Acne (Child)

Acne is a common skin problem. Sebaceous glands are located under the outer layer of skin. They secrete oil, which travels up hair follicles to soften the skin. But in preteens and teens, 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, hormonal changes, certain medicines, 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 advise over-the-counter products to treat acne. Or they might prescribe topical or oral medicine. 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 as often as instructed, even if the skin starts to clear.

  • Have your child put the medicine on all areas affected by acne. Treatment can help prevent new blemishes from starting.

  • Have your child gently wash their face with a facial cleanser. Make sure that your child does not scrub their face too hard or use too much medicine. This can make acne worse.

  • Tell your child to use noncomedogenic products for makeup, skin, and hair. They may cause fewer breakouts.

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

Follow-up care

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

Special notes to parents

If your child is very upset by their acne, talk with their healthcare provider. If your child seems depressed or suicidal, tell the healthcare provider right away.

Some acne treatments are not safe for use during pregnancy. If your child is pregnant, contact their healthcare provider right away.

When to call the healthcare provider

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

  • Acne gets worse

  • No change in acne after 8 weeks of medicine use

  • Pimples or cysts get very large or very painful

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