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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 go into overdrive. 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 medications available that relieve symptoms. Sometimes multiple medications are used. Moderate or severe acne in a younger child may indicate a hormone imbalance. A blood test can check hormone levels.

Home care

The doctor may prescribe topical or oral medications to treat the acne. Be sure your child follows the doctor’s instructions when using these medications.

The following are general care guidelines:

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

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

  • Have your child put the medication 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 medication. This will make the skin look worse.

  • Tell your child to use water-based or “noncomedogenic” makeup and skin and hair products. They cause fewer breakouts than oil-based products.

  • Discuss ways to help your child not rub or pick at the face.

Follow-up care

Follow up as advised by the doctor or our staff.

Special notes to parents

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

When to seek medical care

Get prompt medical attention if any of the following occur:

  • Worsening of acne

  • No change in acne after 8 weeks of medication

  • Pimples or cysts get very large or very painful


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