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Acne health centre

3 in 5 teens say acne damages self-confidence

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

24th March 2017 – Three out of 5 adolescents with acne say their self-confidence has been dented by having the condition, a survey has revealed.

The poll of 525 young people also reveals that having acne led to them being bullied – even by family members – while a fifth have contemplated suicide.

Inflammation and spots

Acne affects almost all teenagers. It results from the action of hormones on the skin's sebaceous glands. These glands make an oily substance called sebum which finds its way on to the skin's surface through hair follicle openings.

The mixture of oil and cells allows bacteria that normally live on the skin to grow in these openings, or pores. When this happens the pores become clogged, inflammation occurs and spots develop.

Symptoms of acne include blackheads and whiteheads, pus-filled spots or deep painful red cysts.

Some people may have just a few spots on the face, neck, back and chest, while others experience more severe outbreaks that may lead to permanent scarring.


Symptoms of acne on a young person's face. Photo credit: British Skin Foundation

Verbal abuse

The survey by the British Skin Foundation found that:

  • 62% of 10- to 18-year olds polled said they had been verbally abused by friends, family or a person they know because of their acne
  • 40% reported being verbally abused by a member of the public due to their acne
  • 46% reported being bullied regularly because they had acne

However, the survey also reveals that 48% of the young people and teenagers relied on their family for support in managing the skin condition.

More worryingly, says the British Skin Foundation, 19% have thought about suicide because of concerns over acne, while another 4% have actually attempted suicide.

The condition is also a leading cause of self-harming, with 16% of young people saying they had done so and citing acne as the trigger.

More than 'just a few spots'

Dr Anjali Mahto, a consultant dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation, says parents can play an important role in helping teenagers cope with acne. "It's vital parents and family members don't trivialise the effects of the condition as 'just a few spots' or by saying 'you’ll grow out of it'," she tells us. "Help is within reach and is the best course of action for your child's well-being."

The exact cause of acne is not known, but an important factor is an increase in male sex hormones called androgens. These hormones increase in both boys and girls during puberty. Androgens cause the sebaceous glands to get larger and produce more sebum.

Helping adolescents to cope

Dr Mahto says there are a number of ways of combatting acne. These include:

  • Cleansing your face twice a day with a face wash designed for acne-prone skin. Products that contain salicylic acid and zinc may be beneficial. Exfoliate your skin weekly – this will remove the upper layer of skin cells, resulting in a brighter complexion and help reduce blackheads
  • Using over-the-counter treatments such as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid to apply directly onto spots
  • Avoiding heavy cosmetics and oily products that will block pores

"The key message we'd like to convey to young people suffering with acne is to seek help from your GP or dermatologist," says Dr Mahto, who has had acne herself. "Acne is treatable and there's no need to go on suffering both physically and psychologically from this condition."

Reviewed on March 24, 2017

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