Their faces can’t lie. They are teenagers. Walk through any middle school or high school, and you will see teens who are struggling horribly with acne as well as those teens who seem relatively unscathed. Blame it on hormones and genetics if your kids fall in the first category.
Even those in the second category probably need a lesson in good skin care. “If you can teach your child to start cleansing their face, they will be way of peers,” says dermatologist Dr. Ted Lain. He advises teens to clean their faces at the end of the day so they can get rid off the built-up gunk in their pores before going to sleep.
Lain and aesthetician Tracy Bethel of Aloe Skin + Body have two very different views of where to start kids in their cleansing regimen. Bethel uses natural things you find at the grocery store. Lain advises starting with over-the-counter acne-control products to start.
The key with teens is making sure that once they actually start cleaning their face (a big hurdle), they are not over scrubbing. Cleaning their face, means using a cleanser that has an exfoliant, not just soap, Lain says, because soap doesn’t get rid of the dead skin that is clogging the pores.’
Teens often don’t have patience to wait for their skin to clear up, and they will over clean to try to get rid of the acne and actually do additional damage. Lain doesn’t like cleansers that have beads or rough particles because they can cause tears in the skin and permanently scar the face.
After using a cleanser, the skin should feel soft, the oil should be gone, but it shouldn’t be dry.
Lain suggests starting with an over-the-counter product that has alpha or beta hydroxyl acids or salicylic acid, which help to exfoliate. If those don’t work, you would move up to an over-the-counter product that has Benzoyl peroxide or sulfur. Benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria that causes the acne as well as removes excess oil and dead skin. Sulfur is usually used in combination with salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, and removes the dead skin cells and helps remove excess oil.
Lain says you don’t have to worry too much about the over-the counter products being too harsh because they are regulated about how strong they can be.
If none of that works, Lain says, it’s time to see a dermatologist. Usually you’ll also see an aesthetician who will remove blackheads. He usually starts teens on a cream medication, but if it’s a particularly severe case, he’ll prescribe antibiotics to get rid of the bacteria that is causing the acne flare up.
Sometimes in girls when the flare up is hormonal, he’ll talk about controlling the hormones, which might mean a birth control pills.
The biggest issue he sees with teens and medication or medicated creams is compliance. He’s recommended apps to remind them, but the bottom line is they have to be willing to spend the time following instructions to get clearer skin. And again, they have to be patient. Sometimes, in the first two or three weeks, the skin might actually get worse before it gets better.
If parents don’t want to put their kids on medications, there are other options. Lain uses a facial system called hydrafacial, which use a hand-held device to vacuum out pores and he uses the Isolaz, which uses a laser to kill the bacteria and a vacuum to suck up the gunk in the pores.
Bethel warns about using a lot of over-the-counter products. “What happens is, you start treating one problem and you’re creating another problem,” she says. She points to salicylic acid, which can irritate skin.
Instead, she uses aspirin, mushed into a powder, then made into a paste to put on a pimple to reduce the inflammation. She also recommends using honey mixed with a little bit of water and coconut oil or grape seed oil to use as a cleanser or a masque. Honey is a natural antibacterial, anifungal and anti-inflammatory
She also uses a paste of oatmeal to be a gentle exfoliant and an oil remover. If the oatmeal is too chunky on the skin, put it in a coffee grinder before making the paste. Sometimes she mixes the oatmeal with a little tea tree oil, but warns against using just tea tree oil on your skin. It has to be mixed with something, like the oatmeal or a coconut oil or grape seed oil as a buffer.
One of the biggest things she teaches teens is that their skin is an essential element of their body. If you’re allergic to eating an ingredient like almonds, it shouldn’t be used on your skin.
“Skin really starts to tell us things about our body,” she says. It tells you if you’re stressed or if hormones are on overdrive. It’s also a reminder of their bad diet. Bethel warns against diets high in sugar because sugar is a natural inflammatory.
Lain also talks to teens about their diet. Everyone has individual foods that might be an acne trigger. Common ones are milk and peanut butter. One thing is universal: saturated fats do help feed the oil content of your skin.
Bethel starts seeing kids for facials as preteens — ages 11 and 12. She’ll teach them about the importance of sunscreen, do a quick facial and teach them about cleaning their face. The teen facial usually happens a little older, but includes an extraction.
Bethel is not against seeing a dermatologist when the acne is severe or her clients have tried the natural remedies and they are not working. Sometimes a round of antibiotics is what’s needed during a flare up to get the skin back in check.