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Teenage Acne Explained

Despite what you’ve seen on TikTok, there is no easy home remedy or miracle product(s) for helping teenage acne. If there was, it would be noted in all of our science and history textbooks because it would mean that a major evolution has occurred within the human body. We most often experience acne during our teenage years because of another teen phenomenon: puberty.

Now, we know America is really shy when it comes to sexual education in schools. But your teenage acne struggles are actually a really strong example for why we should mandate sex ed. If we all understood what happens during puberty beyond wet dreams and menstrual cycles, we’d understand the breakouts we experience during that time a lot better, too.

About Puberty

Puberty is the period of time in a human life where adolescents reach sexual maturity and become capable of reproduction. During this period, adolescents go through a series of physical changes all sponsored by the activation of hormones. These changes include growing hair on the body and face, a deepening of the voice, breast development, genital enlargement, beginning menstruation, muscle growth, and physical growth in both weight and height. Puberty generally lasts for about 4 years on average.

The star of puberty is the gonads. When puberty begins, the brain sends hormonal signals to the gonads which then sets off all the changes you experience. This includes the acne. I must pause to make the distinction that these hormones don’t just show up in our bodies one day. We are actually born with our hormones, they just aren’t activated until we hit puberty.

As it relates to your skin, both the activation of these hormones (primarily the male hormones androgens and testosterone) and your genetics come into play. It is believed that those who deal with long bouts of acne are predisposed to Retention Hyperkeratosis. This is a condition where the skin cells within a pore do not shed normally causing buildup and harboring bacteria. This combined with increased oil production from your now active hormones will result in an acne party on your face.

Teenage Acne is really Oil Overload

Remember how I said we are born with our hormones? Well, we are also born with sebaceous glands all over our bodies (I talk more about it in this post). These sebaceous glands, like our hormones, don’t truly become active until we hit puberty. In particular, the androgen and testosterone hormones we begin producing during puberty signal our sebaceous glands to produce more oil. This trigger, often combined with retention hyperkeratosis, is the start of our teenage acne problems.

Though androgens and testosterone are male hormones, both males and females tend to overproduce these hormones during puberty. This is why acne will affect both during this time.

Best Ways to Care for Teenage Acne

While there truly isn’t a way to “control” teenage acne, you can keep breakouts to a minimum by maintaining an acne-safe lifestyle. To start, you want to avoid scrubs. Whenever I talk about retention hyperkeratosis, a client’s immediate reaction is to go looking for scrubs that can help shed the skin more quickly. Scrubs are not ideal for any acne situation because they can often irritate the pore and cause more inflammation. More inflammation means more time it will take for your acne breakout to clear.

Cleansing twice daily, keeping the skin hydrated, and applying an acne medication/serum nightly is the best way to keep breakouts at bay with teenage skin. Many online forums suggest teenagers develop extensive 8-10 step skin care routines for their acne but that advice usually leads to disrupted barrier function and premature skin damage and aging. Keeping your routine simple with the right 3-4 products often works best in your teenage years.

While there isn’t a consensus on different foods being directly linked to acne, there is enough evidence to suggest that maintaining a diet that excludes certain foods may help. For teens, this often means cutting back on junk foods, candies, and sodas.

Managing any skin care concern is about developing good habits. These tips, while good, is general advice and may not apply directly to your skin care situation. Please feel free to reach out and book a consultation so that I can better guide you to developing good skin care habits today.