First, acne’s just as universal as it ever was. “The causes of acne are predominantly a mixture of genetics, active oil glands in the skin, and secondary changes that are seen in most all teenagers,” says Lawrence Eichenfield, M.D., Chief of Pediatric and Adolescent Dermatology at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. It can start as young as age nine, especially in girls, and when it’s severe, it can lead to scarring and loss of self-esteem.
Although dermatologists used to tell teens that eating French fries and chocolate or wearing makeup would worsen acne, researchers no longer believe that’s the case. “Diet, hygiene and sexual practices have no bearing on acne,” says Richard Antaya, M.D., Director of Pediatric Dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. “A few studies have suggested stress makes acne worse, including a study showing the worsening of acne during the stress of final exams in college students.”
While it may relieve your child to realize he’s not to blame for his acne, he’ll undoubtedly want to find a solution. Most acne, dermatologists say, can be treated with over the counter products containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. If their acne doesn’t improve, if it becomes cystic (forming painful, inflamed bumps under the skin), or if it scars, a consultation with a dermatologist is in order.
The dermatologist may choose to treat the acne with topical antibiotics to reduce bacteria and inflammation, or with oral antibiotics. Retinoids like Retin-A can stop whiteheads and clogged pores. In some cases, hormonal therapy (birth control pills) may be prescribed to prevent break-outs in girls. In severe cases, the dermatologist may prescribe Accutane (isotretinoin), a drug which shrinks the oil glands and can permanently eliminate acne, but which carries the risk of serious side effects. Because it causes birth defects, it’s a last resort for anyone who could become pregnant, even accidentally.
While there’s probably no one on earth who’s never had a pimple, modern medicine can make truly spotty complexions a thing of the past. If your child feels self-conscious about the face he or she is presenting to the world, see a dermatologist; he or she can probably get things cleared up in no time.