Helping Your Teen Cope with Acne
With a little initiative, parents can provide the resources to help kids cope with the annoying skin breakouts that typically begin with the onset of puberty.
"Forget the myths that chocolate, greasy foods and cola drinks cause acne," says Dr. Denise Metry, chief of the dermatology clinic at Texas Children's Hospital and assistant professor of pediatrics and dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. "Acne actually results from a combination of genetics, increased hormone production and bacteria."
Dr. Metry urges moms and dads to be on the lookout for their child's first comedone, the medical term for a blackhead or whitehead. "Parents are often surprised that this can happen as early as 7 to 8 years of age in girls and 11 and 12 years of age in boys," she says. "As the skin grows underneath plugged pores and bacteria sets in, the lesions become red and result in the bumps we physically see as pimples. The earlier the blackheads and whiteheads are treated, the more inflammatory problems can be prevented later."
Dr. Metry explains that mild cases may respond to over-the-counter treatments. "Topical acne products containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid can help dry the skin," she says. "It also is important to wash with a gentle soap twice a day. With any soap, lotion, sunscreen or makeup, look for the words 'non-comedogenic,' which means the ingredients will not clog pores."
Seeking Professional Help
Because youngsters with acne will not always ask for help, parents are advised to make an appointment with a pediatrician or dermatologist. "If one of the parents has a history of severe acne, the child is especially prone to an acute case and should visit a doctor before scarring occurs," Dr. Metry says. "It's just common sense to treat the condition before it gets worse."
After evaluating the patient, the physician may prescribe one or more medications. "The typical prescription for comedonal acne is a topical retinoid, which is designed to 'unroof ' the comedones," Dr. Metry says. "If the skin is also inflamed, products which combine benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics may be prescribed." More advanced cases also may require oral medication.
"Typically, these medicines are in a tetracycline class and take several weeks to show improvements," Dr. Metry says. "Hormonal therapy in the form of an oral contraceptive is often prescribed for girls. Accutane, which contains isotretinoin, is the strongest acne medicine and is reserved for only the most serious of cases."
While sun is commonly thought to have a drying effect, Dr. Metry advises against increased sun exposure due to the added risk of skin cancer and premature aging. If a child must be in the sun, a strong sunscreen is recommended.
Finally, Dr. Metry believes there is no alternative for a healthy lifestyle. "Myths aside, sleep, exercise and eating a reasonably healthy diet will make you look better because you feel better," she says.