Updated 12/22/17. From ages 13-19, hormones can really start to do funny things to a teenager’s skin. For many, the fluctuating hormones known as androgens can aggravate your skin by increasing oil production which causes acne to appear. For some teens, the breakouts can be very severe while for others, they can be fairly mild.
As an esthetician and someone who works with a lot of teens to help get their skin clear, I have a lot of experience in this area. In this post, I’ll be explaining in further detail as to how these hormones can affect your skin during these years, as well as share my expert tips for how to manage all that is going on so your blemish activity can be kept to a minimum.
How is the skin affected by hormones during your teen years?
- Progesterone (regulates sleep, immunity and brain function)
- Estrogen (supports collagen production which is responsible for keeping the skin plump and free of wrinkles)
- Testosterone (regulates oil glands and hair growth)
- DHEA (protects against oxidative stress which is an important function in preventative skin aging)
- Human growth hormone (supports skin’s elasticity and muscle)
Just prior to your teen years is the prepubescent years (ages 9-12). Hormones are not really influencing your skin other than the start of a few blackheads on the nose. Come age 13 and beyond, the skin can change fast and it usually starts in the t-zone. Many teens feel like breakouts just come out of nowhere—and they kind of do! Enter hormones.
Male hormones, known as androgens, are produced by the testes in males and by the adrenal glands in females. Androgen is an endocrine hormone that flows directly into the bloodstream and is known to be a stimulant for oil activity in your skin by biochemically causing the sebaceous gland’s cells to start producing sebum (oil). Due to a genetic trait, your sebum may be thicker causing your follicular walls to swell, making it difficult for oxygen to penetrate the follicle. Since bacteria have a hard time thriving in oxygen, the lack of it sets up the perfect environment for red, inflamed blemishes to appear. You can read more about why and how breakouts form.
Generally, boys will experience more acne during their teen years than girls due to large amounts of testosterone that can also over-stimulate the sebaceous glands. Girls will experience fewer breakouts during their teen years but are more likely to have breakouts well beyond their teen years since they have a monthly cycle of shifting hormonal levels. (Breakouts can go well into their 40s and even beyond. No fun!)
Here are some helpful tips to manage the side effects of hormonal fluctuations that lead to skin breakouts during ages 13-19.
Wash with a gentle, anti-bacterial cleanser morning and night. Since the skin of a teen tends to be quite sensitive, you’ll want to keep your products on the non-drying side. (I realize this is so opposite of what is typically promoted out there.) Traditional acne cleansers use harsh detergents which strip the skin and further set off inflammation. Instead, I recommend that you use a gentler cleanser with an ingredient called salicylic acid. This is a keratolytic beta hydroxy acid (BHA) famous for its ability to exfoliate the skin, reduce acne-causing bacteria and oil within the pore lining, and lessen post-breakout redness and discoloration—all without causing irritation.
For teens with highly active hormonal skin activity, you really need to have the perfect, non-drying cleansing and deep pore cleansing experience. I recommend AHA/BHA Blemish Control Cleanser. (It was even awarded The Best of Beauty award for “Best Cleanser for Oily Problem Skin” by Allure Magazine.) Washing with this both morning and evening will help to control stubborn breakouts without irritating your young and sensitive complexion. (Speaking of salicylic acid, I recommend BHA Clarifying Serum for teens because this uses 2% salicylic acid and is meant to leave on the skin overnight to work even deeper in the pores.)
Use an alcohol-free toner to keep your skin cells hydrated. After cleansing, I always suggest that you wipe your skin with an alcohol-free toner to remove excess cleanser residue and impurities from tap water, as well as to give instant hydration. For young skins that do produce oil, the main requirement is water to keep the skin in a healthy state. Skin cells are like fish and need water to live so by using a toner, (left damp on the skin after cleansing and sealed in with a light lotion), this can dramatically increase the skin’s integrity to keep it in balance. Post-cleansing, I recommend Balancing Skin Tonic because it’s effective for pore clearing and managing oil. Skin types #1, #2, #3 and #4 are generally types that a teen will fall into.
Wear sunscreen (with zinc oxide) to calm and protect the skin—and to help fade post-breakout marks. I realize that the least of most teenagers concern is to prevent damage from the sun. I’m sure if you’re reading this, your biggest concern is about controlling breakouts but it’s important to know that sunscreen can actually help acne with two main benefits.
1. When choosing a sunscreen, look for one with the ingredient zinc oxide, because it can be very anti-inflammatory when it’s on the skin. This makes it ideal for calming red, inflamed blemishes. (Zinc oxide is actually the main ingredient used in diaper rash creams for its visible soothing and healing properties.)
