Help for Your Teen's Acne Problems
With all the mood swings, peer pressure and physical changes that tweens and teens have to cope with, putting a clear face forward shouldn't be a daunting task. For many, achieving a "fresh look" or being thought of as having a clear complexion is a difficult chore. Sadly, many young people cope with not only having mild to severe acne, but with the social and emotional ramifications that frequently accompany skin blemishes.
Although it is typically associated with teens, acne can start as early as 9 or 10 years old. By the time they've weathered the storm of puberty, most children have experience with some form of acne. While acne usually clears up after several years – even if it goes untreated – it can severely affect a child's self image and confidence, and be extremely embarrassing to an already insecure teenager.
You can offer some support and comfort to your teen's or tween's already challenging existence by knowing how children with acne feel about themselves, what causes acne and how it can be controlled.
According to dermatologist Dr. Kelly Ryska, all teens should wash their skin with a mild cleanser once in the morning, in the evening and after heavy exercise as a means of preventing or controlling breakouts. Experts like Dr. Ryska caution against excessive cleansing that can aggravate acne. "Remember, scrubbing will not improve acne and can make the problem worse," she says. "Drying out lesions by using alcohol, alcohol-based astringents or gels will not eliminate acne." Drying out acne still leaves a residue or dead skin cells piled up to clog the hair follicle. "Clinical experience has also shown that acne scars don't improve much in their appearance when the skin is repeatedly aggressed by drying products," she says.
Consult your child's health care provider for advice on the best type of cleanser to use. "It is also important to thoroughly rinse skin after washing," says Dr. Ryska, who also recommends her patients shampoo their hair regularly.
Laura Rosenburg, a clinical dermatology nurse specialist in New York, N.Y., cautions that "kids who squeeze, pick or pop their zits risk developing scars or dark blotches and should avoid rubbing and touching their skin lesions." It is also important to note that many medications used to treat acne can make a person more likely to sunburn. A sunburn, or suntan that darkens the skin, may make blemishes less visible and make the skin feel drier; however, these benefits are only temporary. "It's important teens realize there are known risks of excessive sun exposure, such as more rapid skin aging and a risk of developing skin cancer," says Rosenburg.
If your teen is being treated for acne, she may need to change some of the cosmetics she uses. "All cosmetics should be oil free – when in doubt, read the label," says Rosenburg. "It may also be hard to apply foundation evenly during the first few weeks of treatment, because skin may be red or scaly."
Boys with acne who shave can test both electric and safety razors to see which is more comfortable. If your son uses a safety razor, a clean, sharp blade and softening his beard thoroughly with soap and water before applying shaving cream can be helpful. Remind him that nicking blemishes can be avoided by shaving lightly and only when necessary.
Catherine Atzen, P.M.E., has noticed that school finals generally coincide with worsened acne conditions in students. "When a person is under stress due to a happy event, such as falling in love, or negative stress, such as being afraid of getting a bad grade, hormonal changes will appear in the body," she says.
Another factor common in students is studying or reading while resting their cheek or chin on their fist. Sixteen-year-old Julie Bolyn of Crystal Lake, Ill., struggled with an unusual acne condition that appeared on one cheek and formed an almost perfect circle. "I couldn't believe when my doctor explained that I was causing my own acne by continually pressing my fist on my cheek," she says. Acne as the result of pressure can also be created by baseball caps, bra straps, tight synthetic exercise apparel or telephones held tightly to the jaw line.
Teens like Bolyn know how painful acne can be. Their already fragile level of self confidence can be shattered whether a breakout consists of a few pimples or an extensive bout of acne. "There are times when I feel horrible and ugly," says Illinois teen Tiffani Chase, 15. "I've even begged to be able to stay home from school."
Tiffani's mother, Theresa, became concerned about her daughter's social development and self-esteem as a result of her acne. "She didn't want to go out or risk being seen by boys because she was convinced she was ugly or the only one with acne," Theresa says. Worried that her daughter's self-esteem was on the verge of being permanently compromised, she incorporated a variety of options to both control her daughter's acne and regain confidence in her self image. "We went to a dermatologist, began a solid hygiene regimen at home and started going for monthly facials to offer several benefits," she says.
In an effort to clear up the acne and its secondary effects, Theresa and her daughter spent a lot of time talking about how Tiffani was feeling about herself and how all teens feel awkward and embarrassed about acne. "When I finally talked to my best friend, I was relieved that she felt self conscious about her breakouts too," says Tiffani.
Acne does not discriminate between genders. It dares to cross the lines of popularity and strikes regardless of a child's grade point average. Marcos Avella of Houston, Texas, experienced intense anxiety pondering how his acne would impact the invitation to his school's homecoming dance he extended to a classmate. "I was scared to ask someone to go with me," he says. "I was afraid she'd say no because I had just broken out."
Mary Schneider, LCSW, of Spring Grove, Ill., draws a poignant similarity to the insecurities experienced by teens such as Avella: "Peer pressure and the fight to blend in is epic to a teen," she says. "For a teen, drawing attention to yourself – especially your appearance – is like showing up to the office in your underwear." Schneider suggests parents tap into how painful and turbulent it was to be a teen with or without acne, and lend a supportive shoulder to help a child's self-esteem overcome the negative effects of acne. "If we can instill that everyone worries about their appearance or fitting in, teens with acne will understand that everyone is the same on the inside, regardless of a few spots on the outside," says Schneider.