Two years ago, we wrote about how parents can help their children deal
with skin conditions. Since then, new perspectives and approaches have
come to our attention, and we'd like to share them with you.
What Causes Acne?
First, a little background. Acne results mainly from several factors:
sex hormones (particularly testosterone) that rise with puberty, foods
that affect those hormones, bacteria swarming in pores, and cleanliness
of the skin.
Because the causes of acne vary from child to child, different kids
respond to different treatments, so you may need to experiment with
various methods. Ask your pediatrician for advice, and perhaps get a
referral to a dermatologist. Meanwhile, consider the suggestions below.
A Word of Caution
The evidence is mounting that some conventional acne treatments have
significant downsides. Most topical acne treatment - applied directly to
the skin - is safe, both over the counter remedies and prescription
medications. But oral medications have genuine risks; in the short-term
they can seem like miracle cures, but they often have hidden
consequences that last for decades or more.
The most common oral treatment for acne is prescription antibiotics.
These are usually given for a minimum of 4- 6 weeks, and frequently much
longer. (For instance, Jan took oral antibiotics continuously for about
ten years, from 13 to 23.) In addition to creating antibiotic-resistant
bacteria, antibiotics also kill beneficial bacteria in the intestines.
This can lead to long-lasting bowel problems, particular if antibiotics
are given over a lengthy period. While taking acidopholus bacteria in
one form or another can compensate somewhat for the harmful effects of
antibiotics, that's usually inadequate to rebalance the intestines
completely. Further, severe acne is often treated with Acutane, whose
known potential side effects include depression and birth defects.
The other common oral treatment for acne is birth control pills for
girls. Apart from any consideration that such a practice might promote
sexual activity in some cases, a reasonable person would have concerns
about artificially regulating a girl's hormonal cycles at a vulnerable
and young age.
Healthy, Clean Skin
Clear skin begins with clean skin. In addition to the benefits for
personal hygiene, a daily shower is an opportunity for a daily shampoo,
which will help keep skin clean. As to washing the face itself, there
are many acne soaps available with different characteristics, and you
should experiment to find the ones that work best for your child's
Next, over-the-counter topical treatments are usually helpful.
Benzyl-peroxide is a key ingredient found in many creams. Ironically,
the lower concentration of 2.5% could be more effective than the more
concentrated level (10%) found in most creams. 2.5% concentrations are
found in Proactive products and in BP (which is less expensive and can
be ordered at www.Acne.org). 10% concentrations are found in Clearasil
and most over-the-counter creams.
A problem with benzyl-peroxide is that it is drying, necissitating a
mointurizer. Also, since it contains peroxide, it will bleach any
fabrics it touches, from bathroom towels to shirt collars, so be careful.
Topically, a fabulous natural supplement is vitamin B-3 (niacinamide)
in a 4% or 5% lotion. You can get this is by prescription, but it's also
available as an over-the-counter product called Acnicure Lotion, found
at www.acnemiracle.com. This product is not drying, and our kids like it
a lot. It can be combined with other topical products, too.
If you consult a dermatologist, he or she may prescribe prescription
topical antibiotics, such as clindamycin or vitamin A creams. These
topical preparations work fine, with few risks.
Overall, the key is to balance how well various washes and creams clear
the skin versus how much they dry and irritate it. You'll just have to
experiment - and keep in mind that other factors such as diet or
hormonal ups and downs can affect the apparent results of topical
treatments, and thus muddy the waters of your experiment. Hmm, one more
complication in raising teenagers!
The number 1 natural treatment for acne is zinc. This mineral is
critical for both hormone development (particularly testosterone) and
for skin health, but if shortages of zinc make the body have to choose
between reproduction and beauty, it will pick reproduction every time!
White spots on the fingernails indicate zinc deficiency, but even
without this sign your teenager could still benefit from zinc. Some
studies have shown 50 mg. of zinc to be as effective as oral antibiotics
for acne. Start with 50 mg. of zinc citrate per day. Try that for a
month; if the results seem minimal, you could try 100 mg./day.
The second most important nutritional supplement for acne is fish oil.
The essential fatty acids in fish oil make skin healthy and beautiful.
Always use a molecularly distilled fish oil, because many fish these
days unfortunately carry unhealthy loads of heavy metals and other
toxins that must be purified. Most people take fish oil in capsules, but
make sure your teenager is taking enough each day to get about 600 mg.
of E.P.A., a long chain molecule which will be listed on the label.
Next, a product called Acnease is a blend of Chinese herbs that we've
seen produce striking results. You can find it at the website, www.
Acnease.com, and follow the directions there for its use. It's an
aggressive (and somewhat expensive) formulation that is safer than oral
antibiotics, but it still has the potential for somewhat imbalancing the
digestive tract. So, we suggest trying this product when other ones have
not done the job completely.
Some other nutrients can also help a lot:
- Vitamin E, 400 international units (IU) per day
- Vitamin A, 25,000 IU/day. But if a girl might become pregnant, she
should take no more than 5000 IU/day because of the risk of birth defects.
- Vitamin B6 - Some girls experience a premenstrual aggravation of acne,
and in these cases, 25 mg of B6 taken three times a day can help
metabolize (and thus eliminate) the upsurge of hormones at that time of
- Chromium, 200-400 micrograms (mcg) a day
- Selenium, 200 mcg/day
Finally, keep in mind that your child may have to take nutritional
supplements for several months for their beneficial effects to really
take hold since it can take that long for the body to absorb enough to
get up to effective levels.
As with other aspects of treating acne, some kids will get more benefit
from dietary changes than others.
Dairy products - milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc..- are usually the
most problematic foods. If your teenager can totally avoid these for a
couple of weeks, you'll see if these make a signficant difference.
High amounts of insulin can increase acne, so reducing sugar and white
flour products - which raise insulin levels - will often help. Avoid
foods with trans-fatty acids, such as fried foods, margarine, and
synthetically hydrogenated vegetable oils. Lower salt intake, especially
if it has been "iodized." And then, there are people who simply cannot
go near chocolate. Alas!
The Big Picture
In closing, here's the boring but important parental lecture that all
teens will shrug off to your face - but may remember quietly to
themselves in their darkest moments: "You're a great person no matter
what your skin looks like. Besides, you look really fine anyway. In the
long run, what matters most is being a good person, treating others
well, showing up in life, and trying your best. You're all those things
already, so you're sure to succeed in life and be happy. And we
completely love and support you."