2. This may come as a surprise but sunscreen can help with the fading process of discoloration left behind from blemishes. Acne scars result from inflammation of the dermis layer of the skin. This inflammation then triggers pigment cells, which result in the appearance of red or purple discoloration. When your skin is exposed to UV daylight (in spring, summer, fall and even in winter), this keeps pigment cells awake and prevents your blemish scar from fading as easily. Wearing a zinc oxide-based, lightweight, non-pore clogging sunscreen protects damaged cells so they can properly heal and recover so the skin can get even-toned much faster. For all of my teen clients, I recommend Daily Protection SPF 30 to be worn daily as your moisturizer. For touch-ups, like for after-school sports, you can keep a mineral-based sunscreen powder (ColoreScience makes a nice one) in your bag and quickly dust it on your face as needed.
Simply put, sunscreen plays an important role for acne-prone skin types and if you want your scars to go away as quickly as possible, you must wear it every day of the year. You’re also preventing the appearance of lines and wrinkles as well as potentially warding off skin cancer, which will definitely become more of a priority for you down the road.
Use a lightweight lotion. I can’t say enough about how hydration, from a water-based standpoint, is key to keeping young skin in a healthy balance but adding a lot of oil is not always the best choice. Since your skin has it already built right in, and at this stage in your life, it’s flowing at a rapid rate, you don’t need to add much more. Your skin does need water so using a lightweight lotion with a high water/low oil ratio will give your skin exactly what it needs. Make sure your lotion has soothing ingredients and your skin will be perfectly in balance so it can act in a healthy way. I recommend Skin Recovery Lotion.
Perform weekly mask treatments. For a teen who is dealing with clogged pores and breakouts due to hormones, you really need to put in some extra effort to get your skin clear. Cleansing, toning, and moisturizing is usually not enough. Your skin requires extra benefits above and beyond what those products will deliver to increase the results. Once a week, it’s very beneficial to use a deep pore cleansing and disinfecting treatment. Recommended weekly acne mask: Rapid Response Detox Masque.
See a professional for deep pore cleansing facials, as needed. This is a very important one. When it comes to clogged pores and breakouts, skin care products can only do so much. What is missing is the need for manual extractions to remove blocked pores and bumps with professional extractions. Teens are not always as diligent about their home care routine (especially boys) so professional skin treatments can really give your skin the attention it needs to keep it looking its best. Plus, if you’re a Mom reading this, you know how challenging it can be to get your child to listen to what you might be telling them. Often times, hearing it from a skin professional will be more impactful.
Consider limiting dairy in your diet if you’re prone to cystic breakouts. Since most dairy cows are given growth hormones, the consumption of milk, cheese and yogurt become factors that influence endogenous hormones and mimic the hormones that trigger oil production in the skin to ignite the acne process. Consider eliminating all dairy for two weeks to determine if this is the cause of your breakout activity—especially cystic acne.
As for other foods, there is some talk that meat and sugar may also be contributors, so keep that in mind, however, dairy is the one food group that I know can dramatically improve the skin in certain teens when it’s eliminated or greatly reduced. Read more about cystic acne and dairy.
Choose acne spot treatments for the type of breakouts you get. All breakouts are not equal nor is every blemish spot treatment. For example, if you experience deep, painful cystic bumps, applying a traditional drying spot treatment will only leave the surface of the skin a flaky, dry mess while leaving the active bump underneath. It’s so important that you understand there is a life cycle to each type of blemish. I highly recommend that you read my step-by-step instructions for what to do the moment a blemish appears to get it to go away fast with minimal scarring. Please read it several times so you can truly understand how the natural healing process works. This information has been very insightful for my acne clients to help them learn why they are often making things much worse by using the wrong type of blemish at the incorrect stage of the healing process. Simply put, you always want to work in sync with Mother Nature. Recommended product: Zit Care Kit (It has ALL the essentials along with my expert instructions for getting a blemish to go away FAST.)
Consider birth control pills. Birth control pills can have a positive effect on breakouts for young girls, so it’s worth exploring this option if your doctor confirms your breakouts are hormone related and all other efforts to reduce acne have not quite helped.
Some examples of FDA-approved birth control pills that seem to lessen breakouts include Ortho Tri Cyclen, Yaz, and Estrostep; but your doctor can help to determine the best course of action. This is a great post that discusses the various birth control methods and how they might affect the skin.
Learn the difference between an esthetician and a dermatologist so you can see which approach is best for you. Typically teenagers may gravitate towards seeing a dermatologist the minute hormonal blemishes start to appear, but it’s important to know that doctors will typically take you down a path of oral and topical prescription medication. While this can be beneficial, some prescriptions can come with unwanted side effects. Seeing an esthetician will give you a less invasive approach to improving your acne. Here are the main differences between a dermatologist and an esthetician.
Not all teenagers will experience acne since it’s largely due to genetics, so do consider yourself lucky if you make it out of your teen years pimple-free. However, it doesn’t mean you won’t experience breakouts later on in your adult years since hormones, diet, and lifestyle will always play a part in how the skin behaves.
Lastly, here are 11 common causes of acne that you should find helpful.
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