What causes teenage acne?
Your teenage years can be an extremely defining phase of your life but it can also be a period full of turbulent emotions as your body starts to mature and those pesky sex hormones start to emerge. Unfortunately, it’s these hormones that arguably play the biggest role when it comes to influencing whether or not you will develop acne.
As you may or may not know, your body contains a balance of male and female hormones – for example, the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone help to regulate your menstrual cycle while men have higher levels of testosterone which supports the development of the male reproductive organs.
When it comes to acne, the main hormones that matter are androgens. Androgens are male sex hormones but they can also be found in women too where they are usually converted into oestrogen. These hormones are extremely important for both sexes but, during your teenage years, your levels of androgens can fluctuate which can enlarge your sebaceous glands and increase your production of sebum oil.
This is what kick-starts that dreaded bout of acne but unfortunately, the repercussions don’t stop there. Androgens can even increase the numbers of bacteria responsible for acne, P.acnes, which colonise your sebaceous glands, causing irritation and inflammation.
Unfortunately, this can mean that, on top of keeping up with social groups and tackling schoolwork, you suddenly have to cope with an outbreak of acne! Don’t worry though; help is at hand as here I will go over a few ways that teens can tackle an acne outbreak.
1 – You really are what you eat
Teenagers are infamous for many things – mood swings, emotional outbursts and rebellion – but they’re also pretty well known for having terrible diets. Whether it’s making less than sensible decisions at the canteen during lunch or snacking on crisps and chocolate during the day, most teenagers simply aren’t interested in moderating their diets.
This can unfortunately have some less than happy consequences for their acne. Acne is sometimes known as ‘the diabetes of the skin’ and for good reason – sugary foods can upset your blood sugar levels, causing increasing amounts of insulin to be secreted to get them back under control. If your body is secreting large amounts of insulin it can, in turn, increase your production of sebum oil which will then go on to clog your pores, stimulating an outbreak.
Sugar isn’t the only thing you need to watch out for though– alcohol, refined carbs and even dairy have all been linked to increased acne symptoms! Now I’m not saying you should cut these foods out completely (unless you’re under 18 and drinking alcohol…) but try to at least keep an eye on your intake. Ladies, if you feel as though your periods could be influencing your cravings, our Women’s Health Advisor Emma has written a fantastic blog, ‘Foods to help you through your period’ which may help here!
Are there any foods that can help?
Yes! There are definitely foods that can help to tackle acne symptoms. Unsurprisingly, fresh fruit and veg are definitely top of the list as they contain nutrients such as zinc, vitamin C and beta-carotene which can help to improve the condition of your skin thus reducing the overall symptoms of acne. If you want more dietary information about acne, I’d suggest taking a look at the following blogs as well as our acne and diet page.
Is zinc the best mineral for acne?
Are probiotics good for acne?
5 foods that may encourage and acne outbreak!
2 – What are you putting on your skin?
If you’ve noticed those pesky spots appearing the chances are your immediate reaction is to grab your foundation and concealer to cover up the evidence. This is a natural impulse but it can sometimes do more harm than good. Cosmetic products like foundations and concealers may offer a quick fix but in the long-term they can clog your pores and upset your skin, only prolonging your bout of acne.
This is because most high-street makeup brands utilise harsh chemicals in their products, such as parabens and SLS, which can easily irritate your skin, triggering inflammation – never a good combination for acne-prone skin. You can also apply this to most of the skincare products on your supermarket shelves too – your moisturisers, your cleansers and your toners. That’s why I’m always trying to encourage people to consider more organic, natural options when it comes to their beauty products.
3 – Are you getting enough sleep?
Did you know that teenagers may require more sleep than adults? That might explain your struggle to get out of bed in the morning! According to research, due to all the physical and mental growth that takes place during your teenage years, your demand for sleep can increase from the usual 7-8 hours to 9-10!
Okay, this is all well and good but what does this have to do with your acne? Well, it turns out that beauty sleep isn’t just a myth. Your skin relies on you getting a decent amount of sleep for a number of reasons – your microcirculation is boosted when you sleep which makes sure that lots of lovely nutrients are transported to your skin, your immune system is bolstered which can make your skin more impervious to bacterial infections and, finally, a good night’s sleep can prevent your levels of cortisol from rising!
What is cortisol exactly? Cortisol is a stress hormone that, in combination with melatonin, regulates your sleep/wake cycle. In small amounts, cortisol isn’t necessarily a bad thing but, if you’re suffering from sleep deprivation, your levels of this hormone can escalate which in turn encourages your sebaceous glands to produce more sebum oil.
So, whether you’re up late studying or scrolling through social media apps like Facebook and Instagram, try to bear this in mind and make sure you’re getting to bed at a sensible time. If you’re struggling to get to sleep either due to restlessness or stress, you can try our Night Essence, which contains a soothing combination of chamomile, yarrow and vervain, easing troublesome emotions to ensure you’re getting a good night of sleep.
4 – Don’t let stress get you down
Your teenage years can be some of the most stressful of your life and your hormones certainly don’t make things any easier. Whether it’s your peers or your school workload, sometimes it can feel as though everything and everyone is against you.
The last thing you need added to this, is the worry of acne. The catch 22 here is that stress can stimulate acne and vice-versa leading to a vicious cycle. This once again is because of our old friend cortisol which is often secreted as a reaction to stress due to your ‘fight or flight’ reflexes. These reflexes can be triggered by even mild instances of stress and, as a result, your body will prioritise your short-term survival, often slowing down your digestive functions and elevating your blood pressure and heart rate.
What are you supposed to do then? Stress is pretty unavoidable, especially when you’re studying for an exam, but don’t worry, it can be managed. Our Stress Advisor Marianna speaks extensively about stress over at A.Vogel Talks Stress where she even specifically addresses exam-related stress. You could also try another one of our Bach Flower Remedies, our Relaxing Essence, which can help to encourage calmness and allow you to unwind in times of pressure.
However, the best thing you can do if stress is getting to you is to talk about how you’re feeling. You might feel as though no one will understand but trust me, your family, your friends and your parents have either been through similar problems or are still going through them so I’m sure they’ll be able to reassure and help you. Even if they can’t offer any direct solutions, the act of simply airing your worries out loud can go a long way towards reducing their hold on you.
5 – If you have to, speak to your doctor
One of the biggest things that can contribute to the development of acne is a hormonal imbalance and sometimes these can only be addressed by speaking to your doctor. They will be able to identify the source of your imbalance and prescribe the relevant medication – for girls, this is often the contraceptive pill.
Even if you don’t feel as though you’re suffering from a hormonal imbalance, if your acne has become particularly severe or is causing you a lot of emotional distress, it might still be worthwhile making an appointment. Your doctor should still be able to help, whether it’s offering further advice about medicated creams or investigating the underlying cause!