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Treatment for Acne

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Henry Bernstein, M.D.

Q: I'm 16 years old and I've been getting acne on and off throughout my teenage years. My acne is not like other people's acne -- I have little dots on my face. They are like clogged pores and I get a lot of them, sometimes with whiteheads. What kind of treatment should I use?

A: There are two types of acne -- large, red, pus-filled bumps or small blackheads or whiteheads. Acne is caused by overactive oil glands. When excess oil is made and released, tiny hair follicles on your face become clogged. When this happens, the clogged follicles trap bacteria, which then cause acne to develop. Unfortunately, you cannot completely prevent acne, but you can certainly help decrease how frequently and how severely your skin breaks out.

Most cases of acne can be controlled and cleared up, either by over-the-counter products or prescriptions from a doctor. To treat your acne, I would first recommend trying some over-the-counter acne products first. You may need to try a few to find what works best for you. If you have tried these products without enough improvement, I would talk with your doctor. She will be able to prescribe a medication that will help clear up your acne. If scarring seems to be occurring, you may want to consider visiting a dermatologist (skin doctor).

In the meantime, you can do some things to try to prevent future breakouts. Be sure to keep your face clean by washing your face twice a day with a mild soap. Wash more frequently if you have been sweating from exercise or the heat. Instead of a wash cloth, use your hands to wash your face to avoid over scrubbing and irritating your skin. When choosing cleansing products, lotions, and aftershaves, be sure the container says non-comedogenic or non-acnegenic. This means that the product tends not to clog pores. Avoid alcohol-based cleansers that can dry your skin and irritate your acne. Oil-based cleansers are not recommended because they, too, will clog your pores. Keep your hands away from your face because the hands can be very oily and contain a lot of bacteria. Most importantly, do not pop or squeeze your whiteheads. This will only worsen your acne and could lead to permanent scars.

Acne is common at your age and definitely can be treated. Remember to keep your face clean and use some anti-acne products. If the amount of improvement is not what you expected, speak more with your pediatrician.

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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.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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