Teen Acne

Acne is a common skin condition that presents as pimples, cysts, whiteheads or blackheads. Hormonal changes stimulating oil glands can lead to clogged pores and teenage acne. Proper treatment and skin care can help clear teen acne.

Last Modified: September 5, 2023
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What Is Teen Acne?

Teen acne is a common skin condition that can appear on the face, neck, shoulders, back and chest. The sebaceous glands concentrated in these areas of the body make sebum, the oil that lubricates and protects hair and skin.

The amount of sebum produced is heavily influenced by certain hormones in your body, such as testosterone. Although acne is determined by our genes and family history, it’s usually triggered by the hormonal changes caused by puberty.

Pores can become clogged with sebum and dead skin cells, which leads to increased levels of certain bacteria in your skin. Although these bacteria are typically harmless and help your skin ward off other more harmful bacteria, at higher levels they can cause irritation and inflammation. Sweat and the pressure of clothing, such as baseball caps or headbands, can worsen breakouts.

Acne can appear in different forms, from blackheads to cysts, and include:
  • Whiteheads: Pores clogged with sebum may close and form a bump on the skin.
  • Blackheads: Clogged pores may stay open and form a dark surface.
  • Pustules: Pus-filled bumps with a whitish-yellow appearance and a red ring are often painful and associated with moderate to severe acne.
  • Papules: Solid, inflamed bumps are red and associated with mild to moderate acne. They are commonly known as pimples.
  • Cysts and Nodules: A severe form of acne in which clogged pores happen deep under the skin and become infected. Cystic acne is bigger than a papule (pimple) and is often painful. Nodular acne can feel like knots under the skin.

Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, with 80% of people aged 11 to 30 experiencing a mild form at some point in their lives. Teen acne often lasts for several years and typically goes away in a person’s early 20s.

Acne can sometimes take a toll on mental and emotional health. Seeking a therapist’s professional support can help alleviate any psychological distress associated with acne.

What Causes Teen Acne?

The major cause of teen acne is increased hormone levels. During puberty, the hormones associated with it, such as insulin-like growth factor-1, increase the number of sebaceous glands on the skin. These also begin to produce more oil, leading to a higher likelihood of clogged pores and acne.

The sebum produced by the body travels up the hair follicles to the skin. These follicles and especially the adjacent pores can become clogged, and skin bacteria may start to grow, leading to inflammation and acne breakouts.

Several things can worsen acne if it already exists. Stress, lack of sleep, smoking and eating sugary foods can all worsen acne.

In addition to the oil and grease from the scalp, certain cosmetics can worsen acne.

If your skin is prone to acne, it’s important to use cosmetics that don’t aggravate it. Choose a makeup, foundation or concealer that says noncomedogenic or oil-free on the label and apply it gently.

Although regular cleansing is an integral part of the acne routine, it’s important to remember that washing your face alone will not clear up acne because that’s not what causes the condition. In fact, washing too frequently can lead to skin irritation and dryness.

How to Treat Teen Acne

There are many over-the-counter topical products to treat teen acne, but if it is severe, it’s a good idea to see a dermatologist for stronger treatments. Seeking early acne treatment is a good strategy for mild or severe cases. Acne that is treated early may prevent acne scars. In general, before initiating any treatment you should speak to your doctor. They can help guide you to the treatment that’s best for you.

Tips that will help alleviate acne:
  • Use over-the-counter products with lower strengths of benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Try varying combinations and products. Experiment but be patient because it may take weeks of daily use to see results.
  • Avoid squeezing or popping your pimples because this may lead to scarring and infection.
  • Keep your hair out of your face.
  • Avoid excessive exposure to sunlight, which can trigger new breakouts by causing your skin to produce additional oil.

In addition to leave-on products, cleansers and other treatments, remember to prioritize sleep, wash after a workout and avoid oily products for skin and hair care. Also, a balanced diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and limits processed carbohydrates can decrease your chance of breakouts.

When to See a Doctor for Teen Acne

Seek treatment from a dermatologist if over-the-counter treatments aren’t working, or if acne is leading to poor self-image or signs of depression or anxiety.

Effectively treating acne can prevent ongoing breakouts and possible scarring. After diagnosing the acne, a medical professional will develop a unique treatment plan. Medical treatments may include prescription medications, laser or light therapy, corticosteroid injections and dietary advice.

Can Teen Acne Be Prevented?

Acne prevention is not always possible because its cause is hormonal. However, with appropriate skin care, you can take steps to help prevent it from getting worse.

  • Wash twice a day and after sweating.
  • Be gentle; don't scrub your skin.
  • Shampoo regularly if you have oily hair.
  • Avoid oily makeup and skin care products.
  • Wash clothes and sheets regularly to avoid transferring dirt or oil back to your skin.
  • Keep your hands off your face and let your skin heal naturally.
  • Try to get enough sleep and reduce stress.
  • Stay away from tanning beds and sun exposure as much as possible.

While it may not be possible to avoid getting acne, there are treatments to help it clear so acne doesn’t interfere with daily activities or self-image.

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.