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As if your teenage years weren’t tough enough to begin with, this is also the time in your life when breakouts tend to begin and occur most frequently. Pimples of all shapes and sizes seemingly pop up overnight, out of nowhere, and you’re left re-applying your concealer during breaks at school—in-between researching the best acne treatments for teens. Teenage acne is definitely not fun, there’s no arguing that, but with the right attitude and know-how, you can help get your breakouts, and your self-esteem, under control in no time. Here, we’re sharing your guide to teenage acne, from our top tips on how to help manage and mitigate breakouts, to skin care routine adjustments that include using products designed to target acne. Whether you’re the parents of a teenager who’s experiencing it, or you’re a teen yourself, here’s what you need to know about teenage acne.
First off, if you’re experiencing teenage acne, it helps to realize that you’re not alone—according to the Mayo Clinic, acne is most common among teenagers. But we get it, just because it’s common doesn’t make it any less irritating or annoying. Even though it’s one of the most common skin concerns in teenagers and young adults, acne causes significant emotional distress for many people experiencing it, according to Harvard Medical School. What’s more, acne becomes more of an issue during teenage years because it’s tied to hormones. Specifically, androgen hormones in both sexes increase during puberty, which signals the skin’s oil glands to produce more oil—which can lead to acne. So, take a deep breath and whenever your acne starts stressing you out, try to pause and remember that you’re not alone!
Whether you’re reading this to help yourself or your child, one thing is for certain: Take acne seriously. Waiting for pimples to clear up on their own, or telling your teen to just wait it out, can do more harm than good, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Besides what “waiting it out” can do to one’s self-esteem, it's important to note that acne typically does not clear up on its own. With the right products and skin care routine, you can help improve the appearance of acne and help prevent new blemishes from forming. However, without any intervention, the AAD warns that acne can become so severe that it could leave permanent acne scars. So, when you notice a breakout forming in the mirror, don’t blow it off—make a plan for yourself or your loved one before things escalate.
Easier said than done, we know! However, the link between stress and breakouts isn’t a myth—stress actually can cause acne to flare up, according to the AAD. So, next time you feel your stress levels starting to go up, do something that helps you wind down, such as a face mask or taking a hot, spa-like bath.
This should come as no surprise, but the first step in any solid skincare routine is cleansing, which should be done twice per day, every morning and evening. Using a facial cleanser that is designed to keep pores clean and absorb excess oil without drying out your skin is ideal. If you’re on a sports team or like to workout—or it’s the middle of summer—the AAD also recommends cleansing after sweating.
When it comes to finding the best acne treatments to help address acne on teenage skin, look out for anti-acne ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, which, according to the AAD, help to clear up the skin’s surface. Skin care products formulated with salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide can be purchased over the counter, and you can find them in all types of skin care products designed to target acne, including facial cleansers, scrubs, masks, leave-on creams, and spot treatments.
Both ingredients work a bit differently on the skin’s surface, according to research published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Benzoyl peroxide has an antibacterial effect, helping to reduce the actual acne-causing bacteria that lurks on the skin. Over-the-counter products formulated with benzoyl peroxide have concentrations ranging from two to ten percent. Just be mindful that higher concentrations of the ingredient could cause skin irritation. Salicylic acid, on the other hand, works by stimulating the skin’s natural exfoliation process, and it comes in concentrations ranging from 0.5 to two percent. Because everyone’s skin and breakouts differ, it may take some time to figure out which products and ingredients work best for you—which leads us to tip number seven…
Editor’s note: According to the FDA, both salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide can require increased sun safety. The FDA recommends avoiding unnecessary sun exposure and using sunscreen.
Even if a skin care product promises overnight results, the AAD recommends that you don’t believe the hype. At-home acne treatment takes four to eight weeks to see improvement, and even after acne clears, you must continue your treatment regimen in order to prevent future breakouts. So, be patient with your products and stick to one routine for at least two months before expecting to see results.
For acne that just won’t go away, or acne that is physically painful (such as cystic acne), make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist. They are skin doctors, after all, so dermatologists have more tools at their disposal to help treat acne than you’ll find in store aisles. These include prescription topical and internal medications, laser and light therapies, chemical peels, and the physical removal of acne, which is basically the pro version of those pimple popping videos you love-hate to watch.
Speaking of pimple popping, it can be tempting to mess with your acne and touch your face, but we have to tell you—don’t. According to the AAD, touching your face throughout the day transfers oils and bacteria onto your skin, which can mix together and clog pores, leading to acne flare-ups, which you definitely don’t need. If you’re applying makeup to cover acne, use a clean makeup blender to do so to help avoid touching your skin.
Next up: Another type of acne that’s the absolute worst? That would be back acne. Tackle bacne with help from our article, What Can You Do to Manage Back Acne?
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