Acne fills teens and adults with dread. “Everyone hates it,” says Dr. Jeffrey Ross Gunter of SummitMD Dermatology. “Just say the word, and adults remember all the pimples, whiteheads, blackheads, and acne cysts we had when we hit puberty. Some of us still get them. Fortunately, however, there’s a lot I can do for my patients so that they can return to having clear skin, which is a tremendous boost to their self-confidence.”
Dr. Gunter explains that acne is caused by clogged pores. “Exactly what is clogging your pores will determine the kind of acne you get. Teens are especially prone to getting it because, during the puberty years, hormones increase the size of the skin’s oil glands, which make more oil, which clogs the pores. The result of all of this is acne.”
Effective treatment will vary. “It depends on the type of acne you have. Blackheads are resolved when you unclog your pores. However, for acne that is painful, you must treat the clogged pores, inflammation, excess oil, and bacteria.”
Dr. Gunter says there are many reasons to treat acne as soon as it starts. “As we all know, acne can last for years, perhaps into your twenties. Some people have it longer than that. By starting treatment in your teens, you can avoid all of that. Also, you can keep your acne from getting worse. It can start out as a small, relatively insignificant pimple and eventually turn into an eruption that covers your face, so early treatment can prevent this.”
Acne, especially severe cases that result in scarring, has a devastating impact on a person’s self-esteem. “We all know that kids with acne face a higher risk of being bullied at school and of developing depression. Early treatment can prevent scarring and help the person with their confidence.”
Dr. Gunter has advice for parents whose teens seem upset by their acne. “Let your child take responsibility for their treatment,” he says. “From what I’ve seen, teens follow their treatment more the less they are reminded to do so. Also, try to help them learn to manage stress, which aggravates acne. Watch for signs of depression. A teen’s self-esteem is so fragile during this time, and acne only makes it worse. The good thing, though, is that as the treatment works, that self-esteem seems to improve. Lastly, consider allowing your teen to meet alone with the dermatologist. In my experience, teen patients are more receptive to their doctor’s advice when the parents are not in the room with them. A good dermatologist, however, should always make time to answer the parents’ questions.”
Dr. Gunter often treats adults for acne. “Unfortunately, it’s not just a teen issue,” he says, smiling. “I know we all wish that it was. It can happen well into an adult’s 50s and is most common with women who are going through menopause. Fluctuating hormones, stress, genetics, some hair and skincare products, medicines, and even a medical condition can all cause adult acne. Just like the acne that teens get, though, it is treatable, so be sure to see your dermatologist for help with clearing it up.”
For both teens and adults, he has some suggestions for how to avoid or clear up acne. “Keeping your face clean and free of excess oils is important, so be sure to wash twice a day and after perspiring. Use only gentle, non-abrasive cleansers on your skin and rinse with lukewarm water. Avoid touching your face, and, even though it’s difficult to do, do not pop, pick, or squeeze a blemish. It only makes it worse, and it could lead to scarring.”
Dr. Gunter wants to remind all acne sufferers that there is hope. “There are very few cases that cannot be controlled,” he says. “The key is to stick with the treatment and to be patient. It can be resolved, and you will enjoy clear skin again.”
Jeffrey Ross Gunter, MD, FAAD is a board-certified dermatologist at SummitMD Dermatology. He is a graduate of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California where he was previously a Clinical Professor of Dermatology and Chief Resident of Dermatology at the LAC/USC Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA.
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