teenage acne

Understanding Teen Acne

Knowledge is power, and understanding “why do teens get acne?” will help you identify how to get rid of teen acne. In this blog post, we’ll cover:

  • Why do I have acne
  • The best acne treatment for teens
  • Hormonal acne
  • Oily skin in teens/sebum 
  • Inflammatory acne

Skincare for college and back to school

Let’s start with that common question: “What causes acne in teens?” There are 4 main factors that contribute to acne:

  • Cutibacterium acnes
      • This bacteria lives normally on our skin and oil glands and is the primary organism that contributes to acne. To combat this bacteria, we take 2 approaches:
        • Nourish the teen skin microbiome, which contains all of the “good” organisms. When those “good” bacteria, viruses, and fungi flourish, the “bad” bacteria, like C. acnes, are kept “in check.” We can support the skin microbiome by hydrating the skin with moisturizer for teens (such as Drunk Elephant, Bright Girl Day+Bright, or Florence by Mills), using a gentle pH-balanced cleanser, and using sun protection daily. 
        • Directly target and destroy C. acnes with ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide (LaRoche Posay Effaclar Duo, Panoxyl) and/or topical antibiotics (clindamycin, a prescription that can be obtained from providers such as through Curology)
    • Oil/sebum production
      • Oily skin is common in teens. Oil and sebum production is directly driven by hormones, specifically androgens such as testosterone. While we can’t necessarily control our hormones, we can provide support to our skin to help keep oil levels in balance. 
      • To address oily skin in teens:
        • Wash your face consistently. I recommend washing your face after sports and/or every night before bed.
        • Find a specific facial cleanser for teens. The best acne face wash for teens is a cleanser with gentle surfactants such as:
          • Decyl Glucoside: a plant-derived, biodegradable, and gentle non-ionic surfactant ideal for sensitive skin and baby products.  
          • Disodium Coco-Glucoside Citrate: a sugar surfactant that gently cleanses the skin and is ideal for sensitive skin. This ingredient is amide and sulfate free
          • Examples of gentle cleansers include Bright Girl Bright+Clean pH-balanced gel facial cleanser, CeraVe Facial cleanser, Neutrogena acne wash, and Mario Badescu cleansing gel.
      • When selecting the best acne products for teens, look for a toner (eg Bright Girl Bright Tone, Thayer’s, or Paula’s Choice) with ingredients such as witch hazel that balance oil production while soothing skin inflammation.
      • Actives such as salicylic acid, found in many over-the-counter acne products, penetrate to the deep portion of the oil gland and regulate oil production. Salicylic acid can be found for spot treatment (Neutrogena acne treatment gel) or in cleansers (Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser). 

    best toner for acne

    • Clogged pores (shed skin blocks the opening of the pore)
      • Combat clogged pores that contribute to teen acne with ingredients that perform gentle skin exfoliation:
        • Allantoin (found in Bright Girl Bright+Clean Gel cleanser) is a gentle keratolytic that helps exfoliate skin cells
        • Glycolic acid (found in Cerave Nightly Exfoliating Treatment or the Glytone line) is an alpha-hydroxy acid which helps exfoliate dead skin cells. 
        • Topical retinoids are especially helpful in treating teen forehead acne or teen facial acne that presents as lots of tiny “bumps” on the skin. Examples of retinoids that are effective in acne treatment for teens include:
          • Adapalene (Differin)
          • Tretinoin (Retin-A, Retin-A micro), tazarotene (Tazorac)
    • Inflammation: inflammation is driven by lifestyle factors that create a stress response in the skin. We can minimize inflammation in acne by implementing some specific habits:
      • Avoid pro-inflammatory foods (foods with a high-glycemic index)
      • Minimize stress
      • Be sure to get adequate sleep
      • Use skincare with anti-inflammatory ingredients such as:
        • Aloe
        • Chamomile
        • Rosehip
        • Coconut oil
        • Turmeric
      • Choose pH-balanced skincare
      • For my daughters, I love a good, calming face mask for girls such as Bright Girl Calm+Bright or Avene Anti-rogeurs face mask.

    Severe cases of inflammatory acne may require oral antibiotics or medications  such as Accutane which permanently decrease oil production in the skin. I recommend seeking professional, specific advice from a Dermatology provider in these cases.

    In my practice, I often get asked the question “When does teen acne go away?” There is no set age or time when teen acne vanishes…it’s dependent on many factors such as hormonal acne and hormone levels, whether we’re choosing the best teen acne products (and what’s specifically right for your acne care needs), and lifestyle factors.

    I hope that this overview provides a foundation for understanding teen acne and how to care for acne-prone skin during your teenage years.

    Stay BRIGHT!

    --Dr. Angela