Millennials and generations before might remember when we used to get all our beauty and skincare tips from our mothers, aunties, older sisters or friends–alongside fashion magazines. As teenagers, we’ve blindly experimented with many different products and make-up while growing up. These days, teens are finding beauty hacks on TikTok and Instagram full of reviews and recommendations from influencers, but how can you know what really works and what doesn’t? We’re here to talk about teenage acne from a holistic perspective, the products we recommend, and what to avoid when treating this very common condition.
(Note: This article is great for those who have teens ages 13 to 18, or anyone who needs a refresh on treating cystic acne, blackheads, and whiteheads.)
The first step – book a holistic esthetician
There’s a huge stigma in our society when it comes to acne, so we want you and your teen to know that there’s no shame in having acne because it’s a normal part of puberty and aging. More than 85% of teenagers deal with common skin issues like acne and it’s rare for teens not to experience it when hormones are changing their bodies. But instead of going to see a doctor or dermatologist, we recommend seeking out a holistic esthetician near you first!
Not for the sake of touting our own horns, but we recommend this for a few reasons. Between aestheticians and holistic estheticians, the main difference is the way in which we treat skin from a holistic perspective and integrate how the body functions. Holistic estheticians can recommend an acne protocol that can help treat the skin from the inside using diet, acupuncture, and other holistic treatments, while also topically treating it on the outside. Our aim is to offer the nourishing power of plants that our skin can recognize and assimilate, nurturing the long-term health of our body’s largest organ. We won’t recommend the use of harsh chemicals like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or retinol because they can inflame, irritate, and dry out the skin and cause long-term issues down the line like an imbalanced microbiome and dysregulation of sebum production. The same goes for antibiotics which can also cause issues in the gut. Holistic estheticians may recommend a nutrient-dense diet and herbal supplements to support your system instead.
We want people to understand that our skin IS our body. What we put on it will eventually be working its way through our entire system. So, if we want to be healthy, we have to start seeing our skin as part of a larger system.
Why do teens get acne?
Before puberty, our skin has very little activity, but once our hormones (androgens) kick in and puberty begins, the sebaceous activity skyrockets and you may see tiny bumps in texture appear all at once. The oil glands overproduce sebum, which when blocked in our pores by skin cells produces a pimple. If not cleaned properly, bacteria called Cutibacterium acnes can also contribute to acne as well. Here are the different types of pimples you or your teen might see, the first three being the most common:
- Pores that become blocked and inflamed produce a raised red spot with a white center: these are pimples.
- Pores that are clogged, then close and bulge are whiteheads.
- When the pore clogs but stays open, the top turns a blackish color due to exposure to the air and forms a blackhead.
- If bacteria grows inside a blocked pore, and is red and inflamed this is a pustule.
Painful cysts can occur when the pore is blocked and inflammation deep in the pores produce a large (usually painful) lump beneath the surface.
For young females, acne typically shows up before the menstrual cycle begins. Experimenting with makeup and sleeping with it on can cause acne, and those using birth control at this age can also both decrease or increase signs of acne depending on the person. For young males, it can appear after working out and producing lots of sweat, or if they begin to shave their face. It can also be passed down genetically. Diet can also be a factor, especially if teens are consuming a lot of processed foods. Wearing masks can also contribute to this as well in the form of maskne. Acne can form on the forehead, cheeks, chin, chest, back, and even on the butt!
Treating teen acne in the treatment room
The best thing to do when preparing teenagers for a facial is to let them know what to expect. In our experience, most teens are nervous or scared, but may not share it. These treatments will differ from person to person but we’ll share our general protocol when treating teens with acne. Our treatment generally includes cleansing the skin, bringing down inflammation, prepping the skin for extractions, extractions, and then soothing the skin post-extractions. While extractions can be painful, it’s typically the shortest part of the facial, and professional tools are used to minimize swelling and pain. Pro tip: never ever do an extraction at home, it can cause further damage to the pimple and the skin around it. Please leave it to the pros!
At the end of the treatment, a simple skincare routine will be recommended with a cleanser like our Daily Face Wash, toner and moisturizing options. These are the three basic steps we recommend to start teaching teenagers a skincare habit they can use for life. If three steps are too many, cleansing and moisturizing are a must, especially before going to bed. The trick is to begin creating the habit of cleansing the skin and protecting it from the outside elements to protect the skin during this time of change. If a teen is already on medication for acne, we may recommend a different skincare routine.
