Teen years are supposed to be the best time of your life. But it’s hard to have fun when a spotty face makes you feel more hiding away than heading out with your friends. Heather Stephen finds out what help is at hand.
Eight out of 10 teenagers have acne at some point and studies show that these days even younger children are falling prey to the dreaded zits as they are increasingly hitting puberty at a younger age.
Many young people develop acne as a surge in male hormone overstimulates oil glands while the top layer of skin gets thicker. As a result pores become blocked, infected and inflammed.
Not all teens have acne but why do some suffer with their skin while others get off scot free? Experts at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in California say it is a myth people get acne because they don’t wash enough. Very often the condition of your skin is simply down to genetics. And the effects can go beyond appearance.
‘I see lots of young patients with acne every day and it can have a severe impact,’ says consultant dermatologist Anton Alexandroff from Spire Leicester Hospital. ‘Depression is common and I have had patients who haven’t wanted to leave the house.’
But help is at hand. Dr Alexandroff says young people shouldn’t put off seeing a doctor for treatment as there is a lot the medical profession can do for acne.
Minor acne, he says, can be treated very effectively with a benzoyl peroxide cream which reduces bacteria on the skin.
If this doesn’t work or acne is more severe he suggests a combination retinoid and benzoyl peroxide gel called Epiduo. ‘This starts to work within a month with maximum effects after three or four months,’ he says.
If people don’t like applying gels and creams he prescribes antibiotics or, where appropriate, oral contraceptives and, for severe acne, he will give Roaccutane – a form of vitamin A given by tablet which reduces oil production and targets bacteria.
Dr Alexandroff says photodynamic light treatment can also help reduce inflammation and bacteria.
Other useful clinic treatments include intralesional cortisone injections used to treat acne cysts and a salicylic acid peel to unblock pores. And Dr Ross Perry, NHS GP and founder of the Cosmedics group of clinics swears by the Clearskin system by Alma lasers which works with a suction and laser to draw out acne, kill off bacteria and reducing redness and inflammation. Dr Perry says it works well for rosacea as well.
“This treatment is new and has only been around for a year but it has made a dramatic difference to our patients with acne and has been very effective for those red marks which normally take longer to fade.’
Dr Shirin Lakhani, an advanced aesthetic doctor from Elite Aesthetics in Greenhithe, Kent, advises teens to get help early if the condition is bothering them.
‘If you can get acne under control at a young age you can prevent scarring and prevent the psychological impact of acne,’ she says. ‘And learning to use effective skincare products will help with anti-aging and maintain skin health.’
Dr Alexandroff agrees. “Acne is not seen as a medical problem like heart disease or high blood pressure, but it is. And if you have significant acne go and see a doctor. You don’t have to suffer.’
Six tricks to perfect skin for teens
- Good hygiene. It is important to wash twice a day with antibacterial liquid, avoid touching the face too much and make sure your hands are clean when applying makeup. Don’t wash more than this as you could irritate whiteheads and blackheads causing them to become infected.
- Gently does it. You might think the best way to beat spots is to attack your face with scrubs and alcohol-based astringents but you could just end up aggravating the skin further.‘A lot are very harsh but in my experience using a good oil- free cleanser and not using moisturiser is the best way to treat teenage acne,’ Dr Lakhani says.
- Use a face wash with salicylic acid. ‘This can make a huge difference,’ says Dr Lakhani. ‘Because it takes away the oil from the skin and minimises pores without drying the skin.’
- Don’t pick. ‘A lot of people fiddle and squeeze out their spots but this should be avoided as the skin will take longer to heal leading to scarring,’ says Dr Alexandroff. So resist the temptation to pop your zits. Your skin will thank you for it.
- Check your diet. ‘Try not to eat dairy products as these seem to exacerbate acne and make it more difficult to treat,’ says Dr Alexandroff.
- Go easy on the makeup. Girls, resist the urge to slather on a thick layer of foundation to cover your spots. This will only clog the pores and make your skin worse. Opt for a light oil free formula, preferably with acne-beating ingredients like salicylic acid and look for labels which say products are ‘non comedogenic’ – which means they won’t block pores