How to Treat Your Child's Acne

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Acne can be common for tweens between 8 and 12 years old. Fortunately, early treatment can help keep your child's acne from getting worse as they enter adolescence.

This article covers some things you can do to keep your child's skin healthy. It also goes over how to treat mild breakouts before they get worse.

Young woman looking at her zits in the mirror
Adene Sanchez / Getty Images

Know the First Signs of Acne

Acne usually starts when children reach puberty. Some kids show early signs of acne as soon as age 8.

While you don't want to fixate on your child's appearance, keeping an eye out for these first signs of acne will help you know when it's time to act.

Look for small blackheads and red bumps (papules) on your child's skin. Acne tends to start on the nose, so pay particular attention to this part of your child's face.

There are many kinds of pimples but they all start as a blocked pore (comedo) that is not red or swollen. When the spot gets infected with bacteria, it will become inflamed. An inflamed pimple is red, swollen, and painful.

As acne gets worse, it can spread to the forehead, cheeks, and chin. Your goal is to catch your child's breakouts before they start to spread.

Start acne treatment as soon as you notice comedones—don't wait to see if your child's skin clears up. Acne does not improve on its own. The sooner you start treatment, the better the results will be.

Teach Your Tween Good Skincare Habits

It's important to make good skincare a habit before your child enters their teen years. Kids should begin washing their faces every night at around age 9. Have them use warm water and a mild soap like Dove or Neutrogena. Daily washing is often enough to handle mild pore blockages.

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

Your child's skin is sensitive, so choose gentle products. Harsh products can cause more skin irritation. Make sure you discourage scrubbing—it won't clear acne, but can irritate the skin.

Use Mild Acne Treatment Creams

If your child's acne is inflamed and is not getting better with medicated cleansers, try benzoyl peroxide cream. It's a very successful acne treatment that works by killing bacteria that cause inflammation. Look for a benzoyl peroxide cream with 5% strength.

Benzoyl peroxide can be purchased over the counter (OTC). You'll find it in the skincare aisle of the pharmacy or grocery store.

Have your tween apply a thin layer of benzoyl peroxide cream on all affected areas of skin once or twice a day after they've cleansed. Watch for redness, irritation, or excessive dryness. If these side effects occur, have them scale back their use to every other day.

Have a Hands-off Policy

It's important that your child does not pick at or "pop" pimples. Picking or popping can force infected material deeper into the skin and make a blemish worse.

Picking at a pimple can cause scarring and makes inflammation worse. Sometimes, it can even lead to a serious infection.

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

Explain that popping pimples can make them redder and easier to see. Popping and picking can also cause more breakouts.

Get Help From an Expert

If your child's acne isn't improving with home treatment or if it is negatively affecting their mental well-being, it's time to see a dermatologist. Ask your child's primary care provider or pediatrician for a referral, if needed.

Don't wait to reach out for more help. The sooner acne is treated, the better. A dermatologist can create an acne treatment plan for your child.


It's common for tweens to get acne, but it's 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 your tween 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 can be a helpful resource in terms of recommending stronger treatment.

A Word From Verywell

Children are sometimes reluctant to talk about their skin problems—especially if they feel self-conscious about their breakouts. You don't want to nag them about their skin. However, it is important to have a supportive, ongoing, non-judgmental conversation about the importance of taking care of their skin and treating their acne consistently.

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?

  2. Nemours KidsHealth. Why do I get acne?.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Teens and acne treatment.

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

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.