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How to Treat Acne-Prone Skin in Teenagers Naturally

Published | 8 min read

Deal with acne-prone skin in teenagers by learning more about its root causes. Here are natural remedies for a better complexion.

A young girl pointing at the pimples on her cheeks with her finger.

Are you struggling with acne-prone skin? Though acne is common among teens, it can add to stress, especially if it interferes with your social life.

You can solve your acne problems and boost your confidence! If you’re unsure what to do, read on to learn about available treatments and natural remedies to soothe and heal acne-prone skin. 

Causes of Acne-Prone Skin in Teens 

Although adults can also develop acne, this skin condition is more prominent in teens. Here’s why: 

1. Hormonal changes 

Puberty brings about many changes to a teen’s body. These changes are regulated by hormones like androgen, the male sex hormone. During puberty, the body generates larger amounts of androgen, in both boys and girls. This process stimulates oil production in the skin, known as sebum.

Sebum helps moisturise the skin, and sometimes together with dead skin cells, it can block the skin’s pores. As a result, it creates a build-up, which eventually can turn into blackheads or whiteheads. If it becomes inflamed, acne forms. 

The cause of acne in teens and adults is the same, but since the former has more androgen during puberty, they experience more breakouts.

2. Genetics and the immune system 

No two people are the same, and no two adolescents experience the same symptoms of puberty. While some may develop acne, others may not. Because of this reason, it is thought that genetic factors and the immune system may play a role in developing acne.

3. Teen acne according to Traditional Chinese Medicine 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are three underlying causes of acne: 

Too much spicy, sweet and oily foods 

TCM Physician Anita Pee says that TCM believes that these foods can lead to Damp-Heat accumulation in the stomach and Spleen, disrupting qi (vital energy) flow. Eventually, Damp-Heat moves upwards and outwards toward the skin surface and manifests as acne.

Excessive Heat and Wind in the Lungs 

According to Physician Pee, ‘evil Wind’ can attack the body, triggering diseases. When this happens, the Lungs are affected first because of their position in the uppermost part of the body. Wind-Heat trapped in the Lungs would then manifest as acne that is often itchy.

Weak Spleen 

TCM sees the Spleen as a vital organ where qi is produced. Therefore, when it is weakened, the flow of qi, as well as blood production and circulation, will be disrupted. “Blood Stagnation, coupled with Dampness, can form deep-rooted and large acne,” says Physician Pee.

A partial view of a woman tearing apart a piece of fried chicken with her hands.
TCM believes oily food can cause acne-prone skin in teens.

Types of Acne 

In general, acne can be classified as the following: 

Mild acne 

Teens with mild acne have blackheads or whiteheads, which appear when the pores are clogged. Contrary to popular belief, blackheads aren’t pores filled with dirt; they appear dark because they’re “open”, allowing the skin’s melanin to react with oxygen.

Moderate acne 

Adolescents with moderate acne have noticeably more pimples. They can appear as red, small bumps (papules) or as lesions filled with yellow pus (pustules). 

Severe acne 

Teenagers suffering from severe acne have many papules, pustules, and large, painful nodules. If left untreated, it may leave permanent scarring.

Types of Acne in TCM 

TCM believes that the locations of acne can indicate the state of a person’s organs and their meridian points. 

  • Forehead and nose acne
    Caused by Lung Heat with symptoms of Wind sensitivity and a red tongue with a thin yellow coat. 
  • Chest, shoulders, back and around the mouth
    Caused by Stomach Heat with symptoms of constipation, excessive thirst, foul breath, a big appetite, and a red tongue with a thick yellowish coat. 
  • Inflamed, pus-filled acne with an oily complexion
    Caused by Damp-Heat with symptoms of constant thirst, aversion to heat, and a red tongue with a thick yellow coating. 
  • Mild to moderate acne on the nose, around the mouth and between the eyebrows
    Caused by Blood Heat with symptoms of a flushed face, extreme sensitivity to heat, dry stools, dark urine, and a red tongue with spots. 
  • Severe, pus-filled acne with red, painful skin
    Caused by Toxic Heat with symptoms of lethargy and a red tongue with a sticky yellow coating.
A close-up, partial shot of a young woman’s face looking into a mirror; her face dotted with acne spots.
Acne-prone skin can be distressing for teenagers

