My teenage years are a decade behind me at this point, but the impact that my teen acne had on my skin well into my mid 20s definitely left its mark on both my skin care habits and my skin itself. I learned very intimately that my skin gets dark marks and hyperpigmentation after I’ve had a breakout (and holds onto it for quite some time unfortunately). And even with some microdermabrasion treatments, I definitely still have some light pitted textural scarring on both of my cheeks, and if I want to get my skin completely smooth in the future, I’ll probably need to invest in some more aggressive, professional treatments. The mixture of mild to moderate teen acne combined with cystic acne did not do me any favors in my pursuit of smooth, even skin.
Looking back on pictures of myself in high school, I can definitely say that I would have had a less difficult time tackling that acne if I were dealing with it as my current self with the level of experience and knowledge that I have in 2020. My 14- or 15-year-old self really did not stand a chance of winning the battle, but I sure did try. The information was much more limited back in 2005, and I made every mistake in the book out of desperation and frustration to get my skin under control. If I were somehow plopped back into my teenage body, here are a few things I would do differently.
My 14-year-old self did not stand a chance of winning the acne battle. I made every mistake in the book out of desperation to get my skin under control. If I could go back, here are a few things I would do differently.
Gentle, Not Aggressive
Whether the breakouts are new or have been hanging around for a bit, I completely understand the level of frustration that they can cause and the intense desire to go into all-out attack mode when tackling the seemingly never-ending waves of acne. I’ve done some pretty extreme and very strange things I found recommended online—like crushing up aspirin tablets to make an “acne scrub”—in an attempt to control my teen acne. Don’t do that, it’s not helping, lol.
The fact of the matter is that your acne is already causing a lot of inflammation in your skin, and inflammation inherently makes your skin more sensitive. When your skin is inflamed, the goal is to take down the inflammation, not aggravate it more. There are even studies that suggest that inflammation itself can cause acne as well, which can lead to this vicious cycle of perpetual breakouts.
As tempting as it might be to unleash all your pent-up frustration on your skin, you’re just going to add fuel to the fire by doing so. Everything you do from your cleansing to product application and even choosing skin care should be done with the mindset that you want to calm, soothe, and heal your skin rather than burn, scrub, and squeeze every spot on your face.
One Active at a Time
There’s a bunch of buzzwords when it comes to ingredients that can help improve your teen acne, and the good thing is, a lot of them are very well backed by research. Salicylic acid, glycolic acid, adapalene, tretinoin—all of these, among others, have the potential to swoop in and be your skin’s saving grace in your quest to manage breakouts. Having a cast of tried-and-true options can be great as you know you’ve got more than one shot at finding something that can do a lot of good for you.
A lot of ingredients can help improve your acne, and a lot of them are well backed by research. What that doesn’t mean is that you should use all of them at once.
What that doesn’t mean is that you should take all of these shots at once. Or even two at the same time. Please refer to my earlier point, lol. When you take a bunch of active ingredients all at once and throw a jungle juice-like concoction of treatment products on, you not only risk irritation and weird product interactions, but in the event that you somehow escape the pitfall that is irritated skin and you start on the path of healing your skin, you will have no idea what’s doing the trick. Whatever combination of things you’ve whipped up into a skin care routine, you basically have to stick to that or risk going back to square one.
I’d much rather pinpoint exactly what my skin likes, know what works, and be able to reduce the number of things that I feel the need to buy. Then I can focus on having more fun with my skin care routine rather than spending all of my time, effort, and money on active ingredients that I probably don’t need all the time. I love not having to do more than necessary in regards to a lot of things, and not putting my skin through anything it doesn’t need to go through is always high on my list.
Find a Dermatologist or Aesthetician
Now this is definitely a bit more a specialized, and therefore less accessible, route to go down, but if you can and feel comfortable doing so, consulting a professional can be a really valuable tool in your journey to healing your skin. That doesn’t meant that whoever you see is going to magically be able to solve everything regarding your teen acne in one fell swoop and you’ll never have to deal with it again. Remember that even if they’re a licensed, experienced professional, your derms and aesties are people as well, and will have differing opinions on how to approach your set of concerns.
What they can do is provide you with treatments and options that you do not have access to, and they will be able to take a true, objective look at your skin in a controlled environment that isn’t you leaning close up in a bathroom mirror for the twelfth time that day. I cannot tell you how many times that, as an educator who isn’t even professionally administering skin treatments, I’ve taken a look at someone’s skin that is breaking out and offer information that they didn’t even consider a factor—like the fact that they may see that their skin is shiny and think “oh god I’m so oily, I don’t want a moisturizer,” when the total dehydration in their skin is apparent to me.
This type of professional input can help guide you to a personal solution for your breakouts and how to rehabilitate your skin, rather than what someone on Instagram is promoting as a brand deal. A dermatologist has access to medications they can prescribe, and an aesthetician can administer specialized treatments with professional devices.
I hope this has given you some insight on how to deal with teen acne yourself or help someone you know and love get started on the path to feeling more comfortable and happy in their skin. Almost all of us have been through this, and while it is something that can have a huge impact on how you feel about your skin, it also is something that can also be sorted out with consistent care and compassion for yourself.