Dos and Donts for Treating Teen Acne

Resist the urge to pop pimples; it can lead to scarring.

Teenagers are no strangers to acne (also known as pimples, zits, and blemishes). Indeed, acne is widespread, affecting about 8 in 10 adolescents, according to KidsHealth.

But what exactly is teen acne? And more importantly, why does it happen?

"Teen acne is a skin condition that causes bumps on the face, back, and chest. They are commonly referred to as whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, pustules, and cysts," says Elise I. Brantley, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with the Skin Cancer Center of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City.

Sebum is good for the skin, acting as a lubricant and a protectant, according to the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Don’t Underestimate the Emotional Toll of Acne

In the past, some doctors and parents underestimated how much teen acne can affect a young person's outlook on life, their social adjustment, and even their school performance. Today, we know that pimples can cause scarring not just on the skin, but also on the psyche, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Acne can be especially challenging when teens deal with bullying or name-calling as a result of perceived imperfections on their skin. The AAD further notes that the “longer acne lasts, the more likely it is to affect one’s emotions.”

The good news is that there’s no short supply of practical information on how to treat and manage teen acne.

Do Choose a Mild Cleanser and Warm Water

Choose a mild cleanser, such as Cetaphil, Cerave, or Dove, to avoid over- drying the skin. This is particularly important if you’re using prescription creams from your doctor, says Dr. Brantley. Don't scrub with a washcloth; use fingertips and wash the face gently, according to the AAD.

Just don't overdo it: Washing your face once in the morning and once at night is enough. Teen acne is not caused by a dirty face. In fact, washing your face too much can make pimples worse, warns the AAD.

The temperature of the water is also important. Interestingly, the NHS recommends washing and rinsing the face with warm water, not cold or hot water, which can worsen acne.

Don’t Use Over-the-Counter Medication Alone to Treat Severe Acne

Existing pimples take time to heal, about four to eight weeks with medication, the Mayo Clinic notes. For mild acne, topical creams, gels, and lotions can help unblock pores and reduce bacteria, thus improving the skin’s appearance. But moderate or severe acne will likely require an oral acne medication, such as antibiotics, isotretinoin, or birth control pills for women.

Work with your dermatologist to find the right acne medication for the degree of acne you have. "Use your acne medication only as directed by your doctor,” warns Brantley. "Don't use over-the-counter acne treatments in addition to your prescriptions without checking with your doctor. It is important to keep your skin in a healthy balance, and with acne treatments, more is not always better,” she says.

Do Moisturize Daily With Oil-Free and Noncomedogenic Products

"A mild daily moisturizer lotion or cream can be beneficial, especially if you’re using drying prescription creams from your doctor,” advises Brantley. “But don’t use heavy ointments or grease. These can further clog pores and aggravate acne,” she says.

The AAD suggests using a moisturizer that’s labeled oil-free and noncomedogenic, which means it won't create comedones, the blackheads and whiteheads that clog pores. Apply moisturizer right after applying acne face medication.

RELTED: The Skin-Care Glossary Everyone Needs to Have

Don’t Ever Sleep With Your Makeup On

Remove your makeup every night with gentle cleansing. “Sleeping with your makeup will clog your skin pores and cause acne breakouts," warns Yoram Harth, MD, a dermatologist and medical director of MDacne in San Francisco.

By the way: Don't use more makeup than you need during the day, suggests the NHS, and apply makeup after you put on your acne medication.

The type of makeup you opt for also matters. "These days most makeup brands are acne-friendly. The words to look for are 'noncomedogenic' and 'oil-free,'" says Brantley. Some makeup options include flesh-tinted lotions to hide pimples, and powder over an oil-free foundation.

Do Choose Nonoily Hair Products, Which May Touch Your Face

"Take care with applying hair products,” says Brantley. Products that come in contact with your face may further clog pores and make your acne flare, she warns. KidsHealth recommends avoiding hair-care products that add oil to your hair. It also helps to keep hair off your face and forehead, and to wash your hair every day. If you’ve started to shave, use care to avoid nicking pimples. When dealing with acne, an electric razor may work better than a razor blade, suggests John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

Don’t Pop or Pick at Your Pimples — Doing So Will Do More Harm Than Good

"No matter how hard we try, breakouts will happen. The most important thing to remember is to avoid popping pimples or picking your acne,” warns Brantley. “This can raise the chance of scarring, and it also takes longer for them to heal.” And while you might feel like hiding your pimples, keep your hands away from your face. That's just another way of spreading oils that can clog your pores.

Don’t Spend Too Much Time in the Sun Without Sunscreen

Hanging out at the beach or pool might be the perfect way to enjoy a hot day; just know that too much sun worsens acne in some people, says the Mayo Clinic.

Too much exposure can damage your skin and increase inflammation, making you susceptible to breakouts. And if you're taking acne medication, the AAD warns that some of these drugs can make your skin more sensitive to the sun's UV rays. This can lead to a blistering sunburn, so always protect your skin.

Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, and look for physical sunscreens that are less likely to cause skin irritation, according to the Mayo Clinic. It helps to avoid tanning beds, too.

A Final Word on Preventing and Managing Teen Acne

"Most preteens and teenagers will get acne at some point," says Brantley. Even though hormones and genes play a big role in teen acne, adopting good skin-care habits can get rid of zits and prevent the emotional and physical scars of acne.

If necessary, work with your doctor to find the right acne medication. Discuss possible therapies with your dermatologist or primary care physician, and make sure you understand all potential side effects before starting a treatment, recommends Shah.

Additional reporting by ishonest Editors.

The Latest in Acne

Speaking Acne: A Glossary of Common Terms

Learning the lingo can help you better understand what causes acne — and how to prevent breakouts and get rid of pimples.

‘Maskne’ Is the Latest Skin Problem — Here’s How to Prevent or Get Rid of It

Red spots and bumps along your mask line are potential signs of "maskne." Don't not wear a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic; instead, follow these tips...

7 Wellness Bloggers’ Best Tips for Taming Period Acne Flare-Ups

Read up on spot treatments to try, bad habits to bust, and diet changes to make to lessen the likelihood you’ll break out.

11 Common Acne Treatments, Explained

Looking to banish breakouts, blemishes, and red spots? Here’s how to find the right treatment for you.

Best Natural Remedies to Add to Your Anti-Acne Skincare Routine

While they can’t replace dermatologist-recommended acne treatments, these remedies can be a good, natural addition to your skincare routine.

Best Acne Treatments for Teens

Puberty is hard enough without having to deal with acne. These washes, toners, masks, and treatments can help fight those pesky breakouts.

Best Face Washes for Acne

These products can help control oil, clear breakouts, and prevent flare-ups.

Best Makeup for Oily and Acne-Prone Skin

These bronzers, primers, and tinted moisturizers for acne-prone skin can help create a flawless look.

Read more on: acne