Acne is considered so common that even many parents might think it’s just a normal part of growing up. But back-to-school season can be a source of anxiety for the roughly 8 in 10 preteens and teens who suffer from acne.
For school-age kids (and even adults), this widespread condition doesn’t make it easier when they look in the mirror and see blemishes on their faces. Acne can impact teenagers’ confidence and overall sense of self-esteem, as well as make them a target of bullying including on social media. Just do a quick search for “acne” on Twitter, and you can see the toll it’s taking on those in the younger age groups. There have even been several research studies that link acne with depression.
So what is acne, and how does it differ from “just a few pimples?” Acne is a more chronic skin condition that is characterized by unsightly blemishes, pimples, pus bumps, blackheads and whiteheads that can occur on the face, chest, back, shoulders and, occasionally, the upper arms. Sometimes acne produces painful cysts and nodules that can increase angst even more. Acne can affect both adolescents as well as adults.
The exact cause of acne is unknown, but there are many recognized contributing factors, including: overactive oil glands, plugged skin pores, overgrowth of bacteria, and inflammation.
While acne can cause physical and emotional problems, there are solutions when over-the-counter products fail to improve the skin. Dermatologists are the best places to turn to get personalized and monitored treatment that will reasonably clear all but the most resistant cases of acne.
Yet consider this typical timeline: Getting in to a dermatologist office typically is a one-month wait for an appointment1, sometimes even longer if your child is not an existing patient. Then, a prescribed treatment plan may not start to yield results for another month or two. It usually takes 8-12 weeks to reasonably clear acne because of the time needed to change the topography of a patient’s skin. At that point, your teen is almost half-way through their school year.
But there are ways to reduce that time leading up to relief. There are a number of new dermatology apps that connect a patient with a board-certified dermatologist in just a few clicks. DermatologistOnCall® is an example of one that enables parents to manage the visit for their minor child. Using one of these apps can reduce the wait-for-results by at least one month.
Regardless of whether your child or teen sees a dermatologist in the office or through an online or mobile app, there is a standard first-line course of treatment you can expect to see prescribed for mild to moderate acne. That typical treatment involves using a topical benzoyl peroxide, a topical retinoid (a Vitamin A derivative), and an 8-12 week tapering course using an oral antibiotic, usually of the tetracycline family. Once oral antibiotic therapy is finished, it’s important to continue to use topical therapies that will keep the skin relatively clear. For patients with more severe acne, other therapies, including isotretinoin, may be necessary. Treatment may also include dietary changes and potentially other medications if another condition may be found to worsen the acne.
In the meantime, there are things that can be done at home to help manage acne. To help lessen the occurrence and severity of acne, and the potential for longer-term scarring, your child or teen can follow some basic steps:
- Try to wash your face once or twice a day, gently using your hands instead of a washcloth, with warm water and a mild soap or cleanser to help prevent oil buildup that can lead to acne. Also, wash your face if you’ve been exercising and sweating a lot.
- When washing, don’t scrub your face or use exfoliators. Scrubbing can irritate the skin, which can actually make acne worse.
- If you use hair spray or hair gel, try not to get any on your face because these can clog pores.
- Keep long hair away from your face and wash hair regularly to reduce oil.
- Make sure any makeup, moisturizer, or sunscreen you wear is oil-free, noncomedogenic, or nonacnegenic. And, wash your face each night to remove any makeup.
- Hats can cause acne breakouts along your hairline. Avoid them if you think they are making your acne worse. If you have to wear them, such as for sports, then keep the hats clean and take them off whenever possible.
- If you do have acne, don’t pick, squeeze, or pop pimples as it can lead to more severe infections and sores.
For children and teens, proper care of their skin – particularly on their face – is important for their long-term emotional well-being. Even today’s acne can leave behind scars and blemishes that can affect their self-esteem well into their adult years.
Bio: Mark P. Seraly, MD is a board-certified practicing dermatology in Pennsylvania and founder of Iagnosis and its teledermatology platform DermatologistOnCall®. Dr. Seraly also serves as the vice chair of the American Telemedicine Association’s teledermatology special interest group. He is also a member of the American Academy of Dermatology Telemedicine Task Force and a sustaining member of the Dermatology Foundation’s Annenberg Circle.