How to Treat Acne-Prone Skin in Teens 

Some practical and natural ways to treat acne include: 

  • Maintaining good facial hygiene with natural products made from lemon juice, green tea or banana peel 
  • Using topical antibacterial creams  
  • Limiting the intake of fried, oily and sweet foods 
  • Staying hydrated 
  • Reducing hormonal imbalances by getting enough sleep, managing stress well and eating adequate nutrition 
  • Drink eight glasses of water daily to remove toxins in the body 
  • Consuming a well-balanced diet of proteins, good fats, grains, fruits, and vegetables 

In severe cases, a visit to a dermatologist might be needed. Likewise, a TCM physician needs to consider a teen’s physical constitution or any lifestyle and dietary factors to recommend an individualised treatment plan.

TCM-approved remedies for acne may include: 

Herbs 

Some Chinese herbs are believed to be able to treat the root causes of acne. Physician Pee recommends forsythia ((lian qiao, 连翘) and dandelion (pu gong ying, 蒲公英), to clear Excess Heat. Coix seed (yi yi ren, 薏苡仁) can remove Damp-Heat and strengthen the Spleen. Red peony root (chi shao, 赤芍) can eliminate Heat, cool blood and dispel Blood Stasis. 

The loquat leaves (pi pa ye, 枇杷叶) found in Pi Pa Qing Fei Yin (枇杷清肺饮) is known to clear Heat from the Lungs while herbs like rhubarb (da huang, 大黄) and hawthorn berry (shan zha, 山楂) work for Stomach Heat. Meanwhile, red sage root (dan shen, 丹参), Ciotis chinensis (huang lian, 黄连), peony root (dan pi, 丹皮), Radix rehmanniae (sheng di, 生地), and Scrophularia (xuan shen, 玄参) can be good for toxic Heat.

A 2003 study in Korea revealed that some herbs have valid anti-acne effects. The researchers found that Angelica dahurica (bai zhi, 白芷) and erythromycin are as potent as retinoic acid, a common remedy for acne. The study also showed that Rhizoma coptidis (huang lian, 黄连) is even more effective than retinoic acid and can help with toxic Heat too.

Acupuncture and acupressure

TCM physicians would also propose acupuncture therapy to treat hormonal acne. Acupuncture can be used to manage hormonal changes while strengthening the body and improving energy. To ease symptoms, acupressure may help. Real Health Medical Senior Physician Brandon Yew suggests these acupoints:

  • Qu chi (LI11, 曲池): Dispels Fire and Dampness
  • Chi ze (LU5, 尺泽): Dispels Fire and Dampness
  • He gu (LI4, 合谷): Dispels Fire, Dampness, Phlegm and Stagnated Qi
  • Nei guan (PC6, 內关): Rids the body of Fire, Phlegm, Stagnated Qi and blood clots
  • Zhong wan (RN12, 中脘): Rids the body of Fire, Dampness, Phlegm and Stagnated Qi
  • Xue hai (SP10, 血海): Rids the body of Fire, Dampness, and blood clots
  • Yin ling quan (SP9, 阴陵泉): Removes Dampness and Phlegm
  • Zu san li (ST36, 足三里): Removes Dampness, Phlegm and Stagnated Qi
  • Tai xi (KI3, 太溪): Removes Fire and regenerates yin (passive energy) to nourish Kidneys
  • Tai chong (LR3, 太沖): Dispels Fire, Stagnated Qi and blood clots; regenerates blood to nourish Liver

Among all the complex changes teens face during puberty, they sometimes must deal with insecurities caused by acne-prone skin. Share this article if you know of someone with this condition and can benefit from these tips. 

This is an adaptation of an article, “Teen Acne”, which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang website.

References

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2019. Acne: Overview. [online] [Accessed on 13 August 2022]
  2. American Academy of Dermatology Association. 2020. 5 ways to help your teenager survive acne. [online] [Accessed on 13 August 2022]
  3. National Centre for Biotechnology Information, 2000, The science and art of treating acne in adolescence, [online] [Accessed on 20 October 2022]

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