Overall, the key is to balance how well various washes and creams clear the skin versus how much they dry and irritate it. You'll just have to experiment - and keep in mind that other factors such as diet or hormonal ups and downs can affect the apparent results of topical treatments, and thus muddy the waters of your experiment. Hmm, one more complication in raising teenagers!
The number 1 natural treatment for acne is zinc. This mineral is critical for both hormone development (particularly testosterone) and for skin health, but if shortages of zinc make the body have to choose between reproduction and beauty, it will pick reproduction every time! White spots on the fingernails indicate zinc deficiency, but even without this sign your teenager could still benefit from zinc. Some studies have shown 50 mg. of zinc to be as effective as oral antibiotics for acne. Start with 50 mg. of zinc citrate per day. Try that for a month; if the results seem minimal, you could try 100 mg./day.
The second most important nutritional supplement for acne is fish oil. The essential fatty acids in fish oil make skin healthy and beautiful. Always use a molecularly distilled fish oil, because many fish these days unfortunately carry unhealthy loads of heavy metals and other toxins that must be purified. Most people take fish oil in capsules, but make sure your teenager is taking enough each day to get about 600 mg. of E.P.A., a long chain molecule which will be listed on the label.
Next, a product called Acnease is a blend of Chinese herbs that we've seen produce striking results. You can find it at the website, www. Acnease.com, and follow the directions there for its use. It's an aggressive (and somewhat expensive) formulation that is safer than oral antibiotics, but it still has the potential for somewhat imbalancing the digestive tract. So, we suggest trying this product when other ones have not done the job completely.
Some other nutrients can also help a lot:
Finally, keep in mind that your child may have to take nutritional supplements for several months for their beneficial effects to really take hold since it can take that long for the body to absorb enough to get up to effective levels.
As with other aspects of treating acne, some kids will get more benefit from dietary changes than others.
Dairy products - milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc..- are usually the most problematic foods. If your teenager can totally avoid these for a couple of weeks, you'll see if these make a signficant difference.
High amounts of insulin can increase acne, so reducing sugar and white flour products - which raise insulin levels - will often help. Avoid foods with trans-fatty acids, such as fried foods, margarine, and synthetically hydrogenated vegetable oils. Lower salt intake, especially if it has been "iodized." And then, there are people who simply cannot go near chocolate. Alas!
In closing, here's the boring but important parental lecture that all teens will shrug off to your face - but may remember quietly to themselves in their darkest moments: "You're a great person no matter what your skin looks like. Besides, you look really fine anyway. In the long run, what matters most is being a good person, treating others well, showing up in life, and trying your best. You're all those things already, so you're sure to succeed in life and be happy. And we completely love and support you."
Rick Hanson is a clinical psychologist, Jan Hanson is an acupuncturist/nutritionist, and they are raising a daughter and son, ages 12 and 14. With Ricki Pollycove, M.D., they are the principal authors of Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships, published by Penguin.