Acne Treatment Tips for Teens

How you can help a teenager improve their skin and cope with breakouts

Learning how to manage teen acne can be a challenge. Aside from the fact that skin likely needs more care now than it ever has, everyone's acne is different—so what works for one person may not work for another.

The first step in managing teen acne is learning what does and doesn't actually cause breakouts, and what acne treatments are available. The next may involve some trial and error to figure out what works best.

Read on to learn about what may be causing your teen's acne and what isn't (though they may have heard otherwise). Review the variety of over-the-counter and prescription acne treatments, how best to care for skin, and how you can help them cope with this phase of life.

Tips for clearing acne
Verywell / Alexandra Gordon

Know What Doesn't Cause Acne

Contrary to what you may have heard, acne is not caused by:

  • A dirty face
  • Foods like chocolate or French fries
  • Masturbating, having sex, or not doing either

It can be tough when a teen is breaking out and their friends have clear skin. It's important that you tell them acne is not their fault.

For young people especially, acne can be triggered by hormonal fluctuations during puberty. Thanks to genetics, some people are also just more likely to get pimples than others.


Make Daily Skincare a Habit

Even though acne isn't caused by neglecting to wash your face, the excess oil and dirt that builds up throughout the day won't help. Sweat can also irritate your teen's skin and make acne worse.

That is why a good skincare routine is important. It only takes a few minutes a day and doesn't require a ton of fancy products. All your teen needs are basic face soap or cleanser, and a moisturizer if their skin is feeling dry.


Start With OTC Acne Treatments

If your teen's acne is mild, or if they've just started to break out, they might be able to clear their skin with over-the-counter (OTC) acne medications.

However, not all acne products are created equal. The most effective ones will contain one or more of the following active ingredients on the label:

If you're helping your teen pick a product, don't worry too much about the brand name or what form of treatment it is (e.g., a medicated cleanser, pad, or lotion). Choose a product that fits your budget and is easy for them to work into their daily routine.


Know When a Prescription May Be Needed

If they've tried a ton of OTC acne products and your teen is still breaking out, they might need a prescription. Your family's healthcare provider can recommend prescription options that may help get your teen's acne under control.

Your teen doesn't necessarily have to see a dermatologist for acne. It's likely that your family healthcare provider has helped many teenagers manage breakouts. They can refer you to a dermatologist if they think it's necessary.

An advantage of prescription medications is that they are stronger and usually work faster than the OTC products. Often, they work even when OTC products haven't.

If your teen's acne is severe, inflamed, or leaving scars, skip the OTC products and inquire about prescription medications right off the bat.


Consider Body Acne Treatment, Too

The face isn't the only place where acne can pop up. It also commonly appears in the following areas:

  • Back
  • Chest
  • Neck
  • Shoulders

Many of the same medications that are used on your teen's face can also be used for other body parts. Benzoyl peroxide soaps and body washes are often used to treat body breakouts.

Your teen's provider might also prescribe other medications, like oral antibiotics or even ​isotretinoin. This will depend on how serious your teen's acne breakouts are.


Encourage Consistency

Consistency is key to successful acne control. Your teen has to use the treatments every day.

Tell your teen that you know they're busy and there might be times when they just flat-out forget to do their skincare route. However, make sure your teen understands that if they're not using the products, their skin will not clear up.

While a teen is capable of taking on the responsibility of their own skin care, anyone starting a new habit can benefit from some help.

For example, you might:

  • Leave the products next to their toothbrush.
  • Pack extra acne cleanser in their bag if they play sports and clean up before heading home.
  • Keep a medicated cleanser in both the shower and next to the sink.
  • Place a tube of acne cream on their nightstand.
  • Suggest they set a reminder on their watch or cell phone.

Review the directions on the product packaging with them, even if using it seems obvious. Make sure your teen understands and follows all the instructions your provider gave, and let your provider know if you or your teen has any questions.

Once your teen gets into the habit of using acne treatments, they'll find that it doesn't take much time and the payoff is well worth the commitment.


Avoid Unproven Acne Remedies

Just like there are many myths about what causes acne, there are also a lot of misconceptions about what can be used to treat it.

The internet is full of unproven home remedies said to banish pimples, including:

  • Cinnamon
  • Garlic
  • Lemon juice
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Toothpaste
  • Urine
  • Glass cleaner

If your teen comes to you wanting to try these remedies, gently explain that they don't work but that there is plenty of evidence that tried-and-true acne treatments do.

If your teen is desperate to heal a big pimple, have them use an acne spot treatment. These work by delivering treatment directly to a blemish, reducing redness, swelling, and inflammation.


Offer Shaving Advice

Make sure your teen knows to shave carefully around an area with pimples. The more the skin is irritated, the redder and more inflamed it's going to look.

Here are a few tips to give your teen if they shave:

  • Shave around pimples, if possible
  • Avoid shaving the tops off of pimples.
  • Shave less often until inflammation goes down.

Offer Support

Your teen may not want to admit it, but acne can take a toll on their self-esteem. It can make them feel less confident, insecure, angry, and depressed.

These are normal feelings to have, but it's important to talk about them.

Starting treatment and seeing some positive results can really help your teen feel better. It also helps to support your teen in focusing on things other than their skin.

While you're waiting for results, help your teen stay distracted with sports, music, art, or any other interests they have.

There will likely be times when your teen just can't seem to not think about acne. If they seem preoccupied and distressed, make sure they know they can come to you for support.

It's also important to make sure your teen knows that if they'd rather not talk to you about how they're feeling, they should still reach out to someone else they trust—like a favorite teacher or coach.

You can also offer to help them get set up with a counselor or therapist if they're feeling very down and distracted by their acne.


Set Realistic Expectations

There are many acne treatment products that can clear your teen's skin. However, despite advertising claims, even the most effective products won't work magic overnight. They won't cure acne, either.

It will likely take at least six to eight weeks of treatment before your teen starts to notice a change in their skin. A full response to treatment may take 12 weeks.

If your teen is patient, they will almost certainly see improvement from using acne treatments. It just won't be as quick as some acne treatment products claim.


There are a lot of myths out there about the causes and treatment of acne. Here's the truth: If your teen is prone to acne, there are ways to treat it. By working with your family's healthcare provider or dermatologist, you can find over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription treatments that will work.

While they might be popular online or with their peers, make sure your teen avoids questionable home remedies for clearing up acne. Help them establish a simple skincare routine. No matter what treatment your teen is using, make sure they stick with it long enough for it to work.

A Word From Verywell

One way you can support your teen through dealing with acne is by making sure you're honest about what to expect. Your teen might be frustrated that they're still getting pimples while they're doing treatment, but that's normal. The breakouts won't stop all at once, but they will slowly start fading away if your teen keeps up with their skincare routine.

Even once their skin is clear, your teen still needs to keep up with their routine. Acne medications don't stop acne for good, they just keep it under control. If your teen stops using the medication, acne will probably come back.

If your teen is consistently feeling frustrated and even depressed about their skin, make sure they know they can talk to you about how they're feeling. If they'd rather not talk to you, help them connect with another trusted adult like a coach or school counselor.

8 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.
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By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.