Question:  My pre-teen just started middle school and suddenly has terrible acne. Is the timing coincidence or is this just normal and how can I help?

Answer:  You and your pre-teen are not alone.  The start of middle school and acne don’t necessarily have to go hand in hand, but it’s not uncommon.  Acne can be triggered by a number of factors.  Hormones released at the onset of puberty are responsible for the appearance of acne during the teen years. These hormones stimulate the skin’s sebaceous, or oil glands, creating an oily skin that is more prone to pore blockages and breakouts. There have been studies indicating stress and diet could also be triggers.  The stress of starting a new school or maybe new eating habits – like eating lunch in the cafeteria verses bringing lunch to school – are part of the culprit.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, nearly 100% of all teens have at least the occasional breakout. Acne strikes all teenagers equally, regardless of sex, race or ethnicity. Teen acne generally begins between the ages of ten and thirteen. The most common progression starts on the nose, then spreads to the forehead, chin, and cheeks. In more severe cases, acne may affect the neck, shoulders, chest, back and upper arms.

The best way you can help is to see a Dermatologist with your child as quickly as possible.  Over-the-counter treatments may work but you could go several weeks with home treatment and still see no improvement.  More than 40% of teen acne is serious enough to require treatment by a doctor, especially for boys.  Young men are much less likely to see a doctor about their acne, even though they tend to have longer lasting and more severe acne than girls. This may be due to the fact that young women feel more comfortable expressing their feelings regarding their skin and are more comfortable asking for help. Parents need to be aware that their young man may be extremely distressed about his skin, but could be unwilling or unable to voice his discomfort.

While acne is a physical problem, it also affects teens psychologically. Even if the acne is relatively mild, it may have a big impact on self-esteem and self-confidence. The more severe the acne, the greater the emotional toll it takes on the teen. Teenagers with acne tend to have a poor body image. It’s normal for sufferers to feel self-conscious or embarrassed about their skin. Boys in particular might feel uncomfortable undressing in the locker room if acne is present on the body. Teens may be unwilling to participate in sports, such as swimming, because of embarrassment about their skin.

Because of this, teens are prone to jump from product to product, searching for an acne remedy. Teenagers who are very upset about the state of their skin may also use topical medications to excess, in an attempt to speed clearing.  It’s important for teens to understand that all acne medications, including over-the-counter remedies, must be used as directed. Applying too often or in too great of concentration can easily cause excessive dryness, peeling, redness, irritation, and can actually increase healing time.

Parents need to understand that even mild acne may have a profound impact on the way their teen feels about themselves. Helping with treatment and support can go a long way in protecting and repairing a teen’s self-esteem.  It can be so hard to be patient while waiting for the skin to heal, so all teens need to be reminded that treatment takes time. Nearly every case of acne can be successfully controlled, given time and the right treatments.