Having acne as a teenager is hard - really hard. You’re already at an awkward and difficult stage of life with so many new feelings (hello hormones!), experiences and physical changes. Breakouts - whether mild or extreme - can be debilitating to a teenager's self esteem. I know this first hand, as I had terrible cystic acne as a teenager. I remember getting ready for school and trying to cover up my breakouts, and I remember feeling so helpless and unsure of myself. Thankfully, my parents looked into options and began taking me to an esthetician who was an immense help in gaining control of my breakouts, educating me on proper skin care and treating my scars. I am so happy that parents are becoming more aware of the things they can do for their children when they are going through this.
I always tell clients that we can’t completely stop or prevent acne from appearing on teen skin. The hormonal rollercoaster of puberty is the teenage body's natural course of introducing and increasing estrogen and testosterone. This is good and healthy. However, it can result in increased oil production (especially for teen boys), built-up dead skin cells and the production of “P. acnes,” an acne-specific bacteria that feeds off of excess dead skin and oil in the pores.
The reason seeing a skin professional (like me!) is so important is because there are different types of acne. If you are treating the skin improperly, it could actually make the condition much worse. There are two main types of acne that you will often see in teen skin, and some teens have both.
Non-inflamed bumps are skin colored and mainly appear on the forehead, nose and chin, but can also show up anywhere. This issue is often referred to as closed or open comedones (sometimes called blackheads) and is caused by increased oil production, dead skin build up from lack of exfoliation and dehydration.
Treatment options for closed/open comedones
Closed or open comedones respond well to a mixture of retinols and gentle acids. Retinols will encourage old cells to slough off faster so healthy new cells can make their way to the top. Acids will dissolve sticky oil buildup and dead skin cells in the pores.
Inflamed, red pimples
Inflamed, red pimples can be painful, remain under the skin, and result in whiteheads. This type of breakout is caused by the “P. acnes” bacteria mentioned above. This bacteria needs oil to live so it can make its way into the pores where oil is produced and create a nasty, painful pimple.
Treatment options for inflamed pimples
Inflamed, red pimples respond better to gentle acids and calming ingredients. Since this type of acne is an inflammatory condition, we want to focus on using ingredients that heal and strengthen the skin. Acids will help unclog pores and discourage the growth of acne bacteria.
Facial treatments and an at-home care regimen curated by an esthetician will help in several ways:
Education is needed on proper cleansing, product usage and foods that can make acne worse or help heal skin. For example:
- The simple practice of washing the face every night will make a huge improvement.
- Using the right amount of products and in the right order.
- Avoiding dairy and sugars can make a noted difference in the severity of acne for teens.
- Reduce scarring by encouraging teens to resist the urge to pick their faces. I like to explain exactly what happens to their precious skin when they pick a pimple, how it will look if they do so and how it can affect their skin in the long term.
Keeping the top epidermal layer healthy and strong is very important. Often times some of the actives (retinols and acids) that are necessary to keep breakouts under control can be drying. Ensuring that the skin is balanced with healing and hydrating products is critical.
Keeping pores clean and free of dead skin and oil buildup is necessary for healthy skin. Pores clogged with oil and dead skin create a hospitable environment for bacteria growth. The bacteria will get nice and cozy and make a home where it does not belong. This will result in a red, painful pimple.
Though a difficult task, it is possible to prevent and control teen acne. With the right products, professional treatments and some diet tweaks, teens can see an improvement in their skin and in their self-esteem. It would be my honor to treat your young ones and help them obtain their healthiest skin!
Serena Di Prinzio
Zio Skin Spa
Licensed Esthetician of 15 years
Zio-Approved PFAM Lineup for Teen Acne