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Teenagers and Acne: What Parents Need to Know

Acne is a very common concern during adolescence, and virtually every teen deals with it to some degree. Even small acne breakouts can be cause for anxiety, and serious acne problems can lead to depression and social delays. So from the parental perspective, acne is not to be taken lightly just because it happens to almost everyone. There are good and bad ways to deal with the issue, and improper handling of the situation can lead to worsening acne problems, not to mention permanent scarring.

Unfortunately, while modern science has made some headway in acne treatment, there is still no cure for the problem, and it cannot be fully prevented. Part of the reason for this is that the causes of acne are complex and still somewhat mysterious, and it also has to do with the fact that there are many different types of acne, each with its own set of contributing factors. The best way to deal with the problem is to take your teen to a dermatologist, but if you are curious about your teen’s acne, here are some basic things you need to know.

What causes acne?
Again, there is no single cause of acne, and many types of acne are still somewhat mysterious. What is known, however, is that most forms of acne are caused primarily by buildups in the pores resulting from an overproduction of oil. It can also result from bacteria buildup, as well as from the irritation of hair follicles. In many cases, acne results from a combination of these factors.

Contrary to popular belief, acne is not simply caused by dirty skin. In fact, washing the skin too much can cause irritation that may actually worsen the problem. Meanwhile, though greasy foods and chocolate are not known to contribute to acne, it is thought that foods that boost the blood sugar—especially carbohydrate-rich foods—can trigger acne problems or make them worse.

Other things that can aggravate acne include:

•    makeup and other irritants
•    wearing hats, headbands, or other articles that stay in contact with the skin of the face
•    excessive touching of the face with the hands
•    hormone changes
•    too much sun exposure
•    too much washing or scrubbing

Common myths
One common myth about acne is that getting a tan can help clear up the problem. While it is true that tan skin can make acne a little less visible, sun does not have a noticeable effect on the acne itself. In fact, as already noted, too much sun exposure can irritate the skin and make things worse.

Another common myth is that acne pimples go away faster if you pop them. This does make the pimple less visible for the immediate future, but it is actually one of the worst things you can do in the long run. One immediate effect is that it pushes the bacteria deeper into the skin, which may just worsen the pimple, make it bigger, or cause it to last longer. And the long-term effect of pimple popping is scarring. Some acne scars last for weeks or months, deeper scars and pits can be permanent.

The most important rule for treating teenagers mild to moderate acne is not to overtreat it. Choose one course of action and stick with it continuously. In the case of your teenage child, find a product that is well reviewed and reported to be effective, and have your child use it regularly over a period of weeks. When it comes to acne, the tendency is to want it to go away immediately. This is impossible. All effective acne treatments require weeks to take effect. If you try one thing for a few weeks and there is no improvement, move to the next thing. Do not pile treatments on top of each other, as this might make things worse.

Many of the most effective over-the-counter acne treatments contain either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, both of which help to kill the bacteria in the skin and slough off dead skin cells that clog the pores. Start with lotions or washes that have moderate amounts of these.

If these basic over-the-counter solutions do not work, it is time to see a dermatologist, who will evaluate the exact nature of the acne and recommend something accordingly. Your child might get an antibiotic prescription to help kill the bacteria in the skin, and there are many topical treatments that are only available by prescription. Again, it can take a while for these treatments to take effect, but your child’s doctor will guide you through the process and let you know what to expect.

By Marc Courtiol

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