The odd breakout is part of the hormonal ups and downs of growing up, but some teenagers are more seriously afflicted by skin problems. Persistent acne is not only physically unpleasant and upsetting, it can also be emotionally distressing, so jokes about growing out of it are cold comfort.
Left untreated, acne can lead to scarring and in some sufferers far outlast their adolescence. If your teenager is badly troubled by skin problems, then it is time to seek specialist help. Start with a word to your GP, who may refer you to a dermatologist. Though cost may be a concern, in the long run timely treatment is likely to save spending on ineffective products, plus avoid a lot of heartache.
We spoke to Angela Frazer, clinical co-ordinator at Prescription Skin Care in Remuera. The highly qualified surgical nurse who specialises in skin care and works closely with medical specialists, says the most common reason teenagers are brought to the clinic is because they have acne-prone skin or active acne. This can range from occasional breakouts and oily skin, through to much more severe cases.
"We do see some teenagers who have great skin and visit with a parent for general skin advice, in particular on finding the right sunscreen, or a gentle non-irritating cleanser." Frazer says establishing this sort of simple skin health regime early is a good preventative measure.
"We also see teenagers and young adults concerned with pigmentation and freckling, particularly if they are on an oral contraceptive." In these cases, should they be on prescriptive drugs for acne and wish to safely combine programmes, the clinic works closely with the teenager's GP or dermatologist.
What are the treatment options for acne?
There are two parts: the first being home-care products and the second in-office peel and medi-facial treatments.
Homecare products are very important to keeping acne under control. No matter what grade of acne you have, what you apply to your skin - or in many cases don't apply - is key to clearing it up. Many over-the-counter products contain harsh chemicals that cause irritation and inflammation, which can lead to acne problems.
Cosmetic acne tends to be non-inflammatory with blackheads and bumps under the skin, and is caused by what you are using on your skin and hair, with key culprits being heavy, rich moisturisers and foundations, certain sunscreens and hair oils, which block pores and harbour bacteria.
Seek advice from a medical skincare professional who has had successful experience treating acne. They can review what you are using and identify products which may be causing your acne, and advise you on what to use to both prevent and treat acne.
At Prescription Skin Care we offer a range of treatments, (think of these as medical facials) which offer faster and more dramatic improvements in your skin. An example of this is the detox peel that unblocks pores, regulates oil, and has an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effect, decreasing red and often painful pimples.
These treatments, however, do not replace your home care routine, but rather complement it. Compare it to brushing your teeth and going to the dentist. If you went to the dentist twice a year, but never brushed your teeth, you would not have healthy teeth and gums.
How do prescription products vary from those bought in shops or online?
Prescription treatments are either in oral/tablet form or products to apply topically. They are usually vitamin A, a key ingredient when treating acne (such as retin A or derivatives such as Differin for topical application, or in more severe cases oral Roaccutane). Other prescription products include antibiotics.
Vitamin A bought in over-the-counter products such as those from a supermarket or pharmacy is in lower concentrations. Acne products available through medical skin care clinics [without prescription] contain vitamin A, but in higher concentration.
In some cases we will combine medically prescribed products [working with the patient's GP or dermatologist] with an exfoliating cleanser and a sun protection product for acne-prone skin. Products also contain other acne fighting ingredients such as fruit acids (AHAs), salicylic acid and anti-inflammatory ingredients.
Where does sunscreen and makeup fit with acne-prone skin?
Although many people who suffer with acne avoid sunscreens as they find they contribute to breakouts, a sunscreen is still essential. If you have a darker olive skin type and are not wearing a zinc-based sunscreen, as your pimples heal they will leave a brown pigment spot, often thought of as a scar. Also, many oral and topical acne products including antibiotics make the skin more sensitive to the sun. (Prescription Skin Care recommends Elta MD sunscreen, which has a UV clear SPF46 which contains zinc, is oil-free and won't cause breakouts. It contains ingredients such as niacinamide (a B3 vitamin) which when applied topically helps to soothe and treat pimples due to its anti-inflammatory and healing effects.
Chose a good quality mineral makeup rather than a liquid or a cream foundation. Mineral makeup is oil-free and actually good for the skin. It also covers redness and pimples well.
Do skincare products for those with adult acne vary from those for teenagers?
Recommendation of topically applied skincare products for both teenage or adult acne depends on an individual's skin type, lifestyle and severity of acne, so may or may not be the same. At Prescription Skin Care we look at each case individually. The good news with adult acne is that the ingredients used to treat acne also improve sun damage, pigmentation, lines and wrinkles.
Does acne treatment and incidence have a usual time frame?
How long it takes to see an improvement varies depending on the type and severity of acne. If your skin concern is being aggravated by what you are using on your skin, simply stopping these products and replacing with those appropriate for your skin type will show improvements almost immediately. Results will also vary depending on your chosen treatment programme (for example, if you have two or three peel treatments one month apart, you will achieve a faster, more dramatic clearing of your skin, than with products alone).
Acne is more common in teenage years due to the influence of hormones and for many it can resolve in their 20s, however, it can persist into adult years (or may clear and then return years down the track).
If you have an acne-prone skin or family history of acne, it is important you get education and advice from a young age, to ensure you can manage your skin over the long term. Liken this to an asthmatic, who may not suffer as much in adult years, but still needs to be aware of their asthma potential, triggers and control.