We’re all busy at back to school time, but for teens who struggle with acne, this can be one of the most difficult times to prevent and control flareups. The stress, added responsibilities, and increased activity can all be triggers for acne breakouts. And, all the extra things on the to-do list might mean teens have less time for their daily skincare routine. U.S. Dermatology Partners physician Dr. Austin Cope, from Skin Spectrum Dermatology in Tucson, AZ., sees teens and adults who struggle with acne on a regular basis. While it’s not always easy to keep your skin crystal clear, Dr. Cope says, “Proper daily cleaning and a few changes in your routine can help you avoid painful breakouts.” Keep reading to get some of Dr. Cope’s top tips for acne care and avoiding breakouts during the back to school season and all year round.
Acne Care Tip #1 – Make Time for Consistent Skin Care EVERY Day
This is the biggest and most important thing those with acne-prone skin can do. Your skincare routine doesn’t need to be complicated or take hours. Instead, work with your dermatologist to find a skincare regimen that works for you. Then, stick to it. No matter what kind of acne you’re dealing with, you should wash your face at least twice a day (morning and night). It’s also helpful to wash skin after exercise or heat exposure that leads to sweating. In order to make the most of your daily skincare routine, you need to know what kind of acne you’re dealing with (your dermatologist can help here!).
In most cases, your acne flareup is a result of one of three things:
- Infection – P. acnes bacteria on the skin can become trapped in the pores causing infection. Benzoyl peroxide in cleansing products is beneficial for decreasing the amounts of the P. acnes bacteria that contribute to painful, infected acne breakouts.
- Oily skin & clogged pores – if you are prone to oily skin, your pores are more likely to become clogged. Cleansers with Retinoids are beneficial to decrease oil production and help keep pores clear.
- Inflammation – many skin (and whole-body health) conditions are caused by inflammation. Inflammation is your body’s way of protecting and healing itself. But, when this occurs excessively or without reason, the result can be painful swelling and warm skin. And, in the case of acne sufferers, increased appearance of open/closed comedones (blackheads and whiteheads). A salicylic acid cleanser can help with inflammation and decrease healing time after an acne breakout.
Many acne cleansers claim to do it all, but knowing your acne is very important to ensure proper treatment. A dermatologist can help you find the right cleanser (prescription or store-bought), but if you’re already taking oral or injected medications for acne or you’re not sure where to start, the best option is to choose cleansers that are soothing and gentle. Look for products that are made for those with skin allergies. These products typically have fewer abrasive, chemical components that can irritate your skin.
Acne Care Tip #2 – Visit Your Dermatologist Before School is Back in Session
Once you head back to the daily bustle of school, fitting in a trip to the dermatologist might become just one more item that sits at the bottom of your to-do list all year. Summer is a great opportunity for many teens to visit their dermatologist when they have a little extra time in their schedules. Before you head back to school, set up an appointment with your dermatologist to touch base. Even if you don’t have a bad breakout, if it’s been more than six months or a year since your last visit, a routine checkup is a great way to set yourself up for success and avoid breakouts.
During your back to school dermatologist visit, be prepared to talk about all medications you’re taking (even if they’re not for acne), activities you’re planning to be involved in, and describe your daily skincare routine. Bring any questions you may have about your acne. This visit is a great opportunity to get feedback about your current skincare products and find out about any new options that may work better for your skin.
Acne Care Tip #3 – Plan for Healthy Eating
Food is another big trigger for acne flareups. While many people relate breakouts to greasy foods like pizza and fries, the reason these foods are linked to acne breakouts surprises many teens and parents. While fried and greasy foods are not ideal for overall health, the reason they negatively impact acne is that they are considered “high glycemic foods.” These carbohydrates (pizza crust and white potatoes) are very high on the glycemic index. That means they cause blood sugar to spike, which has been shown to increase the risk of acne flareups.
Instead of relying on fast food, plan ahead to eat meals that are rich in protein and fiber with plenty of healthy fats and simple carbohydrates that won’t spike your blood sugar. For many parents and teens, that means taking the time to shop and meal prep, but the long-term health benefits coupled with the decreased risk for breakouts are well worth a little extra time today. That doesn’t mean you can’t ever swing through the drive-through or share a pizza with friends, but these should be treats. Not everyday meals.
