If you're almost a teen, chances are pretty good that you have some acne. About 8 in 10 preteens and teens have acne, along with many adults. In fact, about 17 million people in the United States have acne. Acne is so common that it's considered a normal part of growing from a kid to an adult.
But knowing that doesn't make it easier when you look in the mirror and see a big pimple on your chin! The good news is that learning about acne and taking some simple steps can help you feel better about your face.
Acne is a skin condition that shows up as different types of bumps. They include whiteheads, blackheads, red bumps (pimples), and bumps that are filled with pus (called pustules). What causes these annoying bumps? Well, your skin is covered with tiny holes called hair follicles, or pores. Pores contain sebaceous (say: suh-BAY-shus) glands (also called oil glands) that make sebum (say: SEE-bum), an oil that moistens your hair and skin.
Most of the time, the glands make the right amount of sebum and the pores are fine. But sometimes a pore gets clogged up with too much sebum, dead skin cells, and germs called bacteria. This can cause acne.
If a pore gets clogged up, closes, and bulges out from the skin, that's a whitehead. If a pore clogs up but stays open, the top surface can get dark and you're left with a blackhead. Sometimes the walls of the pore are broken, allowing sebum, bacteria, and dead skin cells to get under the skin. This causes a small, red infection called a pimple. Clogged-up pores that open up deep in the skin can lead to bigger infections known as cysts.
Why Do So Many Kids Get Acne?
A lot of kids and teens get a type of acne called acne vulgaris. It usually appears on the face, neck, shoulders, upper back, and chest. Teens and kids get acne because of the hormone changes that come with puberty. As you grow up and your body begins to develop, these hormones stimulate the sebaceous glands to make more sebum, and the glands can become overactive. When there is too much sebum, that oil clogs the pores and leads to acne.
If your parent had acne as a teen, it's likely that you will, too. Stress may make acne worse, because when you're stressed, your pores may make more sebum. Luckily, for most people acne gets better by the time they're in their twenties.
What Can I Do About Acne?
If you're worried about acne, here are some ways to keep pimples away:
- To help prevent the oil buildup that can lead to acne, wash your face once or twice a day with warm water and a mild soap or cleanser.
- Don't scrub your face. Scrubbing can actually make acne worse by irritating the skin. Wash gently, using your hands instead of a washcloth.
- If you wear makeup, moisturizer, or sunscreen, make sure they are "oil-free," "noncomedogenic," or "nonacnegenic."
- When you wash your face, take the time to remove all of your makeup.
- If you use hair sprays or gels, try to keep them away from your face because they can clog pores.
- If you have long hair, keep it away from your face and wash it regularly to reduce oil.
- Baseball caps and other hats can cause pimples along the hairline. Avoid them if you think they are making your acne worse.
- Wash your face after you've been exercising and sweating a lot.
- Try not to touch your face.
- Don't pick, squeeze, or pop pimples.
Many lotions and creams are sold at drugstores to help prevent acne and clear it up. You can try different ones to see which helps. Products with benzoyl peroxide (say: BEN-zoil peh-ROK-side) or salicylic (say: sal-uh-SIL-ick) acid in them are usually pretty helpful for treating acne. Benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria that can lead to acne and it also can reduce swelling (puffiness) of pimples. Salicylic acid is another acne-fighting ingredient. It causes skin to dry out and peel, which can help get rid of pimples, too.
When you use a product for acne, be sure to follow the directions exactly. Don't use more than you're supposed to because this can make your skin very red and very dry. It's also good to try just a little bit at first to be sure that you're not allergic to the product. Don't give up if you don't see results the next day. Acne medicine can take weeks or months to work.
What If I Get Pimples Anyway?
Some kids will rarely get a pimple — those lucky ducks! But many kids will get some pimples, even if they take steps to prevent acne. It's totally normal. In fact, some girls who have a handle on their acne may find that it comes out a few days before they get their periods. This is a common problem called premenstrual acne and is caused by hormonal changes in the body. Boys undergo hormonal changes, too, and may be more likely to suffer from severe forms of acne.
Even if you get acne, you don't want to make it worse. That's why it's important to keep your hands off your pimples. Try not to touch, squeeze, or pick at a pimple. When you play around with pimples, you can cause even more inflammation by poking at them or opening them up. Plus, the oil from your hands can't help! The worst part, though, is that picking at pimples may lead to scars on your face.
Some people will tell you that sitting out in the sun helps acne. But this isn't true. A suntan can make acne look less severe by hiding pimples, but it won't help them go away. And too much sun isn't a good idea anyway because it can give you a sunburn today and wrinkles and skin cancer later in life.
Kids who have serious acne can get help from their doctor or a dermatologist (a doctor who treats skin problems). Doctors can prescribe stronger medicine than you can buy at the store. Acne prescriptions can include stronger creams that prevent pimples from forming or antibiotics that decrease swelling (puffiness) and kill bacteria that cause pimples.
If you have acne, now you know some ways to improve your skin. And remember that you're not alone. Look around at your friends and you'll see that most kids and teens are in it together!
Reviewed by: Patrice Hyde, MD
Date reviewed: June 2014