Since she was 8, Emmya Aguilar-Augustin has had severe acne speckled across her face, chest and back. She's tried popping her zits and washing her face more frequently, which made her condition worse.
For Emmya, now 12, her acne scarring isn’t just physical, it’s emotional.
“I know it affects her confidence,” said Gidette Augustin, Emmya’s mother. “If she has to go to a new school, it kind of affects her because it makes her a little afraid about what people are going to think about her.”
Unsightly zits and annoying pimples, one of the trademarks of being a teen, affect 85 percent of people between the ages of 12 and 24, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
But as the onset of puberty is occurring at a younger age, it’s not uncommon for dermatologists to see acne patients as young as seven.
“No one knows the actual reason why we are witnessing this trend of pre-adolescent acne,” said Dr. Latanya Benjamin, a pediatric dermatologist at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood. “There are theories out there, but it is still very controversial.”
Benjamin said some of the theories include diet, obesity, environmental factors and genetics.
Acne, one of the most common types of skin conditions, occurs when the hair follicles on the face become blocked with oil and dead skin cells, causing blackheads and whiteheads.
There’s also more severe, inflammatory acne, which is caused when a blocked follicle bursts open and releases bacteria into the skin. These inflamed pimples near the skin’s surface are called papules; when deeper in the skin, they are called pustules. Cystic acne occurs when bacteria goes deep into the skin, creating a tender red bump that is filled with pus. Nodules — large, hard, painful bumps — occur under the skin’s surface.
Dr. Ana M. Duarte, director of dermatology at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, said that while acne in 7- to 12-year-olds is not uncommon anymore, it can be a pre-cursor to more severe acne to come in the later teen years. She said that acne in 1- to 6-year-olds is something to be concerned about, as it could be linked to hormonal or reproductive issues.
“We take acne very seriously because it definitely can disrupt our kids’ lives. No teenager needs to miss out on any of their fun teen years,” Duarte said, explaining that acne can affect self-esteem and can cause introversion or depression.
Both Benjamin and Duarte said medical treatment is the best way to combat the condition.
Some of Benjamin’s patients have applied rubbing alcohol to their face, which actually dries out their skin, and others have used coconut oil, which is pore-clogging. Some think that over-scrubbing their face or multiple facials will dispel the acne, but it doesn’t — it only makes the skin more irritated.
“I think it’s great to give them gentle and effective treatment before they start displaying scars due to picking and popping their pimples,” Benjamin said.
Initially, a dermatologist will suggest using over-the-counter facial cleansers, containing Benzoyl Peroxide, an active ingredient that helps kill bacteria and removes excess oil and dead skin cells.
If that doesn’t work, the next step is typically topical retinoids, which aid in unclogging the pores and peeling the affected areas.
For difficult-to-treat cases, antibiotics might be prescribed.
Over the past two weeks, Emmya has followed a prescribed morning and night regimen, where she washes her face and back with an unscented Dove bar and PanOxyl soap, applies a facial moisturizer and takes Cephalexin, an antibiotic.
“I’m keeping up with my treatment every day,” said Emmya, who hopes to improve her appearance before the first day of seventh grade.
“It’s very gratifying to see patients pleased with their skin so they can go to school and focus on schoolwork,” Benjamin said.
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- Seek medical attention if over-the-counter acne washes are not working
- Apply sunscreen if there are dark spots from acne. Eventually it will help lighten and normalize the skin tones
- Don’t apply products that can block hair follicles, such as gels, hair products and thick makeups that can clog the pores
- No harsh facial scrubbing
- Avoid picking or popping pimples