Along with many of the awkward trials that present themselves when we begin to hit puberty, acne rears its ugly head for many of us. During this time, breakouts can be persistent due to fluctuating hormones and dietary choices, and can be difficult to treat, especially when navigating so many products on the market. In a small way, I think that the skin struggles we have during our teen years can teach us a lot about self-care, routine building, and incorporating small healthy practices.
A Conventional Approach
For most, teen acne is treated through conventional medicinal means such as first time visits to a dermatologist who will inevitably prescribe medicines like antibiotics, Accutane, retinols, or benzoyl peroxide. These interventions treat acne by eradicating symptoms - for a time - but fail to treat acne at its root cause, and ignore the very nature of this systemic inflammatory condition.
I myself was placed on Accutane, a very strong medicinal form of synthetic vitamin A, at age 15. Because of the dramatic side effects of this "scorched earth" approach to treating acne, such as birth defects, I was also placed on birth control pills for the first time. This required me to receive a very scary first ever gynecological exam and pap smear at 15, an exam that isn't generally required until age 21 for most healthy young women.
Was this necessary? Looking back, I think a visit with a nutritionist would have been far more beneficial, considering my diet consisted of delaying meals, binge eating fast food, tons of sugar and dairy (a known acne-trigger), and very few vegetables or fruits. It would be another ten years before a nutritionist friend would shake me by the shoulders and tell me, "it is something you are eating!"
Doctors and dermatologists are famous for denying that diet and nutrition has anything to do with acne, refusing to examine a patient's diet or lifestyle, or even order a cursory blood test to check for deficiencies. To holistic skin healers, this is maddening and perplexing.
Don't get me wrong, dermatologists can be helpful in diagnosing and treating certain skin conditions, and we've learned so much about how to treat the skin from clinical medical studies conducted. For example, a topical vitamin A, AKA retinol, is immensely effective at treating not only acne, but wrinkles and collagen decrease as we age. Luckily, there are some amazing clean, microbiome friendly options for retinols on the market.
In my practice, I encourage teens to keep food journals for 3 weeks and track any corresponding flare ups. This can be incredibly insightful. I also encourage examining ingredients lists and beginning to critique ingredients. A fun and easy way to do this is typing your products into INCI Decoder, a website that allows you to look up any product and demystify its ingredients with easy to understand language.
As we learn what crazy chemicals go into making our skincare products, we can begin to cut things out that our skin simply doesn't need, and simplify our skincare routine. One of the most effective treatments for shutting down and soothing a breakout is a DIY Oatmeal mask, that can be customized. With only 3-4 ingredients, we know we are giving our skin only what is beneficial, and nothing that isn't.
If we educate ourselves about how to calm inflammation, both internally and externally, then I believe we can begin to view acne as "a red flag" signifying that it's time to implement some healthy changes. Changes that can have a beneficial ripple effect on our health as a whole. Thanks, Acne!
The most important thing I wish I could go back and tell my teenage self is that acne isn't forever, it doesn't define you. It is a little signal, a call to action. Below are 3 of my favorite methods and products for treating teen acne:
DIY Oatmeal Mask
1 tsp oatmeal, colloidal oatmeal, or oat flour
1 tsp whole fat milk or whole milk yogurt
1 tsp honey or manuka honey
1 tsp powdered clay (bentonite, kaolin, french green, or moroccan rose)
Mix ingredients together in a small bowl, apply paste to the skin, leave 20 minutes, remove with a rinse of cool water and/or damp clean facial cloth. Follow with facial products. Any extra mask can be stored in an airtight container for 1-2 days in the fridge. Mask is gentle enough to use nightly.
Evanhealy Blemish Purifying Serum, $21.95
This roll on is easy-to-apply and packed with anti-bacterial extracts like thyme and lavender. Sea buckthorn and rosehip oils provide reparative nourishment without clogging pores. Can be applied after cleansing and pressed into skin for all day