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Teens, Sun and Acne

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

With the sun beating down on many us, this seems like the beginning of  a long, hot summer. I am already seeing kids with sunburned shoulders and noses, and this brings to mind all of my teenage patients who are using products, both OTC and prescription, for treatment of their acne.

Although I discuss sun protection with teens throughout the year, summer is an especially important time to re-iterate the risk of sunburn and sun damage, especially for those who are using acne products.

While I was growing up (many moons ago), we all thought that baking our faces in the sun helped with pimples and acne. In fact, you may see some improvement in a teens “pimply” skin after they have been in the sun, but at what cost?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 80% of lifetime sun exposure occurs before the age of 18.  Blistering sunburns before the age of twelve (think about those peeling noses) and freckles before age 12 are both signs that too much sun exposure has happened.

Many teens use over the counter products containing glycolics, lactic acids and salicylic acid products.  These products promote exfoliation (peeling) of the skin which results in more sun sensitivity.

Teens are also often prescribed a group of drugs called retinoids that are applied topically to control acne.  The most common names are Retin-A, Differin (a retinoid analog), Tretinoin (generic), Renova, Tazorac, and combination products like Ziana, and Epiduo.

These products cause exfoliation of the top layer of the skin which initially causes increased sun sensitivity, but after about the first 30 days of using these products you actually get thickening of the skin and therefore will have minimal to no increase in sun sensitivity as long as you are not getting red, dry or irritated from these products.

I typically do not begin a teen on a retinoid product during the summer months if they are planning significant sun exposure. Procedures such as micro-dermabrasion and peels will also cause increased sensitivity early on.

Due to the above statements it  is important that teens using topical ( as well as oral) acne products apply a daily facial sunscreen.   Products such as Oil of Olay Complete 15 or Complete Defense 30, or Neutrogena Dry Touch #30 are both inexpensive and well tolerated.

When buying a facial sunscreen you want to make sure that the product says “non-comedogenic, non-greasy, non-irritating and broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) coverage. For sun exposure at the pool/beach/sporting activities etc. I would use a higher sunscreen product like Neutrogena Dry Touch 55.

You want to apply these to the face 30 minutes prior to sun exposure.  Make sure that you are using more than enough sunscreen on the face, squirt out enough that it looks like you have too much and just keep rubbing it on until it disappears.

We are all guilty of applying too little sunscreen when using these products. Rule of thumb is a shot glass full of sunscreen can cover the whole body, but also needs to be reapplied every 2 hours.

Lastly, hats and sun protective clothing definitely have a place in preventing sun damage to teens faces. These are especially useful for teens who may be lifeguarding, working on outdoor projects, or spending long hours with continuous sun exposure. Do not allow your teens to tan in a tanning booth either as this is even WORSE than tanning outdoors.

If you do get a facial sunburn try mixing 1 part vinegar to 4-6 parts water to make a solution. Chill the solution and use a well soaked washcloth to apply to affected areas. Ibuprofen is also more effective for pain relief and inflammation than acetaminophen.

Frequent moisturization as well as the use of a OTC topical steroid cream may also ease the symptoms, but the skin damage has already been done.

With good sun protection, and a little planning a head, most teens can continue to use their acne treatment products.

That’s your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue now!

Related Posts on www.kidsdr.com

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