If your child is approaching his teenage years, chances are good that he’s experiencing some acne. Almost eight in 10 teens, along with plenty of adults, have acne. In fact, it’s so common, it’s considered a normal part of puberty.
A less common form of acne occurs in some babies during the first one to two months of life. This form of acne, called neonatal acne, is thought to be caused by a temporary increase in hormone levels just before and after birth. Neonatal acne usually goes away on its own without treatment. Infantile acne occurs in older infants and may last until they are 2 to 3 years old. Drug-induced acne occurs in children taking certain medications, including oral and topical steroids.
WHAT CAUSES ACNE?
Typical teenage acne is caused by oil that clogs the pores in the skin, but it can also be affected by changing hormones. As oil and bacteria build up, they can cause the skin to become red and inflamed. Acne is more common during puberty because this is a time when many hormones increase, and it’s these hormones that cause the skin to produce more oil. The type of acne that many teens get usually shows up on the face, neck, shoulders, upper back and chest. The hair follicles, or pores, in the skin contain sebaceous, or oil glands that make an oil called sebum that lubricates the 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 with too much sebum, dead skin cells and even bacteria, and acne can develop.
Most types of acne include whiteheads, blackheads, pimples and cysts. If a pore becomes clogged, closes and bulges out from the skin, a whitehead develops. If a pore becomes clogged but stays open, the top surface can darken and a blackhead forms. Sometimes, the walls of the pore are broken, allowing sebum, bacteria and dead skin cells to make their way under the skin. That causes a small, red infection called a pimple or zit. Clogged pores that open up deep in the skin can cause cysts, which are infections that are bigger than pimples. Acne is not caused by dirt. Simply washing or over washing one’s face, won’t make it better.
Acne isn’t caused by eating greasy foods or chocolate or drinking sodas. The only real cause of acne is overactive oil glands in the skin. And while stress doesn’t usually cause acne, it can worsen it because more sebum is usually produced when a person is stressed.
To help prevent acne:
There are many lotions and creams available at the drugstore to help treat and prevent acne. It is reasonable to experiment with these products to see what helps. Products with benzoyl peroxide, to cut down bacteria on the skin, are usually effective for treating acne, while salicylic or glycolic acids are used as a peeling or drying agents. Be sure to follow the instructions exactly. Don’t use more than you’re supposed to at one time (the skin may get too dried out, and feel and look worse), and follow any directions for determining whether you are allergic to it first. If you don’t see an improvement in four to six weeks of using over-the-counter medications with benzoyl peroxide, or if you just have whiteheads and blackheads, talk to your doctor about using a prescription medication to treat acne. The most important medicine for treating acne is often a prescription cream or gel in a class called retinoids (Vitamin A derivatives). Common brand names for these products are Retin A®, Differin® and Tazorac®. See a dermatologist if your doctor isn’t comfortable treating kids with acne or your current therapy isn’t providing satisfactory results.
It isn’t uncommon for your skin to become red, dry and irritated when beginning to use new acne medications. This usually improves with time and proper use of the product(s). Here are some suggestions to minimize irritation:
WHAT DOESN’T HELP
Sometimes even with washing, and using proper lotions and oil-free makeup, teens get acne. In fact, some girls who normally have a handle on their acne may find that it comes out a few days before they get their period. This is called premenstrual acne, and about seven out of 10 women get it from changes in hormones in the body. Some things that won’t help your acne go away any faster include touching, squeezing or picking at it. This might seem hard to do — it can be pretty tempting to try to get rid of it. But 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 doesn’t help. More important, though, picking at pimples can leave permanent scars on your face.
Acne isn’t really helped by the sun either. Although a suntan can temporarily make acne look less severe, it won’t help it go away permanently. And too much sun isn’t a good idea, because it can cause skin cancer and wrinkles later in life. So don’t soak up those rays — either under the sun or from a tanning bed — in an effort to help your skin.
It can take six to 12 weeks to see improvement and your skin may get worse before it starts getting better. Be patient and:
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