Acne, a Common Problem in Teens, but Diet is Usually not the Cause

Acne is a common problem in teenagers. The hormone surge that happens during puberty is a big factor in many cases of teen acne. Family history also can have an effect. Diet usually does not play a significant role in acne development. If over-the-counter medications are not enough to control acne, prescription treatments are available.

Acne occurs when hair follicles become plugged with oil and dead skin cells. Hair follicles are connected to glands called sebaceous glands. The glands make an oily substance known as sebum. Sedum normally travels up the hair shafts, out through the openings of the hair follicles and onto the surface of your skin.

When your body produces excessive sebum and dead skin cells, they can build up and plug the hair follicles, creating an environment where bacteria thrive. That can lead to inflammation or infection, causing pimples and other acne symptoms. People often blame certain foods, particularly greasy foods and chocolate, for exacerbating acne. In reality, those foods have no effect on acne. Some research has found that other foods, such as dairy products and those rich in carbohydrates, might contribute to acne flare-ups in some cases. The reason for that is not clear, though, and research into the link between acne and diet is ongoing.

A clear link does exist, however, between acne and hormones. During puberty, the body starts to make more of a certain type of hormone, called androgens. Androgens cause the sebaceous glands to enlarge and make more sebum. In some people, that is not a problem. But in many, the extra sebum can clog the hair follicles and lead to acne. Acne, particularly severe acne, tends to run in families because there is a certain skin type that is, basically, sticky. It makes it harder for sebum to get out onto the surface of the skin. This greatly increases the chances that sebum will become trapped and plug the hair follicles. If a parent has this skin type, it is more likely a child will have it as well.

A range of treatments exists for acne. Most work by making the skin less sticky, so sebum can get out more easily, or they fight bacteria and decrease inflammation. When you’re considering over-the-counter ointments and creams, look for products that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Those tend to be the most effective. Keep in mind, though, that acne can be stubborn. Make sure your teen is using the medication consistently, as directed on the packaging.

If your teen has tried over-the-counter medications for several weeks and has not seen any improvement, consider talking with their doctor or meeting with a dermatologist. Prescription medications that contain retinol acids or tretinoin are often useful for moderate acne. Topical and oral antibiotics may be helpful in some cases, as well. If his condition is more severe or if other treatments don’t work, your doctor may prescribe a drug called isotretinoin, which is a special derivative of vitamin A. As with all medications, it’s important that you talk to your teens doctor about the potential side effects associated with these drugs before use.

Acne can re-emerge after it has been treated; therefore, once acne improves, your teen may need to continue using medication to prevent new breakouts. Self-care steps also can prevent flare-ups. They include washing the skin twice a day with a gentle cleanser, avoiding touching or picking at acne-prone areas, and showering after exercise to get rid of oil and sweat that can trap dirt and bacteria.

Chicago Tribune Health

Tip of the Day

Take the dairy challenge! Challenge yourself to fit dairy into every meal; milk on your breakfast cereal, yogurt for lunch, milk-based soup at dinner.

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