Back-to-School Skincare: Acne Treatment for Teens and Young Adults


Medically Reviewed by Dr. Lee Hwee Chyen

MBBS MRCP (UK) FAMS (Dermatology)

Back-to-School Skincare: Acne Treatment for Teens and Young Adults

Acne in Teens and Young Adults

The appearance of acne can vary, ranging from mild forms like blackheads and whiteheads to more pronounced pimples. It is primarily linked to the increased activity of sebaceous glands in the skin due to hormonal fluctuations with puberty. While commonly associated with teenage years, acne can persist into young adulthood in some cases.

Causes and Types of Acne

Acne occurs due to a combination of factors, the most significant being hormonal fluctuations that increase oil production in the skin. Genetics also play a role, as a family history of acne can increase one’s likelihood of developing the condition. This can manifest in several forms.

  • Comedonal acne, which includes blackheads and whiteheads, results from the clogging of pores.
  • Inflammatory acne, presenting as red, tender bumps or pimples, often occurs due to bacterial infection within these blocked pores.
  • Cystic acne, a more severe form, involves painful, pus-filled cysts deep under the skin and can lead to scarring.

Over-the-Counter vs Prescription Treatments for Acne

The choice between OTC and prescription treatments depends on the severity of the acne, individual skin type, and response to initial treatments. OTC treatments are readily available and often the first choice for mild to moderate acne. These include topical products containing benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and alpha hydroxy acids, which are designed to reduce oil production, unclog pores, and reduce inflammation.

When OTC treatments are not effective, prescription medications may be necessary. These are stronger and target more severe forms of acne. Prescription options include topical retinoids, antibiotics, and hormonal treatments like oral contraceptives and systemic retinoids like isotretinoin.

Topical Retinoids and Their Uses

Topical retinoids, which are derivatives of Vitamin A, such as tretinoin and adapalene work by preventing the clogging of pores and accelerating the turnover of skin cells. These are available both over-the-counter in lower strengths and as prescription medications in higher concentrations.

Topical retinoids are not only effective in treating existing acne but also in preventing new breakouts.

Oral Medications for Acne Treatment

Oral medications are given to teens and young adults when topical treatments prove insufficient. The most common treatments include antibiotics, hormonal treatments, and isotretinoin.

Oral antibiotics, such as doxycycline and minocycline, are frequently prescribed for their anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. These medications target the bacteria and reduce the inflammation associated with acne.

In cases where acne is influenced by hormonal fluctuations, oral contraceptives and anti-androgen agents help regulate hormones that can trigger acne, providing relief, particularly for acne linked to menstrual cycles.

For severe, cystic acne or acne that is resistant to other treatments, isotretinoin (commonly known by its brand name, Accutane) is often the treatment of choice.

This potent medication dramatically reduces oil production in the skin. Due to its potential side effects, including the risk of birth defects, isotretinoin is strictly regulated and prescribed under close medical supervision.

Diet and Lifestyle in Managing Acne For Teens & Young Adults

Lifestyle factors, including stress management and regular exercise, also contribute to acne management. Exercise promotes blood circulation, leading to nourished skin cells and the removal of toxins. One may also cleanse the skin post-exercise to prevent pore clogging.

Managing stress through relaxation techniques, adequate sleep, and mindfulness practices can help reduce the severity of acne, as stress hormones can aggravate the condition.

Diet also plays a crucial role in the management of acne, certain dietary patterns may influence acne development and severity.

Advanced Treatment Options For Persistent Acne

For teens & young adults with persistent acne that does not respond adequately to conventional treatments, advanced options like light therapy can be considered. These are often administered in a clinical setting under the guidance of a dermatologist who specializes in acne.

Light therapy, including blue and red light treatments, addresses acne-causing bacteria, reduces inflammation, and can lower oil production, thus helping to manage acne effectively.

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