How to Treat Your Child's Acne

Almost every teen gets acne to some degree. Fortunately, early treatment can help keep your child's acne from getting worse.

There are many different kinds of pimples. All pimples begin as a comedo, which is a blocked pore that is not red or swollen. When a comedo is infected with bacteria, it will become inflamed. An inflamed pimple becomes red, swollen, and painful.

This article looks at some of the things you can do to keep your teen's skin healthy. It also looks at how you can clear mild breakouts before they get worse.

Young woman looking at her zits in the mirror
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Be Alert For the First Signs of Acne

Teen acne usually begins when children reach puberty. Some children show beginning signs of acne as early as age 8.

Watch for small blackheads and red bumps called papules. Acne usually starts on the nose, so pay particular attention to this part of the face.

As acne gets worse, it spreads to the forehead, then the cheeks and chin. Your goal is to catch breakouts early, before they start to spread.

Start acne treatment as soon as comedones appear. Don't just wait to see if it gets better. Acne does not improve on its own. The sooner you begin treatment the better the results will be.

Teach Your Tween Good Skincare Habits

It's important to start good skincare habits before the teen years. Children should begin washing their faces every night starting at around age 9. Have them use warm water and a mild soap like Dove or Neutrogena.

Daily washing will often be enough to improve mild pore blockages. This is especially important for boys. Boys tend to develop more severe and longer-lasting acne.

If your child has inflamed pimples, have them use a benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid cleanser once or twice a day. If these cleansers dry out your child's face, use a moisturizer after washing. Be sure to choose one that is oil-free and fragrance-free.

Choose very mild products. Your child's skin is sensitive, and harsh products can irritate the skin. Don't encourage scrubbing. Scrubbing won't clear acne, but it can irritate the skin.

Use Mild Acne Treatment Creams

If your child's acne is inflamed and it isn't getting better with medicated cleansers, a benzoyl peroxide cream may help. Choose one with 5% strength.

Benzoyl peroxide can be purchased over the counter. Look for it in the skincare aisle. This medicine works by killing the bacteria that cause inflammation. It is very successful in treating mild acne.

Apply a thin layer of benzoyl peroxide cream over all affected areas once or twice a day after cleansing. Watch for redness, irritation, or excessive dryness. If these occur, scale back use to every other day.

Recap

Good skincare habits can help improve acne. Teach your child to wash daily with a mild cleanser or a benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid cleanser. Over-the-counter acne cream may also help.

Teach a Hands-off Policy

Teach your child not to pick at or "pop" pimples. Picking or popping can force infected material deeper into the skin. This can make the pimple worse.

Picking at a pimple can cause scarring. It may also make inflammation worse. Sometimes it can even lead to a serious infection.

Young teens may find it hard to stop picking at their acne. You may need to gently remind them to keep their hands away from their face.

Explain that popping pimples can make them more red and obvious. Popping and picking can also cause more breakouts.

See a Doctor If Needed

See a dermatologist if your child's acne isn't improving with home treatment, or if it is impacting your child's mental well-being. Your dermatologist can help create a treatment plan. Again, don't wait to seek treatment. The sooner you begin treating acne, the easier it is to control.

Summary

Almost every teen experiences acne in some form. Acne is easier to treat in the early stages.

Have your child use a mild cleanser nightly. For inflamed acne, a cleanser with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid may help. Acne cream can also be used to treat persistent acne.

Teach teens not to touch their face or pick at acne. This can make breakouts worse and could lead to infection.

If your child's acne doesn't improve with home treatment, a dermatologist may be able to help.

A Word From Verywell

Children are sometimes reluctant to talk about their skin problems. This is especially true if they feel self-conscious about their breakouts. Try not to nag about your child's skin. Above all, be supportive. 

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. What causes acne? Updated November 21, 2015.

  2. Nemours KidsHealth. Why do I get acne? Reviewed June 2014.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Teens and acne treatment. Updated November 27, 2013.

Additional Reading
  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Acne. Reviewed August 2020.