Spot Training: What to teach your teen about acne-prone skin, according to a dermatologist

A parent’s guide to breakouts.
Mother kissing teenage daughter on the cheek at home

If you have a teenager (or used to be one) you know adolescence can be a lot. Changing bodies, emotional ups and downs and new sleep patterns make early risers into night owls who can’t get out of bed in the morning. Sound familiar?

All these changes and more are perfectly normal and are driven by hormones, the messengers of our body that regulate every function at every age and stage of our lives. These hormone fluctuations are also responsible for another of adolescence’s common occurrences, acne-prone skin.

While some teens breeze through this phase relatively unfazed by blemishes and breakouts, that isn’t the case for many. In fact, we know that 65 per cent of young adults say their confidence takes a hit when their skin flares up1 and around half have chosen to self-isolate during a breakout2.  

As a parent or carer of a teenager with acne-prone skin, it can be tricky to know how to help your kid during this stage of life. So, we sought some expert advice from Australian Consultant Dermatologist Dr Stephanie Rea on what to teach your teen about acne-prone skin.

young girl looking at her skin
Knowing what type of acne-prone skin your teenager has will help you both work out how best to manage it. Image: Getty.

What causes acne-prone skin?

It may be reassuring to your teenager to know that acne-prone skin is very normal among their age group, and they are certainly not alone, affecting up to 85 per cent of teenagers according to Dr Rea. It generally begins due to the normal hormonal changes of puberty, including increased oil production (sebum) most predominantly in the T-zone, (forehead, nose, chin) cheeks, chest and upper back.

Dead skin cells accumulate and combine with sebum, resulting in “blocked” pores. Bacteria which live in the sebaceous glands multiply, resulting in those pesky blemishes and redness appearing.

In addition, there are genetic factors to consider, says Dr Rea. “Many patients with acne-prone skin will have a genetic predisposition and a family history with one or both parents.”

teenage girl washing her face with water
A basic skincare routine using products for teens with acne-prone skin can help. Image: Getty.

Help them establish a good skincare routine

Dr Rea says understanding your teen’s skin type is also essential in the treatment of acne-prone skin. “Some teenagers will have dry skin, others will have oily, and many will have combination skin.”

The basics in a teenage skin care routine include a cleanser, moisturiser and sunscreen. Dr Rea recommends using products designed specifically for acne-prone skin, such as the Effaclar range by La Roche-Posay. These products are designed for oily, sensitive, skin and help to remove impurities, unclog pores, reduce redness and improve the skin barrier. Here’s the skincare routine she recommends:

Step 1: Cleanse

For teens with very oily  skin, a gel cleanser such as the Effaclar Micropeeling Gel Cleanser  with active ingredients such as salicylic acid should be used to cleanse morning and night. Those with more sensitive  skin will do better with a gentle soap free moisturising cleanser such as the Effaclar + M Purifying Foaming Gel Cleanser.

Step 2: Moisturise

Many teens skip moisturiser, but Dr Rea recommends it as an important step to maintain and restore the skin barrier. She recommends the Effaclar duo + M moisturiser to reduce redness  and hydrate.

“Designed for combination to oily blemish-prone skin it contains several active ingredients to help treat acne-prone skin” Dr Rea explains. “It includes salicylic acid and LHA to help unclog pores, niacinamide to help fade pigmentation and a new and unique ingredient called phylobioma, which helps target the root cause of acne-prone skin and restore the skin’s microbiome.”

The La Roche-Posay Effaclar range is recommended around the world by dermatologists for acne-prone skin. Image: supplied.

Step 3: Sunscreen

Sun protection is essential in the teenage years to prevent long lasting skin damage. A broad-spectrum SPF 50+ designed for sensitive skin should be applied as the last step in your teen’s morning skin care regime.

Importantly, while it may be tempting to squeeze pimples, it can cause long-term marks and pigmentation, so hands off.

Knowledge is power, so if your teenager is dealing with breakouts, knowing what products they should use is the first step to dealing with it. If you’re not sure what is best for your teen, try the Spotscan tool from La Roche-Posay, which has been developed with dermatologists and uses AI to analyse and identify their skin type and then recommends a skincare routine and tips to help manage it.

Acne-prone skin treatment myths and misinformation

You may have seen conflicting reports around what triggers breakouts, and social media is full of unfounded and unhelpful advice around what teens should and shouldn’t be using on their skin and eating for acne-prone skin.

“Dietary triggers of acne-prone skin remain controversial,” says Dr Rea. “A low glycaemic index diet with fruits, vegetables and a focus on wholegrains rather than highly processed foods is recommended.”

Also, remind your teen to be wary of skincare advice they see in their social feed. “With so many products discussed on social media platforms, one of the biggest mistakes I see in clinical practice is over-use of multiple harsh products including stripping cleansers, exfoliants, toners and serums,” says Dr Rea. “This results in irritation and breakdown of the skin barrier which worsens acne-prone skin.”

Research says half of all young adults have chosen to self-isolate during a breakout. Image: Getty.

What are the effects of acne-prone skin? How can you help your teen deal with these?

Breakouts cause skin-limited side effects including irritation, pain, dyspigmentation and marks. It can also result in complications beyond the skin, according to Dr Rea.

“Many studies confirm that acne-prone skin can have a significant impact on teenagers’ self-esteem, confidence and quality of life and can result in anxiety, depression and social isolation. This all occurs at a crucial period of development where teens should be encouraged to develop new skills, engaging in extra-curricular activities, participating in class and getting their first part-time job. Early treatment can help to prevent this occurring.”

Remember to talk to your teen and listen when they tell you how they are feeling. Help them establish a healthy lifestyle and skincare routine and remind them that their beauty is more than skin deep.

If you or your teen are concerned about their mental wellbeing and you feel they could benefit from speaking to someone less close to home, Headspace (1800 650 890) is a confidential, free and secure space where young people or their family can chat, email or speak on the phone to a qualified mental health professional.

If your teenager’s acne-prone skin or breakouts are affecting their self-confidence, consider making an appointment to see a dermatologist. Image: Getty.

When to seek professional help

While it’s important to reassure your teenager that breakouts are completely normal and extremely common at their age, you also may want to consider a consultation with a dermatologist.

Your first point of contact should be your GP. They will be able to provide you with advice, treatment options and a referral to a specialist dermatologist if required.


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