One of the most dreaded teenage experiences is acne: pimples, whiteheads, blackheads and other skin blemishes can seem disastrous. According to Dr. Michael Cairns, MD, a dermatologist at Blanchard Valley Associates, acne is a common, normal part of bodily changes during puberty, but kids and teens can take steps to care for their skin and perhaps avoid, or minimize, the condition.
First, let’s clear up some myths. Dr. Cairns says that one myth is that acne is due to being dirty, which is not true. “Another common myth,” he said, “is that diet is very important in acne. Although it can play a minor role in some people, it is not as important as most people think that it is.”
The true cause of acne is glands that produce oils which get trapped inside hair follicles. “The oils cannot get out of the hair follicles easily and can build up to form a whitehead or a blackhead,” explained Dr. Cairns. Redness, soreness and inflammation that sometimes accompanies acne is due to a common bacteria that can break down those oils and cause swelling. Children as young as 8 or 9 who might be in the early stages of puberty may begin experiencing acne. However, acne problems typically begin around age 12 or 13.
Over the counter products
Dr. Cairns recommends two over-the-counter products that can be effective for treating acne. Adapalene gels “can help to release the oils that are trapped in the hair follicles,” while benzoyl peroxide products “help to decrease the number of bacteria that contribute to inflammation and also, to a lesser degree, help to release the oils that are trapped in the skin and in the hair follicles.” Dr. Cairns noted that these treatments can dry out the skin, making it important to use a gentle cleanser and to moisturize daily.
Time to see a dermatologist?
Dr. Cairns said that over-the-counter treatments are usually effective for mild to moderate cases of acne. However, “when someone is bothered by their acne and it has not responded adequately to safe, over-the-counter products, it’s time to consider seeking further help, which is available through medical care.”