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Acne happens. But that doesn't mean your teen has to live with it.
According to Dr. Barbara Greenberg, Ph.D., co-author of Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent's
Guide to Becoming Bilingual, even minor cases of acne can be both
physically and emotionally scarring. "Your teen is probably more upset about
their acne than they're letting on. Teens tend not to talk about how upset they
are about things. They don't want to upset their parents," she says. So
basically, if you see bumps on your kid's face, assume that your teen sees it
as a problem, and take action to wipe it out. "It makes them a target for
bullies," says Greenberg, "and it certainly doesn't make them feel sexual–at
the time of life when they're testing out their sexuality."
"If treatment is delayed too long, you can end up with scarring. Treatments can't get rid of the scars a patient already has"
The good news: There are now treatments that can control pretty
much any case of acne.
Mild or serious?
According to Dr. Robin Gehris, MD, Chief of Pediatric Dermatologic
Surgery at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, it's okay to give
over-the-counter acne meds a try if your teen's case is pretty mild. However,
if you're seeing redness, pustules, cysts, or any acne that's already causing
scarring, skip the corner drugstore and go straight to a dermatologist. "If
treatment is delayed too long, you can end up with scarring. Treatments can't
get rid of the scars a patient already has," says Gehris. She also recommends
early treatment for patients with a family history of aggressive acne.
"Most of the over-the-counter treatments contain either benzoyl
peroxide or salicylic acid," Gehris says. "Just be careful, because the
benzoyl peroxide can bleach clothing and linens. It is also very drying and can
cause redness and peeling. I sometimes will advise people with very mild acne
to start with a gentle salicylic acid wash, which can break open some of the
shallow bumps, and won't bleach fabrics." she says.
Some folks swear by natural remedies, like tea tree oil or alpha
hydroxy acids. Gehris says that there might be a role for natural remedies in
treating mild acne, but warns that the lack of regulation of these products is
a problem. "There are so many uncontrolled formulations on the market that
might not be tested for safety," she says. "We especially discourage people
from going online and getting medications from places like Canada and China—these can sometimes be laced with other ingredients that aren't safe."
The problem with most over-the-counter acne meds is that they're
aimed at spot treating pimples that already exist. "Ideally, you want to get on
a regimen that can prevent future breakouts," says Gehris.
"A good rule to follow is that if your skin hasn't improved after
four to six weeks of an over-the-counter treatment, jump ship and go to a
dermatologist," Gehris advises. (Don't wait that long if you're seeing redness
or scarring.) She recommends finding a pediatric dermatologist, if you can—they have extra years of training focused specifically on your kid's age
group. If not, an adult dermatologist will do.
The dermatologist will evaluate your teen's skin and help you make
a plan to clear it up. Common treatments include prescription creams that help
keep acne from forming, and antibiotics that kill the bacteria that helps
There are a few things your teen can do to minimize the risk of
breakouts. Pass along these tips:
Wash your face gently (don't scrub), and take the time to remove any
makeup every night.
Shower ASAP after exercising. "That extra sweat will lead to and
overgrowth of yeast on the skin, which can definitely play a role in acne,"
Use only makeup or sunscreen that's labeled as "noncomedogenic,"
"nonacnegenic," or "oil free."
Keep hair products off your face as much as possible—they can
Wash long hair or bangs frequently to avoid oily locks brushing
against your skin.
Don't pick at existing pimples. You'll only irritate them, and can
Above all, resist the urge
to treat the pimply phase of life as a rite of passage. With a bit of good
hygiene—and a good doctor—your teen can kiss acne goodbye.