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The science of acne is simple: When pores become clogged or infected, they react. The pores of healthy, normal skin contain sebum or oil. During puberty, glands in these pores often produce more sebum, and an excess of sebum combined with dead skin cells that settle in the pores may result in acne. In many cases, effective prevention is as easy as regularly cleansing the skin to keep the pores clean.
Teen acne: Advice and tips
Wash: Many teens keep their breakouts under control by relying on a skin-care routine that simply washes away any extra oil and keeps skin free of material that clogs pores. Dr. Benjamin Barankin, a Toronto dermatologist and medical director of the Toronto Dermatology Centre, advises teens to "wash with a cleanser containing either salicylic or glycolic acid, and use a non-comedogenic moisturizer afterward."
Moisturize: Some teens refuse to use moisturizer, thinking that it's counterproductive to the goal of eliminating extra oil from the skin. However, since most acne cleansers dry out the skin, a non-comedogenic (oil-free) moisturizer helps restore balance while discouraging glands from producing even more oil.
Avoid introducing bacteria and other oils: Since bacteria and products can aggravate acne by clogging pores, the following practices may help to minimize acne.
• Try to keep your hands away from your face.
• Change pillowcases regularly.
• Wash your face (and neck, shoulders and back) immediately after exercising.
• Try to keep your hair and hair products off of your face.
• Use non-comedogenic makeup and always wash it off at night.
• Wash off sunscreen when not in the sun.
Treat: When extra intervention is needed, Barankin recommends benzoyl peroxide: "Once a day, apply a small amount of over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide product to the areas that you get acne," he suggests.
Those with sensitive skin should, "apply the benzoyl peroxide for only five to 10 minutes and then wash off."
When to see a doctor about acne
The results of a good skin-care routine will not be immediately visible, but if your teen is diligent about his or her skin care and is not seeing results after four to eight weeks or "if you have deep acne, scarring acne, acne on your chest and back, acne that flares with your periods or your acne is really affecting your psyche, you should get referred to see a dermatologist," says Barankin.
Dermatologists can accurately assess the condition, prescribe stronger treatments if necessary and even deal with scarring.
The potential emotional impact of acne
Teens are generally self-conscious about their appearances, and even mild acne can make them feel uncomfortable and less confident. Although common acne is not a serious health issue, it can seem like an immediate and unmanageable scourge to a teenager. Teens may withdraw and become reluctant to socialize, participate in activities or even leave the house because of lowered confidence due to acne.
Common questions about teen acne:
Does picking at pimples speed up the healing process?
Although it's tempting to think that popping a pimple will accelerate the healing process, patience -- not picking -- is the best approach. Picking causes inflammation, and the oils and bacteria on your hands can cause further infection, which may lead to scarring.
Do stress and junk food cause acne?
Although stress can increase sebum production and make existing acne worse, it doesn't usually cause acne. Similarly, there's little evidence to suggest that chocolate and greasy food cause acne, but since spikes in insulin result from eating high glycemic food, this might be considered a secondary contributor, making existing acne worse in some sufferers.
Is it true that exposure to the sun helps heal acne?
Although a tan might help make acne look less noticeable, it doesn't actually treat it. According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, some people's acne actually gets worse after UV exposure.
Don't teens just have to put up with acne, like we did as kids?
Although the approach has stayed the same over the years, treatments have changed, and "we have better formulations now that are less irritating, and at different concentrations and strengths," says Barankin. "We have much more for acne scarring now, as well, including laser resurfacing with fractionated lasers and the Dermaroller."
Understanding what causes acne is the first step in preventing and minimizing its effects. Assure your teens that acne is normal, temporary and treatable, and help them enjoy the confidence of a clear complexion.