Last Reviewed on February 16, 2021 by Alice Pien, MD & Asher Milgrom, PhD
The first key to understanding why teens get acne is that poor exercise and eating habits are not the cause of teenage acne.
No, while diet can make things worse for people who get acne, those french fries and chocolate did not cause those darn acne pimples. Similarly, while not exercising and poor hygiene are definite contributors to poor health, washing your face too much or not getting enough exercise also does not cause teenagers to get acne.
Acne is mostly caused by genetic and physiological factors such as an excess of oil and dead skin cells. Acne is most common in teens as a boost in hormone levels causes the body to produce extra oil. While surging hormones may be out of your control there are ways of how to prevent future acne breakouts.
Why do Teens Get Acne?
First, you must understand what is causing your acne breakouts in order to prevent them.
Pores & Sebum
Pores, which are actually the opening of hair follicles at the surface of your skin, cover every inch of your skin everywhere on your body. Each pore contains glands that produce oil, known as sebum to the medical field.
To protect your skin the oil makes its way up the hair follicle to the surface of the skin. This oil not only protects your skin but also helps your skin to be smooth, elastic and flexible. Without oil your skin would be painfully dry and would crake and flake like a lizard.
When you enter puberty sex hormones called androgens are secreted. Androgens boost the activity of all your organs and glands which in your skin means an overproduction of sebum especially in the pores on your face, back and chest where acne is most likely to occur.
If the overproduction of sebum persists, it is likely to overwhelm your skins ability to clear away the excess. Soon the sebum blends with dead skin cells producing a goopy mixture that clogs your pores and fills acne lesions.
Within plugged pores this goopy sebum is a perfect place for bacteria to grow and proliferate. The most common bacteria associated with acne are called P. Acnes. This bacterial infestation triggers your body’s defense mechanisms and soon your body’s immune systems floods the infected follicles with white blood cells to battle the infection. This immune response causes the redness and inflammation that we all know as a bad acne breakout.
In general, teenage boys produce more androgens than do teenage girls. Teen males often experience long-term onsets of acne while females will have sudden and short-term acne breakouts do to their menstrual cycle.
Keep in mind that just as your body is sensitive to seasons so is your skin. Your skin condition and acne may change along with the weather. Watch for changes in your skin if you live an area with four distinct seasons.
Some believe that the winter weather is the worst for skin and acne. However, it is unclear whether the cold weather causes the onset of acne or the lotions used to combat dry flaky skin.
While some acne patients believe summer is the best season for their skin, it is not the case for every acne patient. For some humid climates are the best, as the moisture can actually loosen pores and improve acne. However, most doctors strongly recommend that everyone avoid excessive sun, for cystic acne patients some sun exposure can be very helpful. However, too much sun will often dry out the skin causing the production of more oil and possibly further breakouts.
The key is to watch for specific season related symptoms in your skin and when acne persists, change your life style habits until you find the best way to prevent your teenage acne.
How to Prevent Long-term Teenage Acne
The life cycle of acne lesions (pimples) is a long process, which is why spot treatments are not effective in treating acne (see Acne Myths Debunked below). The key to preventing long-term acne is:
- Use medical grade lotions and/or medications that kill the acne-causing bacteria.
- Regularly have skin treatments that keep your pores open and clean so that sebum can get out.
- Be disciplined about good hygiene.
- Avoid things that make your acne worse, like diet and hair products that irritate your skin.
5 Daily Tips to Prevent Acne
1. Wash After You Workout
Workouts cause both heat and friction – a recipe for acne breakouts. Before showering, heat and bacteria is trapped under your clothing and bacteria can immediately begin to infest acne prone areas. Shower immediately after working out and wash with an acne fighting cleanser for best results.
2. Limit Your Washes
Even if your breakouts are raging, resist the impulse to wash more than twice a day. Excessive scrubbing can cause your skin to dry out causing the onset of more oil and dead skin cells. Washing more than twice a day can cause irritation to problem acne areas.
3. Don’t Pick at Your Acne Pimples
Squeezing and popping blemishes causes the bacteria to bury itself further in acne lesions. In addition, pinching with your fingernails or a pin can harm the neighboring skin cells causing acne scars. Not picking is the best prevention against acne scarring.
4. Don’t use Alcohol on Your Skin
When choosing facial products, specifically toners, avoid treatments that contain high doses of alcohol. The strong chemical is known as an astringent, which destroys the top layer of the skin. In response to the stripping of the top layer, the body produces more oil.
5. Set a Daily Skin Care Regimen
Typical acne breakouts are easily treated with over the counter products. Starting a skin care regimen before acne begins is the easiest way to prevent acne breakouts. Look for products that have a combination therapy to meet your skins particular needs.
If the onset of acne has already occurred it may take six to eight weeks for your new regimen to make a difference. If your acne symptoms persist visit a medical skin care expert.
Teenage Acne Myths Debunked!
5 Tips that will NOT Prevent Breakouts
Thousands of myths circulate about acne prevention and the treatment of acne. Here are a few acne myth busters to help you sort through possible treatments. When looking for how to prevent acne, avoid these common myths.
1. Spot Treatments are NOT Effective
The onset of acne can take anywhere from two to three weeks. The appearance of an acne pimple is actually the last stage in a zit’s life. Spot treatments only address the symptoms rather than the actual cause of the problem.
In order to prevent acne breakouts you must treat the entire effected area rather than the particular spot.
2. Unfortunately, Teenage Acne is NOT Curable
The best strategy is to prevent teenage acne before it even begins. Modern medicine combined with holistic practices provides a wide variety of acne prevention solutions and treatments to get rid of acne. When available remedies and antibiotics aren’t sufficient, search for a medical practice that specializes in new hi-tech treatments such as laser treatment and photo-dynamic therapy.
3. The Sun will NOT Cure Teenage Acne
While moderate sun exposure does help control acne, excessive tanning does not stop acne. Excessive sun exposure will actually cause trauma to the skin, especially if you already suffer from acne breakouts.
Excessive tanning causes your skin to dry out, which triggers your glands to produce more oil in order to moisturize. In addition, dry skin causes flaking and a surge in dead skin cells. The combination of excessive oil (sebum) production and dead skin cells is a recipe for more acne.
4. Sweating does NOT Clear Out Your Pores
While exercising is crucial for your overall health it actually boosts the creation of oil. Sweat, heat and friction often causes acne outbreaks in clothed areas such as the chest and back. In order to prevent these acne breakouts be sure to shower and thoroughly clean the problem areas. Helmets can be lined with a cloth to absorb the sweat.
5. Scrubs do NOT Help Teenage Acne
Many who suffer from acne believe that harsh chemicals found in over the counter scrubs will stop their acne. However, the chemicals in these harsh soaps often cause tiny tears in your epidermis, which may cause more bacteria and inflammation.
Over use of alcohol-based toners and solutions can also cause irritation to the skin.
About the Authors
Doctors Alice Pien, MD and Asher Milgrom, Phd are established pioneers in the fields of Regenerative Medicine and Skincare. Their expertise ranges from advanced laser systems to HCT/P – Stem Cell medicine. Their medical education and advanced certifications span from medical schools of NY State University, the University of Chicago, to Johns Hopkins, Harvard and UCLA. They approach medicine with the clinical expertise of over 85,000 successful treatments over the past 20 years and significant scientific research resulting in proprietary protocols that they customize for each individual patient.
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