Teen Acne

PimpleAccording to the American Academy of Dermatology, nearly 100% of all teenagers have at least the occasional skin breakout. More than 40% of teen acne is serious enough to require treatment by a doctor. While a pimple on your chin may not seem like an important life issue to an adult, parents should understand that even mild acne can have a significant impact on the way their teen feels about themselves. Consider the words of these teens that commented on a blog about acne on About.com:

“I just stay inside and don’t go anywhere because I’m so embarrassed. I think it’s not fair that some people with nice skin say that is no big deal but they don’t know how it feels to look ugly and stuff.”

“When (my acne) was its worst people would be like, ‘You should pop that pimple, its disgusting’ or ‘Ew she gets pimples; good thing we have good genes.’”

“I promised myself I would never let it bother me. But now, it’s like it is all I see. No getting away from it. I can’t look people in the eyes. I can’t even look in mirrors anymore. I’ve always been known as the ‘ugly’ friend, and for once I just want to feel pretty.”

Clearly, acne can place new pressures on teens who are already facing increased stress. A New Zealand study has shown that teens with severe acne are at risk for depression and suicide attempts.

What Can Parents Do?

Teach basic skin care early. Start instructing your child in basic skin care at a young age. If they establish a good habit early, it could prevent many future problems. Parents should explain the following facts about acne:

  • Acne develops when your skin produces excessive amounts of oil, known as sebum. The sebum and dead skin cells can build up, which then clog your pores and trap bacteria inside. The trapped bacteria causes inflammation (e.g. pimple or zit). Most acne begins on the nose, forehead, or chin. In more severe cases, acne may affect the neck, shoulders, chest, and back.
  • Acne is not caused by “dirty skin” or a lack of cleansing. In fact, scrubbing your face too often or using harsh soaps can make breakouts worse, not better. Your body’s hormones control the amount of sebum that is produced; some people simply produce more than others. Hormone changes during puberty make the skin more oily.
  • To help prevent acne, advise your child to:
    • Cleanse daily with a mild cleanser. Do not use harsh soaps or scrub your skin too often (no more than twice a day).
    • Exfoliate your skin 3-4 times per week to help reduce the amount of dead skin cells, which can contribute to blocked pores.
    • Avoid oily skin and hair care products or heavy makeup. Use skin products that say “noncomedogenic” on the label.


Don’t let acne become the elephant in the room. Many parents are afraid to mention their child’s breakout. They don’t want to hurt their child’s feelings, but if your teen has a breakout, you can be assured that they have definitely noticed and are likely desperate for help, even if they don’t ask. You will actually better preserve their self-esteem by helping them treat the acne than by ignoring the problem. Parents should not wait until their child’s acne becomes a major problem to seek treatment, as it’s easier to clear up a minor breakout than control severe acne. If your teen does not want to talk about their skin, do not push them. Back off and let them know you are happy to help them develop a treatment regimen or take them to a doctor, if they want.

Help your teen treat their acne. Once your teen has a breakout, help them develop a healthy treatment regimen. To begin, try an over-the-counter acne product at your local pharmacy or drugstore that contains benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. These medications work best when used just the way the label says. Applying the lotion or cream too often or in too great of concentration can easily cause excessive dryness, peeling, redness, irritation, and can actually increase healing time. Some people find astringents helpful at removing excess oil, though they should be used in moderation so the skin doesn’t get too dry or irritated. Advise your teen to not pick or pop existing blemishes. No matter how careful they are, playing with or popping pimples actually pushes the bacteria deeper in to the skin.

Encourage patience in your teen. Teens are usually very upset about the state of their skin and want a fast solution. It can be so hard to be patient! Unfortunately, skin is slow to heal and the treatments take time to work. Because of impatience, teens are more likely to jump from product to product or use topical medications in excess, trying to obtain a quick result. This will actually make the acne worse. Inform your teen that acne can absolutely be successfully controlled, given time and the right treatments. They need to try each treatment as directed for 3 months before making any changes to their regimen.

Call the doctor. If your child has been consistently and carefully treating their acne for 12 weeks, and you are not seeing a noticeable improvement, prescription treatments are needed. A dermatologist can suggest topical treatments or oral medications that may be more effective in moderate to severe acne.

Final Thoughts…

The most essential things a parent can do to help their teen with acne is to offer unconditional support, be involved in their treatment, and help them find areas of interest in which they can excel. Our culture creates an obsessive focus on physical appearance, and as a result, youth desire to fit the media’s image of “perfect.” However, teens who are involved in positive activities like sports, clubs, or volunteer work, are able to draw self-esteem from developing their innate talents and interests – a far healthier outlook.

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