Almost every teen dreads the day that he or she wakes up, looks in the mirror, and sees a zit starting to form. Since teens place such great importance on their appearance, zits and other skin blemishes can rock their confidence and even hurt their self-esteem. Although many teens get acne, it does not reduce the feelings of embarrassment associated with having pimples that other people can see. The good news is that acne often subsides after puberty, making it a short-term problem for most teens. For teens that struggle with acne throughout their lives, there are acne treatments that can keep zits under control and reduce acne scarring.
Acne is a condition that occurs when the pores get blocked with dirt, dead skin cells, and oil. This allows bacteria to grow, causing blemishes to form on the face, back, and other parts of the body. Whiteheads form when the pores are clogged so badly that air cannot come into contact with the dirt, oil, and dead skin cells. Blackheads also form when the pores are clogged with dirt, oil, and dead skin cells, but the opening to the surface of the skin is larger. This allows air to come into contact with the material in the pores, causing a chemical reaction known as oxidation. Oxidation is what causes blackheads to take on their black color.
Pustules are inflamed red circles that have yellow or white centers. Severe cases of acne may also result in the formation of nodules. Nodules are hard bumps that form under the skin’s surface. These bumps are large and may cause pain. Cysts are similar to nodules, but they are filled with pus. Nodules and cysts may leave scars, especially if they are squeezed. Acne scars form when deep lesions begin to heal. The body’s natural healing process signals the skin around the lesion to form new collagen, a tissue that helps keep the skin strong and healthy. Even though the skin does a good job of repairing itself, the skin never looks exactly the same as it did before the lesion formed. If the skin produces too much collagen, it can result in a raised scar forming in place of the lesion.
Acne has two major causes: the production of too much oil and the presence of hair follicles that get clogged easily. Sebaceous glands which produce oil are also known as sebum. Their job is to keep the skin and hair moist. When the sebaceous glands work properly, they produce just enough sebum. If something causes them to produce too much sebum, the excess oil can clog the pores and cause acne. Hormonal changes can cause the overproduction of sebum, so women who are pregnant or menstruating may develop acne. Taking oral contraceptives can also cause hormonal changes that result in the production of too much sebum. In some teens, genetics are the culprit when acne rears its ugly head. If a parent had a problem with acne as a teen, it’s likely that his or her kids will have the same problem. In some teens, the hair follicles clog easily due to the use of oil-based makeup and moisturizers. Cells can also clump together in the hair follicles, allowing dirt, oil, and dead skin cells to become trapped.
Acne is especially difficult for teens entering puberty. Puberty is when the body changes in preparation for adulthood. These changes are caused by hormones, so the skin gets oilier during this period. This may cause pimples to form on the face, chest, upper back, and buttocks. Teens should take good care of their skin by washing twice per day with a mild soap. Those with acne should also avoid picking their pimples, as this can lead to scarring. Puberty also leads to growth spurts, voice changes, development of underarm hair, and other body changes. This can be a confusing time for teens, but it is a perfectly natural part of growing up. Having acne can be one of the most aggravating things in a teen’s life, especially when blemishes form on the face. Just wearing a shirt is enough to hide back and chest acne, but there is no way to hide the face during school and social activities. Acne changes the appearance of the skin, so some teens even find themselves getting picked on by other kids. Taking care of acne can also be frustrating, as there are hundreds of creams, lotions, pills, and powders that promise to clear up pimples. Some of these treatments contain harsh chemicals that dry the skin and may cause other skin problems. Prescription antibiotics used for acne can cause nausea, vomiting, and other unwanted side effects. Some products have no effect on how to get rid of acne at all. Teens should remember that acne has a natural cycle. Babies are often born with acne, but it clears up after birth. Teens who have acne usually find that their pimples disappear once the hormonal changes of puberty settle down. Women may experience acne during hormonal shifts and have normal skin at other times. For most people, the cyclical nature of acne means it won’t last forever.
Even though teens cannot control their glands, they have several options for getting oily skin and acne under control. In addition to washing with a mild soap, try medications containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. These medications dry up excess oil so that it does not clog the pores. Although more research is needed to determine if diet causes acne, preliminary research suggests that a diet high in refined sugars may lead to acne or cause acne to worsen. Teens should avoid foods made with white sugar and white flour in favor of foods made with whole grains. Swap out white pasta, bread, and rice for whole-wheat pasta, bread, and rice. Cutting back on the number of drinks made with sugar can also improve acne. This means avoiding soda, sweetened iced tea, and fruit drinks in favor of natural fruit juices and water. With proper skin care and diet, some teens may find it possible to control their breakouts.
These resources provide in-depth information about the causes of acne and explain how teens can care for their skin properly.
- McKinley Health Center Acne Guide
- Antibiotics and Acne
- All About Puberty
- Skin Care Tips for Teens
- Oily Skin
- Western Diet Found to Influence Acne
- Acne Scars: Answers to Common Questions
- Acne Fact Sheet for Women