Acne and teenagers : Acne Treatment Guide

This section of the guide is aimed at both parents and teenagers alike. It discusses acne from a young person’s perspective but also contains information which a parent would find useful.

If you are the parent of a teenage son or daughter then we hope this section provides you with enough information about this common condition.

Why do teenagers get acne?

Adults can develop acne but the majority of cases occur in teenagers. Why is this? The main reason is that of hormones.

Surging hormone levels

Puberty is a time when the body is undergoing drastic changes which includes rising hormone levels. The two main hormones –oestrogen and testosterone are responsible for many of these physical changes.

Oestrogen occurs in females and testosterone in boys but both sexes have a tiny amount of the opposite sex’s hormone. In other words, girls have a small amount of testosterone and boys have a small amount of oestrogen.

Your genes also play a part. If your parents had acne then it is likely that you will do the same.

Acne often develops at the start of your teens –around 12 or 13 and usually disappears when you are 17. But in some cases it carries on into your twenties.

Testosterone and acne

When we talk about hormones and acne the main hormone responsible for this condition is testosterone.

Testosterone is part of a group called the androgens: these are a group of male hormones that are produced within the body. They are responsible for the development of male sexual characteristics such as increased muscle mass and hair growth.

Testosterone is the hormone which directly affects the production of oil (or sebum) from the sebaceous glands. These glands are located underneath the skin and secrete oil to lubricate the hair follicles and skin.

But this goes into overdrive during puberty. Rising levels of testosterone cause excess sebum production which blocks hair follicles. This blockage is called a ‘plug’.

This plug combines with dead skin cells to cause a build up of oil within the follicles. It also mixes with naturally occurring bacteria on the skin which provides an ideal breeding ground for an infection and inflammation. This inflammation causes an outbreak of spots or pimples which we know as acne.

Testosterone is the main reason why more boys than girls get acne.

Acne manifests itself in a variety of ways. Most people think of it as a series of pimples but it includes all types of spots such as blackheads, whiteheads, pustules, lesions and cysts.

What type of acne?

Experts are unable to pinpoint an exact cause of acne although they do know that hormones plus hereditary are largely responsible. The level or extent of acne is classed into three groups:

    • Mild
    • Moderate
    • Severe

If you are wondering which type you have then have a look at our diagnosing acne section. Plus our acne types section describes each of the individual acne symptoms.

Acne is one of those conditions which can be aggravated by a variety of factors which include:

  • Picking or squeezing acne pimples
  • Some varieties of oral contraceptives
  • Stress
  • Hot and humid climate
  • Make-up which clogs up the pores
  • A side effect of certain prescription medicines
  • Hormonal fluctuations e.g. before a period

Ignore old wives tales such as eating chips will give you acne or not cleaning your face properly will also result in acne. Neither of these is true. Chips or other forms of ‘fast food’ whilst they may be beneficial to your health will not cause acne.

As regards acne and your skin care routine: if you are going to develop acne then you will, irrespective of how many times you wash your face. In fact, excessive washing can strip the skin of essential oils which is a problem in itself.

These are just some of the many acne myths that still surround this condition.

Emotional impact of acne

Most teenagers have an ‘acne outbreak’ which is temporary but others are not so lucky. They find that their acne remains even after puberty and persists into their adult years.

Mild acne is manageable but moderate or severe acne is far more problematic. Severe forms of acne are characterised by pus-filled sores which can leave a permanent scar.

But aside from this, there are also the emotional aspects of acne. Puberty is a stage in life when teenagers are self-conscious about the way they look which includes their facial appearance. They will be heavily influenced by the media as well as their peer group and place a high value on ‘fitting in’.

There is a great deal of pressure to look good but all the good work can be undone by an acne outbreak. If you have spent hours on your appearance then it can be frustrating not to say upsetting if you develop acne. It can also affect confidence levels as well.

Persistent acne not only affects confidence and self-esteem but also contributes to anxiety and depression. A teenager with acne can feel isolated and will start to withdraw from any form of social interaction. They may feel ugly, dirty or worthless but it is important to reassure them that they are none of these things and what they have is a common skin condition.

What they will probably find is that many of their friends are experiencing the same. Acne is a common teenage condition so they will not be the only one.

Seeking help

But if your teenage son or daughter is becoming depressed by their acne then seek professional help. This means having a word with your GP to see if what treatment is available.

Mild cases of acne often disappear of their own volition but there are several over the counter products such as Clearasil which can help. These are useful for both mild acne but moderate and severe forms of acne will require medical treatment. A severe case of acne will be referred to a skin specialist such as a dermatologist by your GP.

The various forms of treatment available are discussed further in our acne treatment section.

Teenagers will find further support in the various acne forums available on the internet.

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