For a lot of teens, acne becomes a big deal during the school year. Maybe it’s because stress levels are higher or winter weather stresses the skin more or maybe it’s because hanging out with a large group of peers every day makes the teen more conscious of skin problems. Whatever the cause, a lot of teens want to improve their skin when school resumes.

Parents and teens are usually familiar with the usual acne remedies but may not be having much success with them. If you don’t understand the underlying causes of acne, you may be focusing on the wrong treatment.

Four processes contribute to the development of acne.

The first is excess sebum production. Sebum is the oily substance produced in the skin. Sebum production is greatly activated by the hormonal changes associated with puberty. This explains why an individual may have beautiful skin as a child and very oily skin as a teen.

Secondly, acne is associated with an abnormality in sloughing off the outer layers of dead skin. If the dead skin cells do not separate and fall off, they can block the pores in the skin, leading to comedogenesis, which is the process of making blackheads and whiteheads (closed and open comedones).

The third process is the proliferation of acne bacteria on the skin and in the blocked pores and glands of the skin.

Finally, the process of inflammation determines how much redness and pus formation an individual has in response to the first three processes.

The mainstay for dealing with sebum is washing the skin with a mild cleanser. You don’t want to use a harsh or drying cleanser because that will stimulate the skin to produce even more sebum.

You can decrease sebum production by applying topical retinoids or, in severe cases, taking an oral form called Accutane. Women can reduce sebum production by using certain birth control pills.

You can help your skin to slough off the dead outer layer of cells by using exfoliating agents like salicylic acid. Retinoids also help with exfoliation.

Acne bacteria can be kept under control using products containing benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide may be used as a face wash or a gel. Antibiotics used either as a topical product such as a wash or a gel, or taken as a tablet are useful as well.

We usually manage the inflammation by trying to stop the processes that activate the inflammation, namely the sebum, blocked pores and bacteria but there are treatments available that reduce the appearance of inflammation.

Chemical peels are excellent for acne because the ingredients can work in a number of ways, including exfoliation, having antibacterial effects and having anti-inflammatory effects. We have seen the redness reduced in back acne within 24 hours of applying certain of our peel solutions.

Intense pulsed light (IPL) treatments help control acne by reducing the appearance of inflammation and zapping the acne bacteria. When you add Levulan to IPL, you get photodynamic therapy, which has been shown to decrease sebum production for 6 – 12 months.

The final point to make about treating acne is be patient. Using a good skincare routine, chemical peels and so on will result in a gradual improvement of the skin over several weeks. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t see a big change after a weekend of using products regularly. If you stick to the program, you will see the improvements build up day by day and week by week.