Skincare Tips for Teens With Acne and Psoriasis

Taking care of these two conditions together can be tricky for anybody. These tips will help.

by Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Writer

You can get psoriasis and acne at almost any age, which means your teenager may be living with both conditions at the same time. How do you manage acne without aggravating your psoriasis and vice versa? “Navigating acne and psoriasis simultaneously certainly can be challenging,” says Sammy Kang, M.D., a pediatric dermatologist at Anne Arundel Dermatology in Millersville, MD. But there are ways to make it easier. We’re here with expert advice on how to help your teen manage this skincare double whammy like a pro.

Prep for a Visit With Your Derm

Don’t try to figure out a new skincare routine on your own. Book an appointment with your child’s dermatologist to come up with a treatment plan that takes the whole skin picture into consideration. Leading up to that appointment, it’s helpful to jot down any changes that have been going on. Empower your teen to track psoriasis or acne flares on their phone via an acne-tracker app or a simple calendar, where together you can notice patterns develop over time. Things to note: where on the body the blemishes or breakouts are occurring, skin dryness, products you are using, menstrual cycle, increased stress, sleep habits, and diet.

Reach for a Mild Cleanser

Oily skin can be a breeding ground for acne, so it’s instinctive to choose treatments that remove excess oil. But if you’re managing psoriasis, drying out the skin is a no-no. “Mild cleansers with salicylic acid are the best initial step,” says Tamy Buckel, M.D., a board certified dermatologist at Shore Dermatology in Chestertown, MD. These cleaners can also be found with ceramides and hyaluronic acid to minimize dryness, adds Dr. Buckel. Ceramides—an important component of the skin barrier—are fat molecules that help the skin retain moisture. Hyaluronic acid also works as a moisture-booster. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, hyaluronic acid benefited skin hydration by up to 96%. “When you start using a new cleanser or topical acne treatment, start by using it every other day to be sure that it is tolerated and not too drying,” advises Dr. Buckel.

Step Up Your Moisturizing Game

If your teen is managing an acne breakout, a moisturizer may be the last thing they think they need. But, if they’re using medications for their acne, these treatments can dry and irritate the skin and could worsen their psoriasis. Using a moisturizer every day can help the skin better tolerate acne meds, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Choose your moisturizer with care, advises Dr. Buckel. “A non-comedogenic moisturizer with SPF 30 can be applied in the morning to help reduce dryness if you are managing acne and psoriasis at the same time,” she says. Products labeled non-comedogenic are less likely to clog pores or cause a breakout.

Take a Look at Your Teen’s Eating Habits

While we still have a long way to go in understanding how diet affects the skin, there does seem to be a connection between acne severity and certain foods. Here’s what the research says:

Acne may be fueled by high-glycemic foods—those that cause a sharp spike in your blood sugar. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, a low-glycemic diet may lead to fewer pimples. Low-glycemic foods include green vegetables, most fruits, raw carrots, kidney beans, and chickpeas just to name a few examples. High-glycemic foods include white bread, pastries, white rice, chips, cereals and crackers.

Dairy could affect acne. Cow’s milk may lead to more breakouts according to the American Academy of Dermatology. One study of adolescents found high intakes (two or more glasses per day) of full-fat dairy products were associated with moderate to severe acne. And since psoriasis is an inflammatory disorder and dairy has been associated with inflammation, both conditions might be improved by limiting dairy intake.

Healthy fats are helpful. We know “good fats”—the kind you get from fish, olive oil, and nuts—can boost heart health, but they also could benefit your skin. Studies show that an increase in consumption of foods higher in omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to reduce inflammation, which in turn reduces acne breakouts. And on the psoriasis front, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation, omega-3s have been shown to decrease inflammation, which is a flare-fighting win.

A probiotic might be worth considering. Researchers continue to look into the connection between gut health and acne and have found, in one study, that adults who consumed a liquid probiotic supplement (these help grow beneficial bacteria in your gut) showed a marked improvement in their acne. This study suggests that probiotics might be a safe and beneficial dietary supplement to help improve acne. Ask your child’s doctor if this could help them.

Get Your Child’s Vitamin D Level Checked

According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, the benefits of vitamin D for those living with psoriasis has been known for decades. Turns out vitamin D may also be helpful for acne. In one recent study comparing people with either acne or psoriasis against a control group without a skin disorder, researchers found that vitamin D levels were low in a significant majority of those with the skin conditions compared to those without. It’s possible that asking your teen’s doctor about checking their vitamin D levels could lead to improvements in both their acne and psoriasis.

Get Mental-Health Help

Both acne and psoriasis can impact more than skin. According to one 2019 study, one in three people who had acne and psoriasis also had moderate or severe depression. Acne can also cause anxiety, low self-esteem, poor self-image, a decreased quality of life, and a feeling of being all alone, says the AAD. “Very often I notice improvement of a teenager’s psychological profile as his or her skin clears from appropriate treatment,” says Dr. Kang. Knowing that your teen’s skin may impact their emotional health, watching for signs of distress and looping in a mental health professional will go a long way in helping your child feel their best.

Weigh Pros and Cons of Alternative Treatments

In one study, over 60% of people with acne or psoriasis were found to have used at least one form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to treat their skin. The most frequently used method tried for acne and psoriasis was herbal therapy. While there is lack of strong evidence about the effectiveness of CAM on skin disorders, small studies that have shown promise with using tea tree oil and bee venom. However, by definition, CAM methods have not yet been accepted as a part of conventional medicine and have the potential to lead to side effects. Ask your doctor to guide you in any CAM therapies.

Bottom Line: If your teenager is managing acne and psoriasis, they are not alone. Talking with your doctor about treatment options and lifestyle modifications can put your child and their skin in a much better place, freeing up some headspace for all the academic and social awesomeness that comes with being a teenager.

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.

Davenport is the founder of Tracyshealthyliving.com. Using the latest scientific research, she helps people live their healthiest lives via one-on-one coaching, corporate talks, and sharing the more than 1,000 health-related articles she's authored.