Teenage skin needs just as much care as an adult skin, yet knowledge of how to do so effectively is oddly limited. It can be difficult to look any further than the Clean and Clear campaigns to find a solution for teen skin, especially teen acne. In this blog post I will dive into the key differences between adult and teenage skin, the psychological response to dealing with problematic skin when you’re younger, and the ideal skincare regime to adopt.
The difference between adult skin and teenage skin
During teenage years, the skin is much thicker compared to the skin of an adult. This is because when we are younger, we have a lot more collagen, our skin also heals faster because of the faster cellular turnover. Do you remember those chubby cheeks you rocked as a child? That’s why – it was all due to the high amounts of collagen.
In contrast as we get older, the aging process continues to happen, a breakdown in collagen and slower cell turnover rate results in slower healing, gradually thinner skin and loss of plumpness.
Common conditions associated with adolescence
Another cliche skin characteristic of a teenager is acne, one reason I am writing this post today. Our skin begins to alter as soon as we hit the puberty stage, which can be as young as 11 in some cases. The progress of development stimulates the hormone androgen in the body which has a direct impact on several functions of the skin. This includes:
The sebaceous gland which can increase skin oil and acne
Increased hair growth on the face and body
The epidermal barrier which can slow down our ability to heal
8 in 10 teenagers will suffer with acne as a result of these intracellular changes. Grades of acne often vary from person to person. Once puberty hits, small changes can be noted. Whiteheads may start to appear, or the odd red spot. Skin tone can start to look slight uneven (especially if repetitively exposed to UV unprotected) and the skins surface can develop a rough, bumpy texture.
Acne is just as common amongst adults but the triggers tend to be more complex, and more of them so treatment and product recommendations will differ.
The psychological effect of teen acne
A 2011 study surveyed adults and teens asking them questions about their own experiences with acne. 64% of teenagers felt embarrassed by it and 55% considered it to be the most difficult aspect of puberty.
Acne can affect our social skills and confidence. Most respondents from one survey thought that teens with acne were more likely to be bullied, which reminds us the large impact teenage acne has on social exclusion. Being exposed to bullying behaviour, can develop even lower self-esteem and depression in teenagers with acne.
There is a common attitude that ‘normal skin’ should be clear and blemish free, even as we get older. This narrow-minded belief system can be psychologically damaging when our skin shows signs of imperfections, and massively contributes to a worldwide fear and vulnerability towards the idea of developing acne.
Dermatitis and Eczema in Teens
Another inflammatory condition that is extremely common in children and teens is Atopic Dermatitis (also known as Atopic eczema). It isn’t a condition that is associated with teenagers as much as acne, however remains one of the most common skin diseases of childhood – affecting between 10 and 20% of children globally.
AD has two phases; the inactive phase where the skin is consistently dry, tight and flaking and the active phase where skin needs to be treated with topical medicative creams to calm inflammation and itching.
Thought to be genetic, research tells us that atopic dermatitis is especially common amongst children and teens that live in urban areas where environmental pollutants are higher and those also living in colder climates. The condition is incredibly itchy, which causes the young person to scratch and weaken the skin barrier some more.
Atopic dermatitis during adolescence requires more research but in the meantime, there are treatments available to calm inflammation and reduce the itching sensation. Managing Atopic Dermatitis involves keeping the area moisturised with a topical cream, rich in emollients and humectants and steroid products if the condition remains constantly in the active phase. These treatments can easily be sourced through your GP.
Treating teen acne and other inflammatory skin conditions
Because the main cause of teenage breakouts is puberty, many of my peers and trainers led me to believe in the early stages of my career, that treating young skin is a complicated process, and cannot be completely controlled with skincare products. There is also a lack of study, literature and information on how to take care of younger people’s skin in comparison to adult skin, so as a professional it is sometimes too difficult to display the same air of confidence with a teen case, as you would treating an adult.
Does this make it impossible to treat teenage skin? No. Antiobiotics, roaccutane and contraception are commonly turned to when a teenager is suffering with constant bouts of acne but this should always remain a last resort. Remember the other factors.
Consider lifestyle factors that can impact skin health
Teens should still consider all the same lifestyle changes as an adult wishing to promote healthier skin. Having good hygiene like cleaning your pillowcase and make-up brushes regularly, opting for a lighter weight, mineral-based make-up and avoiding touching your face can help to reduce bacteria build-up on the skin’s surface.
Remember that you really are what you eat
Gut health is something I discuss often with my clients – our gut is our body’s second brain, and what we feed it directly affects our skin. Not only that, but our mood and stress levels can also be affected by how healthy our gut is, which can also have an impact on your skin health. Research tells us that teenagers are more likely to prefer (unhealthy) foods that are easy to obtain and immediately gratifying, so it is important to be mindful of this. Adopting to a diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables and reduced sugary and processed foods, may have profound effects on the skin, especially for anyone suffering with inflammatory conditions such as acne.
