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Helping Teenager with Acne
Q: I am a 14-year-old girl who is really trying to get rid of her pimples. I have tried many products and I've gone to my doctor for some cream. But none of it is helping. He doesn't want to give me something else. Are there any beauty tips that you know of? Do some foods make you break out more? I want to know everything!
A: You are not alone. Eighty-five percent of adolescents in the U.S. experience acne at some point. Treating acne can be frustrating. Separating fact from fiction can give you a head start.
Acne is a disease caused by the increased production of an oily substance in the glands of the skin. The increased levels of hormones during adolescence cause more of it to be produced. When this substance builds up in pores, a bacteria that normally lives on the skin grows in the pore and causes pimples. Acne is not caused by dirt, or by eating fatty foods (even chocolate!).
There are a few "beauty tips" to consider when trying to keep acne under control. Frequent face washing does not help, and may irritate the skin and make acne worse. You should wash gently twice a day with a mild soap, using only your fingers (no washcloths or other abrasive tools). Anti-bacterial soaps are not necessary. When purchasing cosmetics, look for "non-comedogenic" products, that advertise prevention of whiteheads and blackheads on the label. Hair care and styling products are okay to use, but try to avoid direct contact with the skin. And remember, squeezing and picking at pimples only make acne worse and can lead to scarring.
Finally, realize that all acne medications take approximately six to eight weeks to begin working, and acne may seem to get worse before it gets better. Try to be patient! Make sure that your doctor understands how your acne makes you feel, so that you can work together to find the best possible treatment.
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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.