Teenage Acne

Wednesday, February 3, 2021


Why is acne is common during teenage years? Why is it worse for some than others? What can you do to help your acne?

First, let’s understand what acne actually is. Acne vulgaris involves hair follicles, clogged with dead skin and oils, becoming inflamed (sounds unpleasant doesn’t it?). Acne can present with blackheads, whiteheads, general redness, and if the follicles burst, there may be cysts or pustules as well. Various things can impact acne, including genetics, hormones, diet, make up and skin care.

Acne rosacea is another condition sometimes mistaken for acne vulgaris during its early stages. Acne rosacea involves redness, swelling and pustules, but is more commonly located around the central area of your face. Things like sun, heat and caffeine can make it worse.

Acne vulgaris is more likely to be chronic (i.e., it may hang around for a while), while acne rosacea tends to come and go.

Teenage acne is generally acne vulgaris. Why does it increase during your teenage years? When you hit puberty, a lot of changes start taking place in your body, one of which is an upswing in your hormones. One group of hormones, known as androgens, can have an impact on acne. Androgens play a key role in the changes occurring during puberty, including stimulating hair growth in places like under your arms and in your pubic area. Androgens also stimulate your sebaceous glands to produce more oil and wax. Sebaceous glands are microscopic glands which open into hair follicles; the oil and wax they produce helps lubricate your hair and skin. This excess oil and wax clogs fine pores in the skin on your face and sometimes on your back and chest too. A certain type of bacteria, found regularly on most peoples’ skin, finds its way into the blocked pores, which offer the perfect environment for it to grow, causing inflammation.

While there’s generally no quick fix for acne, there are steps you can take to help improve it, until your hormones settle into a more stable routine.

1.     If you drink lots of cow’s milk, try avoiding it for a couple of weeks (swap it for soy, coconut or nut-based milk; choose one that is calcium-enriched and has no added sugars). Cow’s milk contains a hormone called insulin-like growth factor, which stimulates androgen production. The carbohydrates in cow’s milk also stimulate insulin levels, which further stimulate androgen production. All those androgens impact the sebaceous glands, potentially resulting in more acne.

2.      Cut down the “simple sugars” in your diet. Simple sugars include added sugars (e.g., added to yoghurt, muesli bars, soft drink, commercial juices, tea and coffee), lollies and refined carbohydrates (white bread, white pasta and rice, biscuits, potato chips etc). Refined carbohydrates break down into simple sugars quickly, causing a spike in your blood sugar, which results in insulin being released into your bloodstream to help remove the sugar, which stimulates androgen production, which…   you guessed it, stimulates your sebaceous glands to produce more oil. Switching refined carbohydrates with wholegrain options such as grainy bread, brown rice and wholemeal pasta, slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream. Combined with ditching snacks high in excess sugar, this approach can help reduce excess insulin production, potentially reducing acne.

3.      Make sure you are having lots of healthy fats, which are essential for good skin health. Try snacking on nuts and seeds, make sure you’re having oily fish like salmon a couple of times a week, eat plenty of avocado and add extra virgin olive oil to your salads.

4.      Drink water! Lots of it! Staying hydrated is important for skin health and overall health – so remember to drink water throughout the day, aiming for around 2 litres per day (more if you are doing lots of exercise).

For a comprehensive assessment to see how your diet and lifestyle may be impacting your acne, make an appointment to see me.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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