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Don't Suffer: Teen Acne Is a 'Treatable Medical Condition'

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Oct. 25, 2000 -- Very few things can dampen the teen years the way that acne can, but new treatments may reduce the physical and emotional scars that teen acne often causes, according to experts speaking recently at a conference held by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

The most common skin disorder in any age group, acne -- whether it occurs on the face, back, chest, or shoulder -- affects 85% of all teens, or more than 20 million teens, according to the AAD. And in about 30% of these individuals, the acne persists through adulthood. An AAD survey found that acne can be especially distressing for teens, causing both emotional and physical scars.

"It is important for teen-agers and their parents to realize that both acne and acne scarring are treatable medical conditions," Steven Mandy, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Miami in Florida, said at the AAD-sponsored meeting in New York. "Early and ongoing therapy may reduce, and even prevent, the physical and emotional toll of this common skin condition."

While there is still no cure for acne, there are a variety of effective treatments that can control the sequence of events that cause acne, he says. Acne occurs when hair follicles containing sebaceous glands trap the oily substance they produce (sebum). It can be caused by changes in hormone levels and certain environmental or genetic factors, he says, adding that "stress can influence acne but it is not a sole cause."

But despite some common misperceptions, diet has no effect on acne and neither does dirty skin. "Acne has nothing to do with dirt," Mandy says. And "sunlight does not improve acne."

Appropriate treatment starts with an evaluation by a dermatologist, he adds. "It's always wise to see a doctor if you have enough acne to be concerned so he or she can give you a proper assessment of your skin," Mandy says. "When it comes to home care, there are a lot of products out there and what is good for the goose is not good for the gander."

After doing an evaluation, the dermatologist can advise on what type of soap or drying lotion is best for your skin type and help you make informed decisions on appropriate water-based and oil-free makeup and concealer.

These days, a dermatologist's arsenal of effective acne treatments includes topical creams such as tretinoin, adapelene, azelic acid, and tazarotene to help unclog oil ducts. Antibacterial agents, including benzoyl peroxide, alone or in combination with antibiotics such as erythromycin or clindamycin, can be added to topical creams. For girls, certain low-dose birth control pills also may help clear up skin. For severe, disfiguring and cystic acne, there is a drug called Accutane (isotretinoin).

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