I remember the days when waking up with a zit would throw my world into a state of chaos. In a mad rush, I would cleanse and conceal. If all else failed, depending on where it was on my face, I could cover it up with a bandana or a strategically tied scarf. Barring that, I faked sick.
Not much has changed since then – teens still get acne and it can feel to the sufferer like a national state of emergency. What has changed are the skincare options for doing battle with pimples. No longer relegated to the drugstore brands with ingredient lists that include pore-clogging petroleum and drying peroxides, teens today are being courted by a growing number of lines that claim botanicals can curb breakouts while protecting skin for the long run.
"Natural products are important for treating acne, as harsh chemicals can imbalance your sebaceous secretions and lead to overactive oil glands," says Kristen Ma, general manager of Pure + simple holistic spas. She advises young clients to look for products that contain witch hazel and turmeric oil (they're antiseptic), peppermint and black cumin seed oil (anti-bacterial and anti-microbial), and black mud (it can help regulate oil production).
Some brands, like Eminence Organics and Refresh Botanicals, aren't specifically marketed to teens, but they're worth considering. Eminence Organics' Clear Skin Probiotic Moisturizer contains cucumber and tea-tree oil to cool and detoxify skin, along with sweet almond milk and yogurt to moisturize and exfoliate. Products from Refresh Botanicals contain cornflower water to heal and prevent irritation.
Then there's Burt's Bees Anti-Blemish Solutions line. It contains willow-bark extract, which acts as a natural source of salicylic acid, which is shown to reduce acne, prevent breakouts and exfoliate.
As appealing as the idea of using natural products may be to teens and parents, they aren't always the best solution for treating serious cases of acne.
"With moderate to severe acne, there is no substitution for prescription medications," Dr. Jaggi Rao, clinical professor of medicine at the University of Alberta and director of Rao Dermatology in Edmonton, says. When it comes to more advanced types of acne, he says, "it is important to act quickly and thoroughly as any delay can further the development of acne scarring."
To bridge the gap between natural and medical acne solutions, Dermalogica is launching Skin Soothing Hydrating Lotion as part of its Clear Start range this month. It's an oil-free moisturizer with hyaluronic acid and squalane from sugarcane that is designed to reduce redness, inflammation and flakiness.
"Teens just want to use products that work," says Charmaine Cooper, Dermalogica education manager. "And while acne medications work, they have a very drying effect on skin." That last part might not worry a baby-faced 15-year-old, but to parents, who hold the crystal ball on aging, a forward-looking pimple approach will be welcome.