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Published on September 02, 2015

teen with pimples

Teens and Zits: The Road to Clearer Skin Takes Time

Being a teenager brings many changes. The good: more freedom, a driver’s license and dating. And the bad: more homework, a curfew and,often a cruel rite of passage, acne.

According to Heidi Furth, CNP, of Avera Medical Group Dermatology Sioux Falls, there are four culprits responsible for those dreaded spots.

“The most common instigator is hormonal changes. That’s why teens and women struggle with acne,” said Furth. “It’s also caused by the skin type you inherited, how much oil your skin produces and bacteria.”

Acne affects each person differently. The spectrum ranges from small, pink or white bumps to blackheads to deep, painful cysts.

Even though acne peaks in teens ages 14 to 18, Furth sees patients as young as 8 all the way into their 50s. Like age, acne doesn’t discriminate against gender either.

“We see girls, boys, women and men. It doesn’t matter — they all want clear skin,” said Furth. “Men tend to have more severe acne, but it usually shuts down between ages 18 and 22. Women’s acne, on the other hand, tends to be more persistent and flares up at the whim of her hormones.”

Oh, and if that’s not enough to deal with… Rapid growth during adolescence, starting or stopping hormone treatments, pregnancy and stress aggravate acne even further.

And, of course, picking and squeezing only cause redness, inflammation, scarring and more zits.

One question patients often ask is whether sugary or processed food worsens acne.

“There isn’t any solid research to sustain this theory,” said Furth. “However, I always tell my patients, ‘a good diet is good for the whole body, and a bad diet is bad for the whole body.’” In other words, eating more fruits and vegetables won’t hinder your pursuit for the perfect complexion.

For most, the quest for clearer skin begins in the health and beauty department of a local supermarket. Products that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid are best for clearing mild acne. Stay away from exfoliators, or gritty scrubs, which are more irritating than helpful to a teen’s skin.

“People sometimes try things they find online, such as using coconut oil or creating masks using ingredients found in their kitchen,” said Furth. “They’re not necessary harmful or helpful.”

However, these methods don’t take into account your skin’s personal characteristics, such as sensitivity, oil production, pore size or even gender. If these options aren’t relieving the severity or frequency of outbreaks, don’t hesitate to visit a dermatologist for more individualized treatment.

“Acne isn’t just a cosmetic thing, it’s a medical issue,” said Furth. “It’s OK to take acne seriously. We want to see patients before scarring has occurred.”

Cystic and persistent acne usually responds better to prescription medication than over-the-counter options. Accutane®, which is actually a pill form of vitamin A, is used to treat deep, nodular acne. Another option is an oral antibiotic, which helps with inflamed, red acne.

Milder cases can be treated with prescribed topical antibiotics or creams and gels, such as Epiduo® or Retin-A®.

Because hormones often play into female acne, many young women turn to hormone therapies to get to the root of the problem. It’s not unusual to try two or three brands before finding the right one.

“It’s easy to get frustrated when you aren’t seeing immediate results,” said Furth. “Whether you try over-the-counter products or medication, commit at least eight to 12 weeks before moving to another option.”

Achieving and maintaining clear skin isn’t easy. It takes patience, discipline and consistency. Talk to your primary care physician or dermatologist about how you or your teen can get over zits.

Quick Tips for Clearer, Healthier Skin

  • Wash morning and night with a gentle cleanser.
  • Wash a third time if you are sweaty from working out.
  • Change out of sweaty clothes ASAP.
  • Choose lighter makeup options, such as mineral powder, if you have acne-prone skin.
  • Avoid touching your face during the day.
  • Don’t even think about picking or squeezing!

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