Acne Treatment for Teens: A Parent's Guide

6 Steps to Help Your Teen Treat Acne

There are so many acne treatments for teens available today. But knowing where to start can be confusing and overwhelming.

Should you get your teen an over-the-counter acne product or is a prescription acne medication more appropriate? Or does your kid just need to wash their face more and eat less junk food (and does that even cause acne in the first place?)

With a bit of know-how, you can greatly reduce, or even completely clear up your child's acne. These 6 steps will show you how.

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Photo: Kin Images / Getty Images
Learning the basics of teen acne will help you help your child clear their skin. Photo: Kin Images / Getty Images

To truly understand acne and its treatment, you have to know what causes acne in the first place.

Acne affects nearly all teens to some degree. But you might be surprised to learn that acne can appear as early as age nine.

During puberty hormones go into overdrive. One of the many changes that happens during puberty is the growth and activation of the skin's sebaceous glands (also known as oil glands). This is why teens typically have oily skin while younger children do not. All this extra oil creates a skin that is more prone to breakouts.

But it's not just overactive oil glands that trigger acne. Some teens are predisposed to developing acne. There does seem to be a genetic component, so if you had acne your child is more likely to develop it too.

It's also important to separate acne fact from fiction. There are lots of myths about acne treatment and how it develops.

Acne isn't caused by a dirty face or not washing enough. It's not caused by eating too much junk food. Acne isn't caused by anything your teen is directly doing or not doing.

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Many times parents wait until their child's acne becomes a major problem before starting treatment. But it's always preferable to start treating acne before it progresses to something more serious. Mild acne is easier to treat and control than moderate to severe breakouts.

Ideally, you can start your teen on an over-the-counter acne treatment as soon as you notice breakouts. So, start treatment now, even if your teen just has small blemishes. Doing so can help protect their skin from scarring and preserve their self-esteem.

Of course, we don't live in an ideal world. Your teen may have been dealing with acne for a while now. If this is the case, or if your teen has inflamed pimples, benzoyl peroxide is the key ingredient to look for. This is the most effective over-the-counter acne-fighting ingredient available.

OTC acne treatments can take up to three months before they really start to work. During this time, your teen will likely still get new breakouts. After acne is under control, though, your teen will have to continue to use the acne products to keep breakouts at bay. Stop them altogether and acne will come back.

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If over-the-counter products just aren't cutting it, don't hesitate to talk to your teen's doctor (or encourage your teen to bring it up at their next appointment.)

Moderate to severe acne simply won't improve with over-the-counter products. Your teen will need a prescription acne medication to get real improvement.

There are many treatments available, from topical medications to oral medications. Your teen's physician will help decide which is the best option for your child.

It's important to not put off a trip to the doctor. Especially if your teen's acne is severe, scarring can happen that will last on their skin for the rest of their life.

You needn't see a dermatologist right away. Talk with your teen's regular physician. He can get your teen started on an acne treatment and refer you to a dermatologist if it's needed.

If you aren't seeing noticeable improvement after 10 to 12 weeks of treatment with over-the-counter products, prescription medications are needed.

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Open the Lines of Communication, Gently

Sometimes parents are afraid to bring up the topic, but if you've noticed a worsening of breakouts your child has too. Don't wait for your teen to ask for help (your kid may never ask). Take the first step and get the conversation going.

Approach your teen during a quiet time, not while rushing out the door to work or school. Be upfront, but not judgmental. Saying, "I'd like you to start on an acne treatment" will net far better results than "It's no wonder you have pimples with the amount of makeup you wear!"

If your teen does open up to you, don't downplay their feelings. A pimple may not seem like a big deal to you, but acne can be really demoralizing to a teenager.

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Your daughter wears heavy makeup to cover pimples. Your son stays away from the pool because of body acne. Acne can absolutely affect your teen's confidence, so they may need a bit more reassurance from Mom or Dad.

Girls, generally, tend to be more open about their feelings. Boys might not come right out and say it, but breakouts bother them too. Even mild acne can feel like a huge catastrophe to a teen.

Offer your support, be involved in their treatment, and help them find areas of interest in which they can really shine. Teens today often feel societal pressures to look "perfect." But kids who are involved in other activities like sports, clubs, or volunteer work, draw self-esteem from developing their innate talents and interests.

A Word from Verywell

Yes, acne is a natural, normal part of growing up. But that doesn't mean your teen needs to wait to outgrow it. There are many good, effective acne treatment options available today.

Whether an OTC product or a prescription medication, starting on a treatment can help boost their self esteem and reduce their chance of scarring. Your teen's doctor is a good resource if you have questions or need help with treatment.

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