Puberty is no picnic, but things get especially awkward for kids whose complexions go from pristine to pimply, seemingly overnight. And the effect may be more than skin deep. “Acne has a profound impact on a teen’s self-esteem and can even cause depression,” says Woodbridge, Ont., dermatologist Vince Bertucci. Do you have a young teen who is plagued by pimples? Here’s how to help her save face.
From blemishes to full-blown breakouts, most kids get pimples. Spots usually start appearing between ages 11 and 13, thanks largely to hormone fluctuations, which stimulate oil glands. “Acne appears when pores become plugged with oil and dead skin cells,” says Bertucci. Why do some kids have it worse than others? Blame genetics, he says.
However, acne does not mean your teen has hygiene issues, and it’s also a myth that munching on a Mars bar will cause an instant eruption. “There’s no good proof that junk food causes pimples,” says Bertucci. More good news? Acne usually clears up by the end of the teen years, although 20 to 25 percent of people are still prone to breakouts as adults.
Gentle cleansing can reduce the frequency and severity of breakouts, but an overzealous approach, including using abrasive scrubs, can irritate skin and make acne worse.
And although makeup may mask the problem, it can also clog pores, so avoid heavy cosmetics and stick to products labelled “water based” or “noncomedogenic.”
Teens should also keep their hands off their faces. Picking at pimples can lead to scarring, and even touching acne-prone skin spreads bacteria, causing breakouts.
Complexion-clearing remedies can help — if they’re given a decent chance. “Patience is important because it can take up to two months for acne to improve,” says Bertucci.
Here are the top treatments for acne in all its incarnations:
Occasional breakouts Creams and washes containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid fight periodic pimples by drying up excess oil, killing bacteria and removing dead skin cells.
Mild acne Persistent pimples may need prescription creams containing Retinoid (a vitamin A derivative) to unplug pores or topical antibiotics to eliminate excess bacteria.
The birth control pill is also an effective option for older teen girls because it regulates hormones. “It can be less appealing to some parents, but it is an approved acne treatment that targets the underlying cause,” says Bertucci.
Severe acne Cystic acne (painful lumps below the skin’s surface) can cause scarring and may require oral antibiotics. Another option is isotretinoin (Accutane). This strong medication can be effective, says Bertucci, but it’s controversial due to potential side effects, including depression.
Light & Laser Solutions
Lasers and light are the latest buzzwords in acne treatment. Used as a complement to other treatments, or as a drug-free alternative, they target blemishes below the skin’s surface by reducing oil production and inflammation. Many dermatologists now offer laser and light-based therapies, which can require up to six monthly sessions, depending on the treatment. (You may want to consider upping your teen’s allowance — the cost can be anywhere from $150 to $350 a session.)
9 Zit Zappers
Want to help your child’s skin to get back in the clear? Check out these products for round-the-clock assistance:
• On the foam: Avon Clear Skin Blemish Clearing Foaming Cleanser ($7) gently cleans and treats problem skin
• Freshly scrubbed: Neutrogena Oil Free Acne Wash ($10) combines zit-zapping cleansers with a zingy grapefruit scent.
• Get with the program: Neutrogena skiniD Foam Cleanser is part of an overall acne care system ($50) designed to keep skin clear.
• Beauty sleep: Neutrogena RapidClear Overnight Acne Control Lotion is the nighttime part of a skin-clearing package ($24).
• Night fight: Clearsil Ultra Overnight Face Lotion ($8) reduces redness and zit size at night for better skin by day.
• Wake up clearer: Dermalogica Clean Start Bedtime for Breakouts ($29) battles your child’s breakouts while he sleeps.
• Quick kill: Dermalogica Clean Start Hit the Spot ($29) is a face-friendly way clear up breakouts and prevent new ones.
• Just disappea: Clean & Clear Advantage Mark Treatment ($7) helps fade those pesky post-zit marks.
• Quiet strength: Oxy Acne Vanishing Treatment Cover Up ($7) packs 5% benzoyl peroxide.