It’s that time of year again: Back to school season. As if life wasn’t already stressful enough with soccer practice, early mornings, and homework—throw in acne flare-ups, and you’ve got yourself a classic teenage meltdown.
Quick science lesson: Acne is a very common skin condition that occurs when the hair follicle becomes blocked with oil and dead skin, aka comedones. When blocked pores become infected, this can lead to inflamed papules and pustules that can cause scarring. Enter: extra freak-outs.
As the parent in this ever-so-fun situation, how do you know when it’s time to book a dermatologist appointment? Before you make the call, assess the severity of your teen’s acne:
- Moderate to Severe Teenage Acne: If they have multiple, consistent papules and comedones, any noticeable scarring, little relief from over-the-counter acne products, or lowered self-esteem as a result of their acne, it’s time to see a dermatologist for treatment.
- Mild Teenage Acne: If your teen has mostly comedones with the occasional papule, along with weeks where their skin is more clear and no signs of acne scarring, then starting with a few over-the-counter acne products may significantly minimize your teen’s breakouts.
If your teen falls into the second ‘mild acne’ category, the most important thing to remember when starting a skincare routine for them is to make it simple and straightforward. Teens have a lot on their plate these days—between studying, sports, friends and navigating new responsibilities, adding one more thing to their to-do list might overwhelm them, fast.
The good news is that a quality skincare routine that targets breakouts for your teen can be simple and effective. As a former dermatology nurse practitioner, I’ve discovered a few products over the years that I almost always recommend when treating teenage acne. Let’s take a closer look...
Benzoyl Peroxide Cleansers
While I know that many question the safety of benzoyl peroxide, I personally feel it’s a much safer alternative to long-term use of topical or oral antibiotics commonly used to treat acne. Unlike salicylic acid, which is also used to treat acne, benzoyl peroxide actually fights p. acnes—the bacteria most commonly associated with acne. Salicylic acid simply exfoliates and reduces oil, which can help breakouts, but many studies have found benzoyl peroxide to be far superior in the treatment of acne. With that being said, here are two of my favorite benzoyl peroxide cleansers for mild teenage acne:
CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser
This creamy cleanser combines the acne-fighting power of benzoyl peroxide with soothing and hydrating ceramides. This cleanser helps to reduce oil and fight acne-causing bacteria without over-drying or stripping the skin’s natural barrier.
Neutrogena Clear Pore Facial Cleanser/Mask
This has been my favorite acne-fighting cleanser for years. It’s a combination of kaolin clay and benzoyl peroxide that doubles as a face mask. This one product has made a huge difference in a lot of teenagers I’ve treated for acne over the years. If you do one thing to help your teen’s breakouts, try this cleanser.
The Multitasker Night Serum
A blend of exfoliating fruit acids, gluconolactone (PHA) and niacinamide, this clarifying serum not only helps prevent breakouts—it works well to lightly exfoliate, reduce inflammation and fade post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation that occurs after a breakout. Plus, it combines bearberry extract and licorice root extract, both shown to help with pigmentation issues. For these reasons and many others, I’m a bigger fan of using a clarifying serum like this instead of spot treatments.
Differin Acne Treatment Gel
Adapalene is a form of retinoid that’s both proven to treat acne and prevent breakouts. Not only does it work to increase cell turnover and reduce inflammation, it’s better tolerated than most retinoid products. The best part? It can be used in combination with The Multitasker Night Serum, since they both contain different active ingredients (score!). The mix of retinoids with niacinamide, fruit acids, gluconolactone, bearberry and licorice root will provide optimal results. However, if any irritation occurs, they can easily be alternated every other night.
Hero Cosmetics Mighty Patch Original Acne Patches
Remind your teen to abstain from picking or squeezing pimples. Instead, keep these pimple patches on hand. Hero Cosmetics Mighty Patches contain hydrocolloid, which will ultimately help heal the pimple, but they’ll also keep your teen from picking the area, making it worse or even causing a scar. Yikes!
In addition to these products, there are a few other acne-fighting tips to keep in mind. Most likely, your teen plays a sport, which leads to sweating—especially if they’re wearing a helmet. This type of acne is called occlusive acne and it’s very similar to acne that’s aggravated by masks (maskne anyone?). To combat this, make sure your teen is washing their face after practice, regularly wiping out their helmets, and washing their hats frequently.
Lastly, remind your teen to have realistic expectations while (im)patiently waiting for their acne to improve. A good acne-fighting routine will take at least six to eight weeks, and often 12 weeks before they see a noticeable difference. Most teens will also notice their skin worsen around week two of a new routine—this is called skin purging, and it’s completely normal. That’s why it’s essential they stay consistent, which will be easier to achieve if they’re following a simple, low-maintenance routine.
If you think your teen is dealing with anything more than mild acne or you don’t see improvement after 6-8 weeks of over-the-counter acne products, consult a dermatologist. They’ll be able to come up with a doctor-recommended plan before it gets worse.