Acne (Child)

Sebaceous glands are located under the outer layer of skin. They secrete oil, which travels up hair follicles to soften the skin. In preteens and teens, however, hormones often cause these glands to become overactive. Hair follicles become plugged, blocking the oil. Bacteria grow inside the blocked follicles, causing inflammation. This creates acne lesions such as pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, or cysts. The lesions can be shallow or deep. They most often occur on the face, neck, chest, upper back, and upper arms.

Acne may be triggered by oil-based cosmetics and hair products, tight clothing such as turtlenecks or headbands, and rubbing or picking at the skin. Emotional stress and environmental factors, such as pollution, are also contributors. 

The goal of acne treatment is to minimize scarring and improve appearance. Treatment depends on the severity of the acne and age of the child. There are many topical and oral medicines available that relieve symptoms. Sometimes multiple medicines are used. Moderate or severe acne in a younger child may indicate a hormone imbalance. A blood test can check hormone levels.

Home care

Your child's healthcare provider may prescribe topical or oral medicine to treat the acne. Be sure your child follows the instructions when using these medicines.

The following are general care guidelines:

  • Encourage your child to be patient and give the medicine time to work. It may take up to 8 weeks or longer to see results.

  • Be sure your child uses the medicine every day, or as often as instructed, even if the skin starts to clear.

  • Have your child put the medicine on all areas where he or she gets acne. Treatment can help prevent new blemishes from starting.

  • Make sure that your child does not scrub his or her face too hard or use too much medicine. This will make the skin look worse.

  • Tell your child to use “non-comedogenic” makeup, skin, and hair products. They may cause fewer breakouts.

  • Discuss ways to help your child not rub or pick at the face because this could make the condition worse.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider as needed, or as advised.

Special notes to parents

If your child is very upset by his or her acne, talk with the child's healthcare provider. If your child seems depressed or suicidal, tell the doctor right away.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Worsening of acne

  • No change in acne after 8 weeks of medicine use

  • Pimples or cysts get very large or very painful

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