A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Teen acne myth buster: What does and doesn’t work

Teenage girl examining her face in the mirror - Teen acne

Hormone changes stimulate acne, which is why teens experience breakouts more intensely than other age groups.

Whether your grandma claims to have the perfect home remedy, or your friend swears by an expensive mail-order product, the hard truth is no silver-bullet method cures acne.

What is acne?

“Acne is a skin process where pores get plugged, often with oily material,” said Dr. Thomas McIntee, a Marshfield Clinic dermatologist.

Whether acne shows up as blackheads, whiteheads or something more severe depends on the body’s response to the acne.

“If the body doesn’t like the clogged pore, it’s going to get inflamed. It’s going to get that white puss around it,” McIntee said. “All acne starts out as a blocked pore.”

Why do teens experience acne so intensely?

“Acne at its basis is a hormone-driven problem,” McIntee said. “It’s part hormones and part poor pore function.”

The fact that hormone changes stimulate acne explains why teens experience acne more than young children or adults.

McIntee said girls tend to see acne begin around ages 8 or 9, which is earlier than boys, who typically develop acne around ages 10-14.

Can it be serious?

For many teens, acne never gets more serious than a zit showing up right before prom, but it can have more severe consequences.

“It can progress to painful, inflamed legions that can scar and be quite disfiguring,” McIntee said. “There are some extreme types of acne where you can have internal symptoms, like fever and joint pain.”

Silver-bullet acne treatments debunked

McIntee discourages teens from squeezing zits because doing so can increase scarring and make acne worse. He also cautions teens to be wary of companies peddling miracle acne cures at a high price.

“There is no company that has a silver-bullet treatment for acne, so be wary of those saying they do,” McIntee said.

McIntee encourages reasonably priced, over-the-counter treatments for acne. If those treatments don’t work, consulting a dermatologist is a sensible next step.

“We encourage gentle hygiene, bland soaps and over-the-counter products containing either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid but nothing more than that. We definitely discourage aggressive scrubs or facial treatments that will increase scarring,” McIntee said.

Other quick tips to keep in mind about treatments for acne:

  • No substantial evidence suggests that diet has any effect on acne.
  • Laser or light treatments for acne don’t work.
  • Typically no science is behind home remedies you may find on the internet.

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