Acne Care Tip #4 – Don’t Cut Back on Sleep
When we lay our heads down at night, we are giving our minds and bodies time to rest and rejuvenate. During sleep, we heal, cell growth accelerates, and our bodies get the rest and renewal they need to maintain health. It’s no surprise that sleep is important for skin health as well. Lack of sleep causes the body to release cortisol in order to stimulate system functions and stay alert without an adequate level of rest. This stress hormone is a huge contributor to inflammation in the skin, which can cause acne breakouts to increase. Make sure you’re getting between 6 and 10 hours of sleep every night! This ensures your skin and whole body remain healthy, and you can function at your highest level.
Acne Care Tip #5 – Manage Stress
Unmanaged stress, like lack of sleep, can also lead to an increase in the production of the stress hormone cortisol. We know that there are plenty of things to be worried about at school, whether it’s acing a test, asking someone out on a date, or performing in a theatre production. Some stress will just happen, but if you can avoid unnecessary stress, you may help reduce your risk for acne breakouts. All-night cram sessions for exams, squeezing activities into every second, and never giving yourself a day off can all increase stress levels and risk for acne flareups. Try to reduce stress by planning ahead and fitting plenty of downtime into your schedule.
Bonus Acne Care Tip
You’ve probably heard this a thousand times, but it’s not a good idea to pop your pimples. The more you pick at pimples, the more inflamed your skin will become, leading to more spots and flareups. And, a popped pimple can spread the P. acnes bacteria, leading to more breakouts and even significant scarring.
However, if you’re dealing with a big, painful pimple that’s not getting smaller with washing, you may be tempted to take the frustration out on the pimple. If you just can’t help it, at least take some precautions to pop the pimple safely. You should wear gloves or use sterile gauze to create a barrier between your hands the pimple. Once the pimple pops, don’t keep putting pressure on it. Instead, gently clean and rinse your face. Then, leave it alone. If the problem persists or the pimple returns, come in to see your dermatologist. They can help with short term breakouts as well.
Not Sure You Have Acne?
Acne is a common condition that occurs when pores in the skin become clogged. About 3 out of 4 people between the age of 11 and 30 will experience some form of acne. There are many reasons this happens. The P. acnes bacteria that gives acne its name can cause infection in the pores and hair follicles. Inflammation due to hormonal fluctuation is another big contributor to acne, and this is why many teens and young adults struggle with the condition.
Many people mistakenly believe that acne is just pimples on the face. Actually, there are several different types of breakouts related to acne (blackheads, whiteheads, cysts, nodules, etc.), and this condition may be found on the face, neck, back, and other parts of the body. If you’ve never seen a dermatologist about persistent, chronic acne, it may be time to schedule an appointment.
Common Acne Treatments
Patients often think that you just grow out of acne, and you have to let it run its course. This is just not the case. There are many effective treatments available to help relieve the symptoms of acne and keep your skin clear. In some cases, we may prescribe a medication like antibiotics to reduce the numbers of P. acnes bacteria on the skin. For those who struggle with acne due to de-regulated hormonal production, a prescription drug to regulate hormones may be beneficial. The only medication proven to benefit the most severe forms of acne is isotretinoin, but due to potential risks and adverse effects, there are strict regulations about who can take this drug.
In addition to medications, your dermatologist may also perform acne removal in the office. Professional acne removal is the only truly safe way to “pop” pimples, and it is typically only recommended for those patients who have cystic acne. This type of acne leads to the creation of small sacs beneath the skin that fill with dead skin cells, sebum oils, and other byproducts. In many cases, these cysts will not clear up on their own and can be very painful. For this reason, your dermatologist may opt to surgically remove them in the office.
Laser therapy may be recommended as a way to quickly reduce the numbers of P. acnes bacteria on the skin. If you have numerous blackheads and whiteheads, your dermatologist may also recommend a chemical peel to breakdown and pull out the materials clogging your pores.
When It’s Time to Contact U.S. Dermatology Partners
If you have questions about possible in-office treatment for advanced acne or you want to learn more about improving your skin health, U.S. Dermatology Partners is here to help. Dr. Austin Cope and the team at Skin Spectrum Dermatology in Tucson would love to see you for a back to school visit, but if you’re not in his area, there is likely a U.S. Dermatology Partners location near you. To get started, simply complete our online appointment request form. One of our knowledgeable team members will be in touch to discuss your treatment options.
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