Acne easier to treat than some adolescents might think

September 24, 2012 by Erin Digitale

(Medical Xpress)—For teenagers struggling with acne, Sophia Yen, MD, has a simple message: Your doctor can help.

"People don't realize how easy it is to treat," said Yen, an adolescent medicine specialist at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and clinical assistant professor of pediatrics. There are good reasons to visit a doctor for treatment, she added: Prescription acne medications work better than over-the-counter products; the treatment can be tailored to the severity of the acne; and for teens with insurance coverage, prescription treatments often cost less than those purchased over the counter.

Physicians can also help navigate the tricky terrain between parents and kids around seeking acne treatment. "I think it should totally be up to the teen to decide whether to treat his or her acne," Yen said, adding that teens may feel self-conscious but not say so.

"Some patients, when I ask if they want to do something about their acne, say, 'No, I'm fine,'" Yen said. "But after I tell them about the easy, effective and simple treatments we can offer, they say, 'Um, I think I do want that acne cream or pill you talked about.'"

Pediatricians, specialists and dermatologists can all treat teen acne, and are excellent resources for hesitant teens or parents who don't want to create a conflict about their child's skin, she added.

Parents may be especially anxious if they struggled with acne themselves. There is a to acne, Yen said, noting that genes influence the skin's response to inflammation and its propensity to scar. But acne medication can help prevent scarring, reduce skin pain and build patients' social confidence.

The first-line acne drug Yen recommends is topically-applied tretinoin, a vitamin A derivative that increases skin-cell turnover, decreases the skin's oil production and prevents pimples from forming. Because of its mechanism, it takes six to eight weeks for patients' skin to improve.

"It clears out all the zits that are on their way," Yen said. "So I tell patients, 'You gotta get through the ugly to get to the pretty.'" The drug also increases sun sensitivity, so patients must use a non-pore-clogging sunscreen, which is identified on some labels as "non-comedogenic."

If tretinoin doesn't help, doctors add on topical antibiotics or benzoyl peroxide to kill acne-causing bacteria, or oral antibiotics for chest or back acne that is hard to treat topically. Young women who have perimenstrual acne flares—skin outbreaks tied to their menstrual cycles—may also find birth control pills effective, Yen said.

Finally, for patients who need stronger treatment, there is the acne medication isoretinion. Although very effective, it has notable side effects, including causing severe birth defects if used during pregnancy. Female patients must use two forms of birth control and have monthly pregnancy tests while using the drug. For many patients, a three-month course of isoretinion is sufficient, Yen said.

In addition to prescribing acne treatments, Yen also dispels common acne-related myths. Among the common misconceptions are:

  • Myth: People with acne should wash their faces more often. Fact: Excessive face-washing strips the skin of natural oils, causing oil over-production that can worsen acne, Yen says. Two or three daily face-washes are plenty.
  • Myth: Junk food causes acne. Fact: Food choices such as french fries and chocolate have never been scientifically linked to acne. However, working in a greasy environment (such as flipping burgers at a fast food restaurant) can trigger acne outbreaks, as can stress, wearing a lot of pore-clogging makeup, or wearing a football helmet or other sports equipment that puts pressure on the skin.
  • Myth: You can get rid of pimples by squeezing them. Fact: No, Yen says: Squeezing increases skin damage and makes pimples heal more slowly.
  • Myth: Only teenagers get acne. Fact: Although acne is common in high school, some people develop acne in their college years or later. The same treatments that work for teens can also help adults.
Yen likes seeing how her patients' self-confidence grows after she helps treat their acne. She recalls one patient who came to her office with a spiffy new hairstyle after his acne cleared.

"I didn't realize that had been an issue, that he was using his hair to hide acne on his forehead," she said. "I want teens to know that if their acne bothers them, we can help."

Explore further: Researchers working on vaccine for acne

Related Stories

Researchers working on vaccine for acne

September 26, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- With 85 percent of teenagers and some 40 million Americans suffering with acne, researchers from the University of California and the vaccine company Sanofi-Pasteur announced they are coming together to ...

Combined therapy of acne medications offers new treatment option for patients

March 14, 2012
A combined therapy of common acne medications was shown to be a potent regimen for treating patients with severe facial acne, according to two published studies involving Henry Ford Hospital.

Thyme may be better for acne than prescription creams

March 28, 2012
Herbal preparations of thyme could be more effective at treating skin acne than prescription creams, according to research presented at the Society for General Microbiology's Spring Conference in Dublin this week. Further ...

Recommended for you

Google searches can be used to track dengue in underdeveloped countries

July 20, 2017
An analytical tool that combines Google search data with government-provided clinical data can quickly and accurately track dengue fever in less-developed countries, according to new research published in PLOS Computational ...

MRSA emerged years before methicillin was even discovered

July 19, 2017
Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) emerged long before the introduction of the antibiotic methicillin into clinical practice, according to a study published in the open access journal Genome Biology. It was ...

New test distinguishes Zika from similar viral infections

July 18, 2017
A new test is the best-to-date in differentiating Zika virus infections from infections caused by similar viruses. The antibody-based assay, developed by researchers at UC Berkeley and Humabs BioMed, a private biotechnology ...

'Superbugs' study reveals complex picture of E. coli bloodstream infections

July 18, 2017
The first large-scale genetic study of Escherichia coli (E. coli) cultured from patients with bloodstream infections in England showed that drug resistant 'superbugs' are not always out-competing other strains. Research by ...

Ebola virus can persist in monkeys that survived disease, even after symptoms disappear

July 17, 2017
Ebola virus infection can be detected in rhesus monkeys that survive the disease and no longer show symptoms, according to research published by Army scientists in today's online edition of the journal Nature Microbiology. ...

Mountain gorillas have herpes virus similar to that found in humans

July 13, 2017
Scientists from the University of California, Davis, have detected a herpes virus in wild mountain gorillas that is very similar to the Epstein-Barr virus in humans, according to a study published today in the journal Scientific ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.