Severe acne affects your mental health far more than some medication ever will.Sarah Wood
Is acne getting your teenager down? I remember how excruciating acne was as a teenager. I always seemed to get a breakout when I had a party to go to, or when I wanted to impress some boy or other. And nothing I did ever seemed to make it look any better. But that was just spots, and everyone gets them. What about those teenagers for whom acne becomes a huge deal – the kids who get severe acne that isn’t just a couple of crops a month? Sarah Wood joins me on this episode to talk about her experience of severe teenage acne, how she coped, how she eventually treated it, and how she’s supported all of her own teenagers through the same thing.
Sarah first got acne when she was 12 and she still has it at 49. But nowadays she manages it with medication, and talks about how important it is to get the right treatment for acne if it’s starting to affect your teenager’s mental health. She says it really irritated her when her friends made a fuss about having a spot, because she would have given anything for just one spot.
Severe acne causes
Most cases of severe acne in the teenage years are down to the inescapable fact of hormones running riot, and there’s nothing you can do to stop that. Acne can occur anywhere in your teens; it’s quite common to have spots on your shoulders, neck and arms, and it’s not unusual to get them on your scalp or in your ears. Severe acne on your forehead, neck and back is likely to be as a result of grease and dirt building up under a fringe, or bacteria being trapped against the skin by your clothes. Rest assured that in most cases this will clear up with time, in the same way as it does on your face. In the meantime take care to wear clean clothes and wash your skin with a sensitive shower gel every day, especially after sweating.
How long does teenage acne last?
Normally, your acne will start to clear up as you come fully out of puberty and into your adult body, so usually by your early twenties. However it’s not uncommon to experience spots during adulthood, especially around the time of your period, for women. Even menopause can bring the odd flare-up, due to the fact that skin is so reactive to hormonal fluctuations.
Occasionally, things don’t settle down, in which case you might experience severe acne as an adult. In this case, there are good options for you.
Treatment for teenage acne
Sarah had medication for her acne for one month at the age of 14, and then went onto oxytetracycline (an antibiotic) between the ages of 16 and 20. This is usually the first port of call for medication for teenage acne when you visit the GP, once you’ve tried creams and lotions. Eventually, at the age of 40, she started taking Roaccutane, which all of her children have also taken at various times. Her son’s acne developed from normal spots to huge lumps all over his face. Knowing how this could be dealt with, she took him straight to her dermatologist consultant and asked for Roaccutane.
Sarah thinks there’s too much scaremongering around the side-effects of Roaccutane. They range from birth defects if you take it during pregnancy (women and girls are advised to have a monthly pregnancy test whilst on the medication) to dry skin, dry eyes and muscular aches and pains. It can also (rarely) cause elevated cholesterol, so tests are done to monitor this. She herself hasn’t experienced any side effects, and her children’s issues were minimal compared to how the acne was affecting them.
It works by drying out your skin so that spots just peel away. Her son was given a hard time at school for his acne, but within less than a year he had lovely clear skin again. Sarah says that as parents the best thing we can do if our kids are struggling with self-esteem due to severe acne is push for a referral to a dermatologist, as this is the only way to have Roaccutane prescribed, due to the monitoring required. Sarah explains the protocols she’s experienced in the podcast.
Sarah is clear that as parents the best thing we can do for our teenagers with acne is take them seriously when they tell you it bothers them. She says the old advice to drink more water and eat more healthily might help a teenager who’s going through a bad patch and is run down, but it will do nothing for severe acne. As she says, if it’s affecting their mental health, you need to advocate for them rather than letting them push through some of the most formative years of working out who they are.
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