How to... reach out to teens with acne

10th March 2016 at 12:00
Problem skin
Michael Willcocks is the man behind a new initiative called School Derm Time that aims to assist schools in helping teens with skin problems. Here he explains why schools need to do more in this area.

Having a spotty face is often seen as just another part of being a teenager. But for some young people, the problem is more serious − the state of their skin begins to control every aspect of their life.

Skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, vitiligo and eczema can affect a student’s ability to fulfil their academic potential, to socialise, to go on school trips or to participate in sport. It can even determine their overall attendance at school. Despite these serious emotional side effects, it is extremely rare for teenagers to proactively express their anxieties over their skin.

I believe schools should be providing an outlet for those young people who are silently upset by a skin condition. I had acne at school. For years, I bottled everything up, because I thought nobody would understand what I was going through. All I needed was a prompt from the school, anything that resonated with how I felt.

That’s why I’ve launched a new initiative called School Derm Time, which aims to normalise the discussion of skin conditions and to give young people the chance to express themselves. 

The British Skin Foundation and the British Association of Dermatologists are already supporting the project on their official social media feeds, but I’m encouraging schools to address the issue directly.

It is important that teachers understand the specific challenges that students with skin conditions face if they are to offer the right support. To help with this, I have produced a downloadable resource, which contains a list of everyday examples of how skin conditions can affect a young person's whole school life.

Here are four examples that may not have occurred to you:

  1. Lighting
    Fluorescent lighting is invariably harsh and highlights imperfections. Natural light coming in through a classroom window can be even harsher. A young person with acne may become focused on how light is hitting their face and be withdrawn and reluctant to participate in class as a result.
  2. Sport
    Anything that involves sweating and the face being under exertion will cause anxiety, so students may try to avoid sports activities completely. Remember that acne does not only affect the face. If you have acne on your back, then the prospect of removing clothing to change for PE can be terrifying.
  3. School trips
    The residential trip can be the biggest fear of teenagers with acne. The prospect of communal sleeping and bathroom arrangements can override the really strong desire to go. Pupils may avoid putting themselves forward for trips simply because of anxiety.
  4. Inventing excuses
    When a student is struggling with a skin condition, they may behave in unusual ways. Their mood may seem odd and their decisions may be hard for others to understand. Even though this is all down to their skin, they might feel forced to invent excuses rather than share the real reason for their actions.

Michael Willcocks is a member of the Vale Royal/South Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group’s Expert Patient Panel. You can download the first School Derm Time resource, How to reach out to teenagers with skin conditions, directly from TES. Follow @schooldermtime and #schooldermtime for updates about the initiative.

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