Why teens should consider using skincare
There are many reasons why skincare can be started early, especially if you are dealing with problematic skin conditions. We have already discussed the profound negative mental impact acne can have on a person, especially someone of a younger age. Over-the-counter skincare has proven many times how it minimises and manage skin conditions like acne. Many studies has shown how treating acne at the earlier stages may be able to:
Decrease the severity and amount of breakouts
Reduce the negative psychological effects of having acne
Over-the-counter products are not tested to same degree as pharmaceutical products, but when selected appropriately they can be an affordable, convenient treatment for teenagers.
What skincare should a teen use?
Remember that a younger skin has the potential to heal faster due to the higher cellular turnover. This is why prescription skincare products like benzoyl peroxide are usually advised to youngsters in higher concentrations compared to adult patients.
However, that isn’t to say that a young person should immediately attack their skin with heavy concentrations of exfoliation.
When considering what type of skincare to use, you should factor in the concerns you have. Is your skin dry, oily? Are you trying to keep it hydrated, or treat mild acne? Most skincare products that an adult will use will be target other issues like collagen stimulation and repair from years of environmental and UV damage – these are not common concerns usually for a teen skin.
Here are 3 simple rules I advise you follow when taking care of teen skin.
The skin must be cleaned twice a day (first thing in the morning and in the evening) to help remove surface debris, oil and dirt, and also to prepare the skin for the next skincare step.
Every skin must be moisturised, even if you are oily, even if you feel like you don’t need a moisturiser in your routine. Especially as a teen, the skin barrier will start to become slightly less resilient as before and therefore a layer of moisturiser will help to combat this and provide a nourishing, protective layer to the skin.
Most adults spend every waking skincare moment trying to reverse damage that is caused from UV and environmental exposure. Wearing sun protection daily, from a young age, will help to keep you protected from these aggressors and face less skin problems as an adult.
If you are a teen with a “normal” skin with no problematic concerns to treat, then these 3 steps are all that I advise you follow. This will help to clean, nourish and protect your skin from further problems like premature ageing, sun damage, redness and sensitivity.
Once all of these steps are met, only then should you consider incorporating a product that will help to directly treat the acne.
What should teens avoid in their skincare?
To say that teen skin is ‘sensitive’ is a lazy statement and a common mistake, probably due to the fact that medicinal research has been performed mostly on adults.
One thing that studies have shown is that young patients are more likely to have sensitive skin, but that doesn’t guarantee that all teenagers are sensitive.
Be cautious, but not too cautious
It is common for youngsters suffering with oily skin and acne, to reach for the strongest, and most astringent products to tackle their breakouts which can lead to sensitisation. For one individual, this approach may work more successfully compared to the next individual.
This is why there is no standard set for what teens should and shouldn’t use on their skin, and why the advice out there sometimes conflicts. It’s easy to say don’t use harsh scrubs on a young skin, but let's say if one teenager has extremely oily skin with a healthy, thick epidermis and they are only exfoliating once a week with a salicylic acid-based scrub, and it seems to be making a positive impact on their skin, -how is it right to recommend to stop using the product. Skincare is not a one-size-fits-all concept. What suits your friends' skin may not suit you, and vice versa.
Mistakes may happen
There is always the likelihood that during the teen years, one may start experimenting more often with cosmetics and personal products more than they ever have done before. It’s a complicated challenge, a process that continues to adapt and grow even as an adult, and part of this process is about learning what things may not be suitable for your skin, for reasons that go beyond how old you are. Not everything you use is going to benefit you, but you have to make these mistakes sometimes for you to know.
Avoid avoiding SPF
One common skincare mistake amongst teens treating their acne, is using exfoliating products that contain retinol, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide but not using Sun Protection Factor (SPF) throughout the day. These spot-fighting ingredients increase photosensitivity, and if you don’t protect your skin against UV whilst using these products, you are more likely to develop inflammation, hyperpigmentation and a sensitised skin condition.
Follow skincare instructions
Is it right to say teens are more likely to be heavy-handed with products? If this is the case, this too should be consciously avoided as a teen. Follow the manufacturers guidelines, and click here to find out how you can understand your skincare labels.
Teen skincare recommendations
It is impossible to guarantee results, especially without performing a consultation and physical assessment first.
Think about all the things we have discussed in this article, define your skin type and then make a plan from there. Consider booking in with an aesthetician or a professional who is confident in recommending products to teenagers if you are still unsure on what may be good for you. If the pandemic is preventing you from doing so, consider a virtual consultation with a skin professional.
Although problematic, teen skin is thicker and more resilient than adult skin. Acne and dermatitis are a common challenge during adolescence and is proving a growing problem for adults too. Although oral medications and antibiotics are available to manage inflammatory skin conditions like acne, there are lots of factors you can try to control before going down this route. Skincare is a personal choice; however, research does show that starting early may help to minimise your skin problems for the future. Cleanse, moisturise, and protect and book in with a professional to enhance your education of how to take of your care skin.