Here are our three favorite products to recommend to teenagers:
- Cleanse with the Daily Face Wash AM/PM, or PM only if the skin feels too tight in the morning.
- Tone with a toner, AM/PM. Start with our Rose Water Toner, though young males may benefit from our Toner, especially if they shave.
- Follow up with a moisturizer like our Daily Face Cream Light, AM/PM.
- Don’t forget SPF in the morning if they will be outside for more than 30 mins. Start ‘em young!
There are times when medical advice is needed from a health practitioner, doctor, or dermatologist:
- If the acne is getting worse even after treatments.
- If there’s a possible bad reaction from something they’re prescribed and the skin is overly dry and irritated.
- If they’ve been put on Accutane.
- If they’ve tried everything else and haven’t found a solution.
Home treatments for teenage acne
Starting a daily skincare habit is the first step to treating acne at a young age, especially if a teen isn’t able to see a holistic esthetician for care. If they are experiencing redness or cystic acne, you can use ice to bring down the inflammation. We love these chill pill silicone holders that help prevent your fingers from freezing when icing. They also come in other fun colors! Weekly, use our Fix-Zit Mask mixed with Essential Enzymes or goat milk yogurt to gently exfoliate and soothe the skin. Sulfur’s antimicrobial properties combined with the calming and soothing properties of oats are ideal used all over the skin or as a spot treatment (mixed with the Clarity Oil) that can stay on overnight. We don’t recommend sleeping with this mask all over the face as it can further dry out the skin.
If teens are skin pickers, try using pimple patches to cover the acne. While it’s not treating the problem directly, it’s a great option to prevent picking the skin and causing further damage to the skin around pimples that can cause scabbing and dark spots.
Things to avoid for teen acne
Remember those stingy Stridex pads? Avoid them. While they feel like they’re powerful and working on getting rid of acne, the ingredients are usually too strong, too drying, and irritating for the skin.
Avoid products with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, again these ingredients can be too harsh for the skin and we find that we see clients with disrupted barriers when using these types of products.
Don’t use any clay masks, Aztec clay masks, toothpaste, baking soda, or apple cider vinegar to treat pimples. Most of these trendy tips aren’t meant to treat the skin and excessive use can cause further irritation or create more pimples. Almost all types of clay will have drying properties, removing moisture from the skin; if a clay mask dries on the skin it can further dry out the skin just like a desert floor. Use our Fix-zit mask instead! We use sulfur mud, an antimicrobial compound that fights bacteria and has keratolytic properties which help to soften and break up dry or scaly skin. Unless using it as a spot treatment, don’t let the mask dry out on the skin when masking.
Avoid that apricot scrub! We know exfoliation can be good for the skin, but rough physical scrubs can cause more irritation. Use our Daily Face Wash instead which has lactic acid, a gentle approach to exfoliating the skin.
Alcohols are a no-no as they dry out the skin. If you see products with alcohol (especially in toners), please avoid them.
Using lemon straight up for brightening acne marks on the skin? Also a no-go. The acidic nature can burn your skin and cause rashes.
This is a huge one: don’t, we repeat, DO NOT pick the skin or do extractions at home. Please leave this to the pros! Treating broken skin and scabs is much more difficult to reverse and takes much longer to heal. Save your skin and yourself and use those pimple patches to prevent picking skin.
Lastly, because trends come and go, always question and do research on any tips that you find on social media. We’re all for skincare hacks, but sometimes influencers can recommend ingredients that might not bode well for healthy skin. Most non-skincare product ingredients may work in a pinch but can cause further irritation if used regularly or often. If you’re unsure, reach out to us anytime, we’re happy to demystify skincare trends and hacks!
Dealing with teen acne can be both stressful for parents and teens, and we’re always happy to help make our best recommendations for teenage skin. Feel free to email or DM us with your questions. The best first solution is to find a Botnia Spa Partner near you and have your teen’s skin seen in person by a holistic esthetician. Helping teens create healthy long-term habits with a simple two to three step skincare routine will build healthy skin in the long run. We hope we can make this time of growth easier to take on for both parents and teens!