Whether you have just a few pimples or more serious breakout, here are the products you need to solve your skin woes. From YOU: The Owner’s Manual for Teens: A Guide to a Healthy Body and Happy Life, by Michael F. Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet C. Oz, M.D.
You can start good skin care now. Washing with an antibacterial soap twice a day is the first line of defense, and a relatively simple one.
Those of you with simple blackheads and whiteheads will want to use a topical keratolytic medicine, which unblocks the pores (examples include adapalene, or Differin; and topical tretinoin, or Retin-A), plus something that kills bacteria on the surface of the skin (topical clindamycin, benzoyl peroxide, or erythromycin) — a double whammy in the fight against acne. (Topical means that you apply the ointment, cream, or gel directly to the skin. Erythromycin may not work as well, as the bacteria get resistant or outsmart the drug.) For those who have blackheads and whiteheads and want to keep it simple, azeleic acid (brand name Azelex) unblocks the pores and kills bacteria on the surface of the skin. It also helps even out the pigment of the skin so you don’t end up with lighter and darker areas from acne scarring.
More than a few pimples, but not quite a pizza face? You might want to use benzoyl peroxide topically in addition to a different topical antibiotic. The two work better applied together than they would if used individually. You can use over-the-counter or prescription formulations of the former, while your pediatrician or a dermatologist will need to write you a prescription for the latter. For a higher price, there are many combo meds, such as the topical antibiotic clindamycin containing benzoyl peroxide; the best of these call for only one application a day, rather than the standard twice a day. That’s a bonus for those who don’t like much fuss when it comes to face or skin care.
If your acne is bad enough — with blemishes on the face, and perhaps pimples on your back or chest as well — then you might want to use an oral antibiotic (taken by mouth) in addition to the topicals, to kill the bacteria already trapped under the skin. You can be on an antibiotic for years without a problem, although sometimes you have to change to another one if the bacteria that love your skin become smart enough to eventually resist the drug. Girls can use either birth control pill alone, or in conjunction with the antibiotic.
If these strategies don’t work, then you need to talk with your dermatologist about your possibly going on Accutane, which is the pill form of isotretinoin. If you’re a girl and think you might need Accutane, it’s worth trying the birth control pill route first, since Accutane makes periods irregular and also causes birth defects if you get pregnant while taking it (or shortly thereafter). Guys, you’re not off the hook, as the medication can also cause liver damage, making annual blood tests necessary. Before trying Accutane, both girls and guys should have maxed out on whatever topical and oral antibiotics they have used (meaning using all medications faithfully and washing your face twice a day). If that has not cleared up your face in six to eight weeks, then it may be worth pursuing Accutane.
Note: When you make a change in your skin care, especially for acne treatment, it takes about six to eight weeks to see a difference. If your acne regimen isn’t working after that, it’s time to go back to the doctor. There’s a silver lining to all this: Those of you with really oily, pimple-laden faces may actually have fewer wrinkles later in life as compared to your dry-skinned, pimple-free classmates now. Your naturally elevated production of skin oil protects you better against aging and wrinkles.
- Browse more books by Michael F. Roizen, M.D., and Mehmet C. Oz, M.D.
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