Q&A on Adolescent Acne | Pediatricians in Tampa Bay | Offices in Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas

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Q&A on Adolescent Acne

Do you have acne? If so you are not alone! About 30 million people in the United States have acne, making it the most common disease of the skin. Acne usually starts during puberty and genetics may play a big role. If one or both of your parents had acne, there is a good chance that you may develop it as well.


What is acne?

Acne occurs when there is an overproduction of an oily waxy substance called sebum from our pores. When the pore is open the air causes a darkening of the sebum leading to a “blackhead”, or “open comedo.” A “closed comedo” occurs when the skin has covered over most of the opening to the pore burying the plug. When bacteria from the skin are trapped in the pore they start an inflammatory process that leads to red pustules or deeper more painful nodules and cysts.


When does acne appear?

Acne generally does not become a problem until adolescence when increased hormone levels cause the skin's oil glands to work overtime. One of the oldest acne myths is that acne is caused by your diet. Extensive scientific studies have not found a single connection between what you eat and your acne. In other words, chocolate, French Fries, pizza and other fast foods DO NOT CAUSE ACNE. However, it does make sense to limit fatty foods to prevent obesity, and fruits and vegetables that are high in anti-oxidants will make your skin healthier.


What can I do to minimize acne symptoms?

While there is no "magic bullet" that will cure this common skin condition, there are many things that you can do to reduce your symptoms. The following are some general instructions for people with acne:

  • Since acne is not the result of poor hygiene, it cannot be washed away. It is okay to gently wash your face twice a day with a mild soap or skin cleanser. Washing more often may remove so much of the protective coating of oil that your skin may become damaged and inflamed. Don't scrub your face. Scrubbing can actually make acne worse by irritating the skin.
  • Do not spend too much time in the sun. If you are going outside in the sun use sunscreen. Although it seems that drying of the skin with sunlight would help, the opposite is true since sunlight and heat increase skin oil production.
  • If you wear makeup, moisturizer, or sunscreen, make sure they are "oil-free," or "non-comedogenic.” Take the time to remove your makeup before washing your face.
  • If you use hair sprays or gels, try to keep them away from your face because they can clog pores.
  • Emotions can affect your health. Try to avoid or reduce your stress. A recent study showed that teens under high levels of stress were 23% more likely to have increased acne problems.
  • Would you believe that much of the skin damage with acne is self-inflicted? According to dermatologists, nothing is more likely to produce scarring than squeezing the fresh pimple. Resist the temptation to burst the pimple as this will only injure the skin and underlying tissues.


How is acne treated?

Acne isn’t always something you simply outgrow, but it is something your doctor can help you treat.

Treatment of acne consists of a multitude of over-the-counter medications or treatments available by prescription only. Treating acne takes time. Don’t be tempted by overnight promises. It can take several weeks to see improvements and acne will frequently look worse before it gets better.

Americans spend over $260 million dollars a year on over-the-counter medications that promise to hide, dry, or clear pimples. While not all these treatments live up to their billing, the best ones contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. These topical medications are available without a prescription and help to open the pores, unplug blackheads and zap the bacteria that trigger the pimples. An amount the size of a pea is usually enough to cover most of the face. Be warned; until it has dried, benzoyl peroxide can cause bleaching of your clothing, sheets or towels.

If you have more serious acne or do not respond well to over-the-counter treatments you can get help from your pediatrician. Retinoids are examples of topical prescription products. They work by opening clogged pores and preventing acne formation.  They can be used alone or in combination with benzoyl peroxide or topical antibiotics. Occasionally your pediatrician may also include a course of oral antibiotics in order to kill the skin bacteria that clog pores and contribute to inflammation.

Sometimes oral antibiotics and topical medication may not be enough. At that point a dermatologist may prescribe a medication called Accutane. Accutane is indicated for cystic or scarring acne that doesn't respond to other treatments. This medication is reserved for the most severe forms of acne. It not only disrupts plug formation but also shrinks the sebaceous glands that cause oil secretion. Taken orally, Accutane cures or greatly reduces acne in up to 90 percent of cases. However, teens and adults on Accutane need close monitoring by a dermatologist because of potential serous side effects.

Remember- It is important that teens with acne never take medication prescribed for a friend. This can be very dangerous.

Acne affects more than just a person’s skin. With so much of our self-esteem resting on how we look,even mild acne can be an unwelcome companion. Treating your skin right should be a part of your daily routine.  Keeping it healthy and looking great can give you more confidence, so talk to your doctor today!