The bane of many teenagers’ existence, acne, is incredibly common. It is often one of the first signs that puberty is about to begin and often doesn’t improve until a child is out of adolescence. Teens with significant acne have a higher rate of depression and social isolation. Effective treatment has been shown to improvement body image, self-esteem, and self-confidence. Thus treating acne can be a very important part of helping your child through the teenage years.
There are several things that you can do at home to help with acne. The first step is to start a facial cleansing regimen that doesn’t make the acne worse. One common myth is that poor hygiene leads to acne. Actually overaggressive cleansing and facial scrubbing can make acne worse. Some facial cleansers are actually too harsh and can disrupt the skin barrier which leads to bacterial invasion of the skin. The best cleansers are gentle, soap-free and pH balanced. These cleansers should be used twice per day. Gentle facial toners are okay as long as they are not overused, because they can increase irritation. Make-up and sunscreen are okay to use as long as they are labeled as oil-free and noncomedogenic (won’t cause acne).
Over the counter benzoyl peroxide containing acne creams are the most widely studied OTC acne treatments and the ones that have shown the most benefit. They work because benzoyl peroxide has antibacterial properties and some effect as an anti-inflammatory. When using benzoyl peroxide, avoid the eyes, lips and mouth. Also it can bleach hair, skin and clothes so use special washcloths, towels and sheets that you don’t mind getting bleached out. There are washes and leave-on preparations. Using washes can decrease the possibility of bleaching but might not be as effective. Benzoyl peroxide can also cause dryness, peeling and redness when you start it, so using lower concentrations (2.5%) is appropriate. Other treatments such as salicylic acid containing, sulfur containing and resorcinol containing products also have a role in treating acne although these have been less studied.
It is important to remember that whatever product you choose, the change won’t happen overnight. Give the treatment regimen a good three months before assuming it doesn’t work. You may even see a little worsening initially as skin adjusts to the treatment regimen. If you haven’t seen any improvement by three months or you feel like your child’s acne is particularly severe or you feel like their self-esteem is being significantly affected, call your pediatrician to talk about prescription treatments.
Source: Evidence-Based Recommendations for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Pediatric Acne. May 2013, Volume 131, Supplement 3.