If you're a teen and you have acne, you're not alone. Most teenagers develop acne at some point, thanks in great part to the hormone changes that are taking place in your body during this stage of life. Acne takes several forms, and you may have some or all of them. You can't cure acne, but you can control it with proper skin care and both prescription and over-the-counter treatments. Acne usually goes away by the time you are 20 or 25.
Acne is the result of plugged-up oil glands in your skin that are sometimes inflamed or infected. These glands are located in tiny follicles, or pores, in your skin from which fine, almost invisible, hairs grow. In your teen years, puberty causes hormonal changes that stimulate these hair follicles to produce an oily substance known as sebum. When the follicle is blocked, the sebum becomes trapped in the skin. The result is acne.
Acne appears on your face, neck or shoulders as whiteheads, blackheads and red bumps or cysts, commonly known as pimples. Whiteheads are clogged glands that are closed. Blackheads are whiteheads that have been exposed to the air, which causes them to darken. Small and large cysts are inflamed glands that may become infected with bacteria and are sometimes painful.
When you clean your skin, you remove old skin cells, and this shedding of old skin can help release oils and bacteria and prevent some of the pore-clogging that results in acne. Washing your hair also helps prevent acne from forming around the scalp, forehead and neck. Although makeup generally won't cause acne, Philina Lamb, MD, a dermatologist at the University of California, Davis, advises teens to avoid mineral-based powders, which can aggravate acne, and to use cosmetic products that are non-comedogenic, which means they won't clog your pores.
Over-the-counter topical medications that help treat acne include gels, creams, lotions and cleansers containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. These medications encourage exfoliation--shedding of dead skin cells--and help kill bacteria on the skin. Retin-A and other prescription medications are available for acne that doesn't improve with the use of nonprescription treatments. Dermatologist sometimes prescribe stronger acne-fighting medications, such as isotretinoin (Accutane) or antibiotics, for teens with especially severe or persistent acne.
Acne is not caused by poor diet, nor can you control it by including or excluding any foods from your diet. You also cannot get acne from any form of sexual activity, and while cleanliness and good hygiene are important aspects of skin care, you also will not get acne by forgetting to wash your face.
Although sunlight causes skin shedding and may help clear up your skin, it is important to use sunscreen when sunbathing outdoors or at a tanning salon to prevent the risk of developing skin cancer.
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