Treating and managing teen acne

Dealing with acne can be emotionally painful for both you and your teen, but you can help your child manage breakouts and feel better.

There’s not just one cause for acne. While many believe poor diet choices lead to breakouts, the truth is this has never been conclusively proven.

Normal causes of acne include: heredity (genes influence the number and size of oil glands, so if you had acne, your child will likely suffer similarly); puberty (acne isn’t just a teen disease, but in puberty the skin cells get sticky and caught in the pores); picking (Your mother was right, picking makes it worse); bacteria (dirt and bacteria can worsen an outbreak, so frequent washing can help); hormones (they act up in puberty, so you never know what they’ll do).

“Boys tend to be affected much more severely and girls tend to get more blackheads and pimples, but overall, about 85 percent of adolescents suffer from acne,” says Dr. Kelle L. Berggren, an assistant professor of dermatology at Rush University Medical Center and a dermatologist with the DuPage Medical Group’s Dermatology practice in Wheaton. Berggren says a few simple key rules of acne management can help teens keep their skin at least somewhat under control.

“Scrubbing aggressively is not good,” Berggren warns."But using a mild cleanser twice a day, or more if you’re really sweaty or have been playing sports, is important.”

She says Dove, Cetaphil, Aveeno and Neutrogena are a few brands that make good mild cleansers and moisturizers.

“A common misconception is that moisturizers will clog the pores,” Berggren says. She says that after cleansing, applying a moisturizer can actually help.

Some over-the-counter benzoil peroxide products are also good at reducing swelling and salicylic acid helps clean out pores.

Teens whose acne is still difficult to manage can see a dermatologist, who may recommend some antibiotics or topical treatments (Retin-A is one example) or even laser treatment options. Accutane is reserved for more severe cases.

Her other pointers include using gel-based sunscreens because of their non-greasy consistencies (Coppertone Sport is a good example) and birth control for girls.

“Birth control can be very effective,” she says,"but we usually wait until a girl has had at least two to three cycles of her period before prescribing it.”

And as for as-seen-on-TV products, most notably ProActiv Solution, Berggren says you will likely see a lot of initial improvement but not a lot of long-term solutions. Benzoil peroxide-based products such as this help reduce swelling, but benzoil peroxide does nothing to clear a pore, so the long-term benefits may be limited.

“You don’t need to spend an arm and a leg on treatment products,” Berggren says.

Although everyone wants instant gratification, most treatments take six to eight weeks.

“Taking care of your skin will help you feel better about yourself and will help you get through your difficult teenage years,” Berggren says.

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