When I was a teenager – stuck in the “awkward” stage of life, I remember looking in the mirror and wondering how in the world my face could go from a clear complexion the day before, to this face full of zits overnight.
Unfortunately, for kids it’s a rite of passage. Not only do they have to go through an ugly stage, they also have to bear the scourge of acne. Pre-teens and teenagers, because of hormone changes, bad diets, and stress are more prone to acne and problems with their skin. As kids reach full physical development, when the hormones settle into a more adult-like rhythm, the acne should subside for the most part. But what if it doesn’t? Let’s address that question in a moment but first, let’s talk about what causes acne and I’ll give you a few things you can suggest to your teenager who is struggling with it.
Our skin has tiny holes that contain hair follicles, sweat glands and sebaceous glands. The sebaceous glands secrete oil that keeps our skin smooth. During the teenage years, the sebaceous glands respond to rising hormone levels and secrete more oil. The increased oil production combined with thickening of the skin around the follicle can result in a blocked pore that doesn’t allow the oil to flow out of the follicle. This causes pressure and inflammation to build up and increases the risk for infection. If the clogged pores become infected it can potentially result in scarring.
What causes acne?
- Being a teenager – Hormones change in the teenage years and hormones stimulate all kinds of effects on the teenage body. About 80 percent of teenagers have acne and around 30 percent of those who do, need to seek out treatment.
- Poor diet – Eating too much sugar, causes inflammation and hyperglycemia, or chronically elevated blood sugars. Eating bad fats results in inflammation. Consider a person with uncontrolled diabetes who has elevated blood sugar levels which results in poor wound healing. Inflammation is unchecked and wounds are unable to heal because of it.
- Poor treatment of skin – Our skin needs to breathe and should be cleansed to keep the complexion at its best. Heavy makeup, the use of abrasive cleansers, washing too frequently, not washing frequently enough and tight clothing can all contribute to developing acne.
- Bacterial overgrowth – Our skin is a protective layer and a very important part of our immune system. We all have bacteria that resides on our skin and is harmless in most circumstances. When bacteria from the skin invades the open wound created by acne it stimulates an immune response which causes further inflammation and infection.
- Poor Nutrition – Deficiencies or suboptimal tissue of vitamin A,B’s, C, D and zinc can all contribute to skin issues like acne.
- Hormone imbalances – There are cases where hormones become imbalanced because of genetic factors and environmental triggers. Excessive “androgenic’ hormones can cause acne to be worse and last longer than they normally would in the teenage years and well beyond.
- Poor Gut Function– This isn’t a well- known cause of acne and I wouldn’t dream of telling you that if your gut was in pristine condition you or your teen wouldn’t develop acne. But we know that the gut plays a major role in other skin conditions and that role is in part responsible for the regulation of the immune system. What goes on in the gut doesn’t stay in the gut and often times it shows up on the skin.
What you can you do to help your teenager deal with acne?
- Express empathy, then make light of it without embarrassing them – let your kids know that you’re sorry they are having a hard time with this, and that you care and understand how they feel (remember you were there once too). Always try to find ways to inject humor into situations without demeaning or embarrassing them, especially in front of other people.
- Use cleansing products such as Proactiv, that are proven to work well and make sure they use it as directed. Do not overuse cleansers because it may cause the skin to dry out and become more susceptible.
- Tell them how important it is to limit sugar and “bad” fats from their diet. The acne will be there whether they eat a healthy diet or not. Sugar and bad fats are inflammatory and can make acne much worse if they consume too much.
- Apply extra virgin or unprocessed organic coconut oil to the skin, once daily. It can be fungicidal and bactericidal and it’s a great moisturizer;
- Have your healthcare provider prescribe a 2% topical niacinamide cream obtained from any IACP Certified compounding pharmacy. This can be very helpful to increase blood flow to the skin which can improve healing time;
- Apply small amounts of vitamin A oil to the skin or take 10,000 IU orally. Vitamin A is a powerful anti-inflammatory and it helps the dead skin shed properly so that it doesn’t build up and obstruct the pores.
- Have them take a balanced multivitamin and multimineral and extra vitamin D during the wintertime. This will help cover the nutritional gaps that are so often present in the teenage diet.
- Consider using an antibiotic cream with zinc. Zinyert is a product that contains the antibiotic Erythromycin and zinc. Erythromycin alone kills the harmful bacteria but it creates local inflammation. The zinc will decrease the inflammation caused by the antibiotic.
What happens if the acne lasts into my 20’s in spite of the things mentioned above?
If you continue to have acne into your adult years, you likely have a problems with hormone metabolism. If you or your healthcare provider think this is the case, see a naturopathic physician or a certified functional medicine provider and ask them to run a urine hormone test to see how you are metabolizing your hormones. We like using the DUTCHTEST, because it gives you results for both urine hormone values, and it tells you how your body breaks down your hormones. If you address hormone imbalance, you’d be surprised how much it can help.
While this wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive journey into the world of acne, hopefully it will be a starting point so you and your teen can see some improvements in their reflection.