Your Skin

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on November 12, 2020

Your skin is just one more thing that changes when you go through puberty. Acne often starts in your early teen years because your body’s oil glands become more active, which is normal. A few different skin problems are a part of acne: whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, and cystic acne.

  1. Whiteheads are made when a hair follicle (root) is plugged with oil and skin cells.
  2. If this plugged up stuff comes up to the surface of the skin and the air touches it, it turns black -- a "blackhead." So, blackheads are not caused by dirt.
  3. If a plugged follicle breaks, the area swells and becomes a red bump. If this happens close to the surface of the skin, the bump most often becomes a pimple. If it breaks deep inside in the skin, nodules or cysts can form, which can look like larger pimples. This is cystic acne.

Acne is common among teens, but not everyone will have the same troubles. It may be worse in boys because they have more oil in their skin. Also, it can run in the family. If your mother or father had bad acne, the same may happen for you. Some people also just have more sensitive skin.

How Is Acne Treated?

First, wash your face regularly. If the acne does not go away, there are over-the-counter products (you can buy these without a prescription) available in different forms, such as gels, lotions, creams, pads, and soaps. Common ingredients used in most of these products to fight acne are benzoyl peroxide, resorcinol, salicylic acid, and sulfur. A topical retinoid gel is also now available and can actually help keep pimples from forming. If you have a bad skin reaction to any products you buy on your own, tell your doctor. Also, it can take time for these products to work. If they do not make your acne better after two or three months, ask your doctor for help.

The doctor can give you stronger medication, including antibiotics or other pills and creams that also have retinoids in them. Retinoids can make you very sensitive to the sun, so apply at night and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a physical blocker like zinc oxide and an SPF 30 or higher to protect yourself. Clascoterone cream (Winlevi), a topical anti-androgen and anti-inflammatory cream, can be used to treat boys and girls 12 years and older. Also oral spironolactone (Aldactone) is very helpful for treating acne and decreases the need for oral antibiotics for women. Another word of caution: the medicine isotretinoin (formerly sold as Accutane, now Absorica, Amnesteem, Claravis, Myorisan or Zenatane) can cause birth defects and miscarriages if taken when a woman is pregnant.

What Can Make Acne Worse?

  • Oil-based makeup, suntan oil, hair gels and sprays
  • Stress
  • Your period
  • Picking at pimples
  • Scrubbing skin too hard

What Doesn't Cause Acne?

Dirt, fried foods or chocolate, and sexual activity do not cause acne. These are myths!

WebMD Medical Reference


SOURCES: "Why Do I Get Acne?"

UC Davis Health System: "Don't let acne ruin those important teenage years." "Teens and Acne."


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