Parents play a pivotal role in helping their children separate fact from fiction when it comes to acne.

In a world obsessed with social media and celebrities, teenagers in particular can be bombarded with advice of dubious quality.

Any support and guidance you can offer a child in the management of acne through diet, lifestyle, skin care and the optimal use of any prescribed therapies, is very helpful.

During the teen years especially, physical appearance is a sensitive topic. Very  often, how they look is more important to a teenager than anything else.

Acne can make peer approval and the whole concept of fitting in far more difficult. So always take your child’s acne or their concerns about it seriously. 

If they’ve voiced concerns, it's a good idea to ask your child exactly what is troubling them about their acne. The psychological impact of acne does not always reflect its 'medical severity'.

Offering your child as much emotional and practical support as possible during this time may be difficult but it is important. 

Appearance is everything

Just so you’re on the same page as your acne-prone teenager – acne is their worst nightmare. Before you try to help or reassure them, consider these findings from a UK study of about 1500 people - teenagers (13-17 years of age) and their parents. Teenagers believe their appearance is the single most important issue in their lives.

  • The majority of teenagers’ rank appearance as more important than their social lives or education.
  • Teenagers would give up Facebook for a year, drop grades at school, or even take a parent to their high school formal if  it  meant  they didn’t have to suffer with acne. 
  • About a third of teenagers said they did not like seeing photos or videos of themselves – social suicide in a world of social media.
  • Some 70 per cent of teenage girls had used concealers or other make-up to cover their acne; many had altered photos of themselves to disguise their acne.

However the study found parents tended to underestimate the impact that acne has on their children.

  • Parents were still more concerned about issues such as academic success and their children’s participation in sports and other activities than about their acne.
  • More than half of the parents had the attitude that acne is normal and that the teenagers would grow out of it.    

Don’t be the Mum or Dad who ignores the fact that their teen is feeling sensitive or down about their acne. They may grow out of acne eventually, but in the meantime it has consequences.

Acne can have a significant and negative impact on young people - undermining their confidence and preventing them from fully enjoying school, a social life and other activities. Acknowledging their concerns and providing helpful and practical advice about their acne will make you one of the cool parents.    

Healthy habits

Skin care

Good skin care doesn’t need to be complicated.  However it does need to be regular and it’s made easier if the process becomes a habit from a young age.

Teach your children to cleanse their face twice a day, morning and night. Just as you’ve taught them to clean their teeth, get them into the habit of washing their face in the morning and again before bed.

All About Acne recommends using gentle liquid cleansers which won’t irritate or dry the skin. Moisturisers are not always necessary if the skin is oily. However if the skin is dry due to weather, over scrubbing or  as a side effect of some acne treatments, use a light oil free moisturiser which won’t clog the pores.

Sun protection                                                      

All Australian children need to learn to use sunscreen every day to protect their skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays. Many acne treatments make the skin extra-sensitive to sunlight so keep reinforcing those sun safe messages.

Look for sunscreens that are light and oil-free for acne-prone skin. A pump pack in the bathroom or near the door makes applying sunscreen easier to remember.

Diet & exercise

You already know that healthy eating and regular physical activity has numerous benefits for your children – developing strong bones, maintaining a healthy body weight, etc. While diet alone can’t prevent or cure acne, there is growing evidence that some foods might contribute to acne.  

Avoiding foods with a high glycaemic index (GI) – typically highly refined and processed foods – may be useful for some people. There is also a link between excessive milk consumption and acne but don’t limit milk intake without seeking overall dietary advice from a health professional first.   


Price Advice

In good news for parents, healthy skin does not require a major financial investment.  

There is no scientific evidence to show that more expensive skin care products and acne treatments are more effective.   In fact, some of the most economical products have undergone the most testing and proven to be effective for managing acne-prone skin.  

For example:        

  • Gentle non-soap cleansers such as Cetaphil are affordable and suitable for all the family to use for their daily skin care.       
  • Skin care products such as Neutrogena’s Oil Free Acne Wash which contains salicylic acid are reasonably priced and available from supermarkets, department stores and pharmacies.         
  • Acne treatments containing benzoyl peroxide are some of the most effective for mild and moderate acne. They include over the counter creams such as Benzac and prescription gels such as Epiduo and Duac.  

More expensive products are available but check the label or product packaging first. Don’t pay more if you don’t have to for products which basically have the same ingredients.  

Beware skin care products that are heavily endorsed by celebrities or sold in upmarket beauty salons as these will be more expensive but not necessarily more effective. Lasers and light therapies are also expensive and rarely a first option.  

Remember too that with most skin care products and acne treatments, a little goes a long way. Keep the costs down by only using acne treatments as directed. Most treatments are applied sparingly. Over-applying can actually irritate skin, so be sure to read the labels.  

And finally, don’t waste your hard earned dollars on all the ‘natural’ products and remedies. Most are ineffective for acne.

Speak to a pharmacist, GP or dermatologist to find out which treatments are most suitable for your child’s skin. Even with the price of a doctor’s visit, it’s better value to receive good advice on treatments that work, rather than wasting time and money on products that don’t.   

Early puberty

You might have to start talking about acne with your children earlier than you think. While we expect acne in our teenagers, an increasing number of much younger children are now coping with acne as part of a trend toward earlier onset puberty. 

While most girls start developing at age 10-11 years and boys at 11-12 years, a significant and growing proportion of children are starting to develop at about 8-9 years... or even earlier. Better nutrition and living conditions are believed to be the most likely reasons for earlier onset of puberty but why some children start younger than others is not entirely clear.

Importantly, children who develop acne at young ages tend to experience more severe acne later on, so early and effective treatment is important to prevent some of the emotional and physical consequences of acne.

Acne at any age can lead to physical scarring. Just as important though, is the potential impact on self confidence and social interactions. It’s not surprising that young children experiencing early puberty might have trouble coping with being different. They are just as exposed to the media image of perfect skin and perfect bodies as teenagers and when their bodies are developing out of synch with their friends, they’re subject to teasing and bullying.  

Reinforce that the changes to their bodies are normal – they’re just growing up a little earlier than their friends. As for the acne, treat it much the same as teenage acne.  Over the counter treatments and prescribed topical treatments are safe to use in younger children with acne. 

Your GP or a dermatologist will be able to  prescribe age-appropriate treatments if your child’s acne is not responding to over the counter treatments.