As the teenage body begins to mature in preparation for adulthood, the skin must also adjust to a number of factors, including hormones, which significantly changes its structure and function. Generally, teenage or adolescent skin is tougher and more resilient than that of children, but is still elastic and able to regenerate quickly. Adolescents encounter some distinct dermatologic problems, including acne, and thus their skin requires specific care. Treating skin conditions in teens can, at times, be difficult due to additional issues occurring during this critical period of development. Setting a good example for skin care and sun protection at this age is vital to instilling healthy practices in the future, as puberty is a time when many values are adopted and ingrained.
Structure of teenage skin
The corneocytes - the skin cells which comprise the outermost layer of the epidermis - of teenagers are larger than in children, and the turnover, or renewal, of fresh layers of skin is less frequent. Teenage skin still contains an abundance of the proteins elastin and collagen which give skin its plumpness and flexibility. It is a reduction in these proteins as we age which causes elderly skin to become more fragile. While still supple and elastic, teenage skin thickens and becomes tougher, making it more resilient than pediatric skin. This is important for protection from environmental agents such as chemicals, invading organisms and physical injury. The increased strength of teenage skin, compared with children, is also due to tighter adhesion between the epidermis (the outer layer of skin) and the underlying dermis.
With the onset of puberty, pediatric skin undergoes several changes to transform it into adult skin. Adolescence brings about the maturation of the hair follicles, sebaceous (oil-producing) glands and sweat glands in the skin. Perhaps the most notable change to occur within skin during the teenage years is the increased production of oil, or sebum. This is caused by a surge in the sex hormones estrogen, androgen and progesterone which stimulate the sebaceous glands.
Changes in teenage skin: sweat, fat and heat
These sex hormones are also responsible for the development of a second type of sweat gland (eccrine glands are already functional in children), termed apocrine glands. During puberty the apocrine glands become localised in the pubic region and armpits, producing a thick sweat which, when mixed with bacteria on the surface of the skin, can cause body odour. Concurrent with the development of apocrine glands is the growth of body hair on the skin in these areas.
At adolescence, the lipid (fat) content of both male and female skin rises considerably. This enhances the heat insulating properties of skin and is one of the reasons that adults have better temperature regulation than children. Additionally, the higher fat content helps to retain moisture, making teenage and young adult skin less susceptible to drying out.
Skin care for teenagers
To combat the increased production of sebum, experts recommend that adolescents wash their face once or twice daily with warm water and a mild, soap-free cleanser. Excessive cleansing or scrubbing should be avoided as it tends to dry out the skin and cause irritation. Following this, an oil-free moisturiser can be applied. When spending time outside, it is advised that a sunscreen with SPF of at least 15+ be used. Numerous over-the-counter products exist for the treatment of oily, acne-prone skin, many containing the active ingredients benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid which reduce bacteria and oil on the surface of the skin. Dermatologists advise against squeezing or picking pimples, as it is likely to leave scarring. Where acne does not respond to standard treatments, dermatological assessment and treatment may be required.
When choosing cosmetics and toiletries, those described as “nonacnegenic” or “noncomedogenic” (do not cause acne or block pores) are best suited to teenage skin. It is also wise to avoid products which are alcohol-based (may strip natural moisture from skin) or contain oil. Dermatologists also emphasise the importance of removing any residual make-up prior to bedtime to allow the skin time to breathe. Finally, drinking plenty of water along with good nutrition, sleep and exercise routines promote healthy skin and general well-being.
Complications of treating teenage skin conditions
Treatment of teenage skin conditions can be further complicated by other issues occurring at this psychologically and socially significant time. Puberty is a time of changeable emotions and the formation of body image and a sense of self. Adolescents are typically more impatient than adults and have the tendency to become easily frustrated. As a result, some experts estimate that up to 50 percent of teenagers may be noncompliant with their treatments for skin conditions. The most common grounds for this include: boredom; forgetfulness; concern over side effects; lack of time or motivation; difficulty in application and lack of effectiveness of treatment. Sometimes skin conditions can create feelings of embarrassment or self-consciousness, thus, is it important that teens have a trusted adult with whom they can freely and confidentially discuss dermatologic and other medical concerns.
Colette Bouchez, Top Teen Skin Problems – and How To Solve Them, WebMD, Last accessed 03 November 2016, <http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/features/top-teen-skin-problems-how-to-solve-them#1.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2007, ‘Young Australians: their health and wellbeing’, retrieved 6 October 2010, <http://www.aihw.gov.au/publications/aus/yathaw07/yathaw07-c03.pdf>.
SunSmart Victoria 2010, ‘For parents: protecting your family’, retrieved 6 October 2010, <http://www.sunsmart.com.au/sun_protection/for_parents>.
The Nemours Foundation 2007, ‘Tips for Taking Care of Your Skin’, retrieved 6 October 2010, <http://www.kidshealth.org/teen/your_body/skin_stuff/skin_tips.html>.