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Q: How can I get rid of acne?
A: While more than three-quarters of all teenagers have some visible acne, most never visit a doctor for treatment. Acne is so common that doctors and even parents tend to overlook it as a health issue. They forget how important appearance is for all of us, but particularly for self-conscious, frustrated teens.
Acne is a common condition of the skin that presents itself as different kinds of bumps, including whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, and cysts. It develops where hair follicles or pores in the skin become clogged, which most frequently happens on the face, neck, shoulders, upper back, and chest. Hormonal changes during puberty stimulate oil glands to overproduce oil, contributing to acne in many teenagers.
For teens who don't get results using over-the-counter acne medications, treatment should be individualized and begun as early as possible. This is important in trying to minimize the inflammation and subsequent scarring that can result, if poorly treated. To keep your pores from getting clogged, wash your face with a mild soap and warm water at least twice a day and after you have been exercising or sweating a lot. Avoid scrubbing your face hard with a washcloth because this only irritates your skin and makes the acne worse. Avoid the temptation to pick at or play with acne, as this can create tiny scars on the face. Diet has not been scientifically proven to make acne worse; for example, large amounts of chocolate have no effect.
Most teenagers don't need to see a dermatologist (skin specialist) for treatment. The many medicines that are available in various strengths work in different ways, so your primary-care doctor can recommend the best treatment option for you. The ideal way to control acne is to know what it is, understand that it is treatable, follow a simple treatment plan, and keep in touch about it with your doctor. Also, remember to be patient: it takes time for acne to improve.
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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.