Dealing with Acne

Puberty can often be a very challenging time in a child’s life. A changing physical appearance and the onset of new emotions and feelings may leave your son or daughter feeling a little nervous and worried. One of the most anxiety-provoking parts of puberty is often the appearance of acne. Of course, almost every child who is going through puberty will experience the occasional pimple, but these "zits" can be very upsetting, particularly in our appearance-conscious society. If your child is struggling with acne or is worried about developing pimples, be sure to talk to him about the basic acne facts.

Acne Anatomy
Acne has as many names as it has faces. Referred to as pimples, pustules, whiteheads, and of course, zits, acne is actually the result of oil, bacteria, and skin cells that become trapped inside of our skin’s pores. This blockage prevents excess oil and bacteria from escaping from beneath the skin, causing a red lesion or "pimple" to form. These pimples can form anywhere on the face, neck, chest, or back, and can sometimes be quite problematic, not to mention uncomfortable.

Though we refer to all pimples as acne, there are actually specific kinds of pimples that plague pre-teens and teens.

  • Whiteheads: Whiteheads are pimples that form when a pore is completely blocked by skin cells and oil. As a result, excess oil (called sebum) along with bacteria and dead skin cells accumulate beneath the skin’s surface. This combination gives the pimple the appearance of having a white head. Though unpleasant looking, whiteheads tend to have a shorter lifespan than most other pimples.
  • Blackheads: Blackheads are pimples that form when a pore becomes partially blocked. As a result, excess skin cells, oil, and bacteria rise to the surface of the pore. When this oil comes into contact with pigment in the skin (called melanin) and the oxygen in the air, it darkens, giving the pimple a black head. Contrary to popular belief, black heads are not caused by dirt or grime.
  • Pustules: Pustules are similar to whiteheads, only they become much more painful and inflamed. They often look like a red circle with a white or yellow center.
  • Cysts: Cysts are large pimples that are at least five millimeters in diameter. They often feel like hard bumps beneath the skin. They occur when bacteria, dead skin cells, and oil becomes pushed down deep into pores. As a result, cysts can become painful swellings that can last for months.

What Causes Acne?
The major cause of acne is the change in hormones that occurs during puberty. As your child’s body begins to increase hormone production, the oil glands in his body will begin to enlarge. These enlarged glands pump out more oil than usual, causing a bacteria, called p.acnes, to grow beneath the skin. Because of the bacteria, skin cells to stick to one another, allowing pores to close up and become clogged resulting in all those pimples.

Sometimes there can be other factors that contribute to the severity of acne, including stress, lack of sleep, or certain illnesses and diseases. Unfortunately, many pre-teens (and parents!) are mistaken about the causes of acne, blaming greasy foods, chocolate, or even sex for their development. It is important that you understand the true cause of acne and communicate it to your child.

Acne Do’s and Don’ts
Dealing with acne can be difficult, but it is often very significant for your child’s self esteem. If your child is getting the occasional pimple, here are some skin care topics that you might want to talk about.

  • Remind your child not to wash her face too much. While regular cleansing can help reduce acne, over-cleansing can actually make pimples worse because it irritates the skin.
  • Warn your child about the perils of pimple popping. Though it is definitely tempting, popping pimples can cause oil and bacteria to spread underneath the skin, resulting in redness and even permanent scars.
  • Encourage your child to cleanse his face twice daily with a mild, alcohol-free cleanser. These cleansers won’t strip the surface of the skin, and will help to reduce excess oil.
  • Advise your child on an over-the-counter remedy that may help dry out cases of uncomplicated acne. Look for acne products that contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, which help to kill the p.acnes bacteria.

When to See a Professional
If your child has severe acne, or if acne tends to run in the family, it might be a good idea to take him to visit the dermatologist. A dermatologist can assess the state of your child’s skin and recommend prescription-strength acne medications that can help with acne control. Dermatologists can recommend both topical and oral antibiotics that help to kill acne-causing bacteria beneath the skin.

Dealing with Acne Anxiety
If your child is suffering from acne, or is worried about developing acne in the future, it is important that you talk with her. Acne, whether it’s a serious case or a mild one, has been linked with cases of adolescent depression, social phobia, and eating disorders, so it’s necessary that you work with your child to allay any of her fears. Here are some ways in which you can support your child when it comes to dealing with acne.

  • Remind your child that acne happens to everyone. In fact, more than 85% of teens and adults under 25 suffer from acne. Even their favorite movie stars and musicians battle acne from time to time.
  • Tell your child that it isn’t his fault. Acne is not a punishment for eating that chocolate bar or doing badly in school. Acne is simply the result of all the changes that come with puberty. And though puberty can be uncomfortable, it also brings many wonderful changes and opportunities.
  • Speak to your child about your own personal battles with acne. Your child may be able to come to terms with her acne if she knows that you also experienced it.
  • Remind your pre-teen that acne isn’t forever. Most cases of acne disappear by the age of 20, and there are many wonderful treatments that help to reduce the appearance of pimples.
  • Encourage your child to look beyond their outward appearance. Life isn’t all about surfaces, but instead, it is about who he is inside.