Pimples during those teenage years are pretty common. While acne also affects adults, if you go to any high school, you’ll see plenty of teenagers with acne (AKA spots, zits or pimples).
Unfortunately though, for some teens, the problem doesn't stop at the odd zit.
Acne can seriously impact teenagers’ self-confidence, keeping them from looking and feeling their best. So we talked to Consultant Dermatologist Dr Shreya Andric about the major cause of acne and how you can help your teenager to get clearer skin.
Why do teenagers get acne?
According to Dr Shreya, the biggest culprit in teenage acne is those pesky hormones. Testosterone, one of these hormones, stimulates the oil glands (known as sebaceous glands) at the base of the hair follicles, making them swell.
Usually, these glands produce sebum (oil) to protect the skin. But changing hormone levels can send them into overproduction mode, clogging the follicles with excess sebum and dead skin cells. If bacteria also get trapped in the follicle, they cause inflammation, which shows up as a pimple.
The good news is that as those hormones settle down, most teenage acne clears up on its own without much intervention. But if you understand how your teen’s life stage affects their skin, you can help them to get a handle on what’s happening.
That means you can help them to get rid of their zits (naturally or otherwise) and get clearer skin.
How can I help my teenager with their acne?
Looking after our skin is important for everyone, not just teenagers.
And for all of us, healthy, clear skin starts with developing good habits around eating better foods, plus the right morning and evening skincare routines. So if your teenager isn’t already doing these things, here are Dr Shreya’s top three tips for helping them to clear up their skin.
Tip 1: Cleanse with the right products
The traditional ‘cleanse, tone and moisturise’ routine is less important for teenage skin than it is for adults. And Dr Shreya says it’s especially important to be careful with exfoliant scrubs. “Acne can't be scrubbed away,” she explains, “and harsh scrubs can actually irritate the skin more.”
Clear skin starts with developing good habits around eating better foods, plus the right morning and evening skincare routines.
Instead, she recommends a cleanser that contains salicylic acid. “This chemically exfoliates your teen’s skin, keeping their pores clear.”
She also adds that because acne-prone skin is usually oily, it often doesn’t need an extra moisturiser. However, if your teen’s skin starts feeling dry, she suggests looking for a moisturiser that says it’s ‘oil-free’ and ‘non-comedogenic’ on the label.
‘Non-comedogenic’ means that the product won't clog skin pores, so bacteria are less likely to become trapped in them.
Help your teen by taking them shopping to buy the right skincare products, and read the labels together so they understand what’s best for their skin.
2. Nourish their skin with the right foods
Healthy skin starts from the inside out, so eating well is one of the best ways to encourage clearer skin.
A balanced nutrient-rich diet is important for all of us, but teenagers with acne often benefit from extra zinc and omega-3 fatty acids.
A balanced, nutrient-rich diet is important for all of us, but teenagers with acne often benefit from extra zinc and omega-3 fatty acids.
Zinc may help suppress sebum production and plays a role in wound healing, and research shows that people with acne tend to have lower levels of zinc. Good natural sources of zinc include red meat, shellfish and legumes like chickpeas, lentils and beans.
Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with lower levels of inflammation, and we mentioned inflammation’s role in the acne life cycle earlier. Foods that have plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, such as oily fish or flaxseed oil, may help to reduce this inflammation.
To help clear your teenager’s skin, consider regularly adding some of the top 10 foods for healthy hair, skin and nails into the whole family’s diet.
3. Seek professional support if they need it
If your teen is cleansing properly and eating well but still getting acne breakouts, clearing up their skin may require a GP visit. Their doctor can assess how severe their acne really is, and suggest the best next steps to get rid of it.
This could mean taking a course of antibiotics or using a prescription-only cream.
In more severe cases, the next step could be a referral to a dermatologist. “We specialise in skin care,” says Dr Shreya, “so we can assess your teen’s skin to identify potential treatments that might get rid of their acne.”
A parent can only do so much, so keep the communication line open if they need more help and be there for them - even if it’s only a reassuring hug.
Let your teen know that you’re there for them
Growing up can be pretty rough at the best of times, and acne certainly doesn’t make it any easier. Sometimes, it can help to know they’re not alone – so if you used to suffer with acne as a teen, tell them.
But a parent can only do so much, so don’t be afraid to ask your GP for help. And of course, keep the communication lines open so if they need more help, you can be there for them – even if it’s only for a reassuring hug.
- Healthy hands: how to prevent dry skin
- How to fix damaged hair (and get the healthy, shiny locks you’ve always dreamed of)
- The facts about healthy eating for teenagers
Dr Shreya Andric is a Fellow of the Australian College of Dermatologists with a wide breadth of general dermatology knowledge as well as specialist interest in areas of cosmetic dermatology, paediatric dermatology and genital dermatology, among others.
Reviewed by healthylife Advisory Board June 2021