control, you may want to see a dermatologist. Some people need something a little stronger like an oral antibiotic or an ointment. Dermatologists can also help if you already have acne scarring too.
Dealing with acne takes time, consistency and some experimentation to find the right product that works for you. It’s always a good idea to read reviews and do some research to see what products are most popular among acne-sufferers. There is a broad range in terms of pricing, so you don’t want to shell out a bunch of cash if it’s just a gimmick.
There is also a slew of home remedies if it’s a real emergency and there is no time for the acne-treating long game, but don’t fall victim to all of them. Applying apple cider vinegar or toothpaste with baking soda can actually irritate your skin more and lead to rashes. Ice can be helpful in reducing inflammation, but don’t apply ice directly to skin as this may resulting in burning. Wrap ice in a towel and apply to skin for no longer than 20 minutes.
In the end, know that you aren’t alone. It’s a cycle of life that most people experience while growing up. Even a percentage of adults still experience acne. But, if you follow a skincare routine, keeping your face and body clean, you have a better shot at warding off the spots.