Acne Treatments for Teens

Teen Boy Applying Acne Cream
Photo: Bruce Ayers / Getty Images

Nearly every teen gets acne to some degree. And nearly every teen spends loads of time and money trying to get that acne to go away.

It seems everyone has advice: scrub the skin until it shines, stay away from chocolate and french fries, never touch the face because dirty hands cause breakouts. But even with an ultra-healthy diet and squeaky-clean skin, acne can still develop.

But you don't have to wait for acne to go away on its own. There are acne treatment options available that will help get breakouts under control.

Over-the-Counter Treatments for Teen Acne

When breakouts first appear, the first place most people turn is to the skin care aisle at the local drug store. There are plenty of over-the-counter acne products to choose from. Maybe even too many.

With all those choices, it's easy to get overwhelmed. But when you know what to look for, it's not too difficult to find the right OTC product.

First, look for an acne treatment cleanser. The brand name isn't important, as long as it contains either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Both of these are proven acne-fighting ingredients that help keep pores clear and stop breakouts before they start. Check the active ingredients on the product's label.

As long as the cleanser isn't making the skin too dry, you can build an OTC acne treatment routine by adding medicated pads, toners or an acne treatment lotion. Again, make sure these products contain either salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.

What about body acne? Breakouts on the body can be treated with a body wash or medicated soap bar containing (you guessed it) benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.

No matter what OTC product you choose, make sure to use it for 12 weeks continuously before deciding it's not working, or trying something else. Remember, over-the-counter products only work for mild acne and not for more serious breakouts.

Prescription Treatments for Teen Acne

For more persistent acne, or deep, inflamed nodules or painful cysts, a prescription acne medication is in order. Don't bounce from one OTC product to another looking for a solution.

Some signs that it's time to see a dermatologist about teen acne are inflamed breakouts, a general worsening of acne, or scarring,

Some topical prescription medications that are often prescribed to treat teen acne include:

Sometimes oral medications are needed to get stubborn acne under control. They are often used along with topical treatments. Systemic medications for acne include isotretinoin and oral antibiotics. Unlike topical medications, oral medications are generally used short-term. Once acne is significantly cleared, it can be kept in check with topical treatments alone.

Clear Skin Takes Time

It may take a few tries to find the right treatment, or combination of treatments, that is most effective. This can be frustrating, but try not to let it be discouraging. Each medication tried is ultimately one step closer to clear skin.

Also, expect that new breakouts will continue to form, even after treatment has begun. Pimples won't immediately stop appearing and acne may get a little bit worse before the medicine starts to take full effect.

Over time, breakouts will become smaller, less red, and will heal more quickly. It is a gradual process, not overnight clearing.

A Word from Verywell

Teen acne is a very common skin issue. Although frustrating, teenage acne can be treated.

Parents, know that "teen" acne can start as early as 8 years old. It's always better to treat your child's acne ASAP, even if it means a trip to the physician. (By the way, your kid's pediatrician can likely treat acne so don't overlook this resource.) Even if you don't think your teen's acne is that "bad," realize that even minor acne can feel like a big deal to a teenager.

Teens, if acne is making you feel depressed, anxious, or frustrated, let your parents or physician know. There are treatments out there that can help. (Also check out the acne treatment tips for girls, or acne treatment tips for boys for more personalized information on how to get pimples under control.)

Above all else, be patient. No matter what product or medication used, it takes time to work. Clear skin won't happen overnight, but with consistent treatment and a little time, teen acne can be cleared significantly.

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