Banish that blemish! And keep it away for good! Here’s some ammo if you’re batting acne breakouts

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Ben was always on the quiet side, but he never had a problem making friends or fitting in when he was in grammar school. Things began to change when he turned 14. “My skin started to break out, “he says. “I was going into a new school, and I was really self-conscious. Some of my friends and the kids I saw on the bus were breaking out too, but I always felt that I looked worse.” Ben was so self-conscious about his skin that he made excuses not to go swimming all summer (“my back was a mess,” he says) and stopped raising his hand in class to avoid drawing attention to himself. Like most kids his age, Ben was struggling with the blemishes we call acne.


What Is Acne?

Acne is a broad term for those annoying whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples that approximately eight out of 10 teens get as they go through puberty. Here’s what happens: As your growth hormones kick in, the sebaceous (oil) glands in your hair follicles step up production. The oil is necessary to keep your skin and hair from becoming too dry. But adolescent glands are likely to be overactive and make too much oil. When that happens, pores get clogged with a combination of oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria.

Why does this happen to some teens and not to others? Your genes may have something to do with it: If your parents had acne, you have a greater chance of getting it too. Stress doesn’t cause acne, but in cases like Ben’s, it can make it worse by triggering the release of even more hormones.

Though it’s not unusual for adults in their 30s and 40s to battle breakouts occasionally, “the worst of it is usually over after the last growth spurt, generally around age 17 or 18,” says Mark Oestreicher, M.D., chairman of the dermatology department at Bridgeport Hospital in Connecticut. Dermatologists are medical doctors specializing in skin conditions. The good news: There’s plenty you can do to minimize breakouts, and products are available (both over-the-counter and through prescription) that can help.

Skin Care Basics

The most important thing to do for your skin is to keep it clean and free of excess sebum (oil) and bacteria. “It doesn’t matter if you use a washcloth or your hands. Just be gentle and cleanse two to three times a day,” says Dr. Oestreicher. Scrubbing vigorously will just irritate the skin and stimulate oil glands–the opposite of what you want to happen. An exfoliate scrub can be great for removing dead skin cells and making skin look better, but limit usage to once or twice a week.

After washing, go over your T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin) with a cotton ball moistened with astringent (toner) to remove excess oil. If an astringent feels too harsh and drying, try one that doesn’t contain alcohol. Either of these will remove makeup residue too. Sticky pore-strips may work for some people, but for others, they irritate the skin.

Existing blemishes then can be dried up with an over-the-counter cream containing benzoyl peroxide. Some of these even come in tinted formulas to match skin tone.

Some teens have combination skin; that is, they tend to have excess oil–and to break out-on their T-zones, yet their skin feels dry or looks flaky on the cheeks. In that case, use a water-based moisturizer. For makeup and sunscreen, choose products that are water-based and oil-free or that say “non-comedogenic” (non-clogging).

“If an over-the-counter agent doesn’t do enough, a dermatologist may prescribe an antibiotic cream or one with vitamin A,” says Dr. Oestreicher. “For the vast majority of teens, these help control acne until the body can take over and learn to limit oil production.” However, for teens with severe, cystic acne that doesn’t respond to OTC products or antibiotic creams, doctors may prescribe an oral retinoid medication. “It’s a medicine that can cure the problem permanently, but it’s also a medicine of last resort,” cautions Dr. Oestreicher. “In some cases it may cause depression.”


Students will understand the causes of acne as well as the basics of skin care and over-the-counter and prescription products intended to help control acne.


* How prevalent is acne among teens? (Eight out of 10 teens experience ache at one time or another as they go through puberty.)

* Describe how acne occurs. (As hormone levels rise in the teen years, the sebaceous glands in hair follicles begin to make more oil. The oil is necessary to keep skin and hair from becoming dry. During teen years, these glands are likely to be overactive and make too much oil. When that happens, pores get clogged with a combination of oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria.)

* What are some of the factors that can influence acne in teens? (Genetics is a factor: If one or both of your parents had acne, you have a greater chance of getting it. Stress, while not a cause of ache, can cause the release of extra hormones, which in turn may contribute to ache.)

* Outline a basic three-step formula for acne-control skincare basics. (1. Gently cleanse your skin two to three times per day to keep it clean and free of excess oil. 2. Go over your T-zone–forehead, nose, and chin–with a cotton ball moistened with an astringent or an alcohol-free toner.

3. Treat existing blemishes with an over-the-counter formula containing benzoyl peroxide. Patches of dry skin can be treated with a water-based moisturizer. If these measures do not work after faithfully following them for a few weeks, consult a dermatologist.)



l. Assign students to design a Shopper’s Tip Sheet for acne products, including an easy vocabulary reference that could help someone evaluate a product in the store. They should first compile a list of words that the class feels are important to include. They should include such terms as: astringent, exfoliate, cystic acne, noncomedogenic, sebaceous gland, etc. The tip sheet should be small, succinct, alphabetically ordered, and printed in a small font that is convenient yet readable.

2.Invite a dermatologist or a physician’s assistant who works in a skin care clinic to come to your class and discuss skin care basics briefly, focusing on acne treatments that are available only with a doctor’s supervision.


The American Academy of Dermatology maintains a site that can help you and your students locate dermatologists in your local area and obtain profiles about many of them. Visit


Zit Myths

1. Pimples don’t happen because a person is dirty.

2. Picking at pimples will not make them go away faster. Doing so can spread the infection. Worse, it can turn today’s pimple into tomorrow’s scar–and that’s permanent.

3. Tanning may make acne look better for a short time, but it won’t clear it up. Plus, to much sun can cause wrinkling and skin cancer later in life.

4. Soda and junk food are very rarely the cause of breakouts.

A Good-Skin Guide

Here are some pointers to help keep zits under control:

1. If you wear a baseball cap, wash it regularly. The dirt and oils on the band can lead to breakouts on your forehead. Dr. Oestreicher suggests carrying medicated pads in your pocket so you can clean your forehead easily during the day.

2. Love to gel your hair? Great, but keep the goo away from your face. That goes for sprays too.

3. Keep your hands off! Avoid resting your chin on your hand or touching your face frequently. And don’t cradle the telephone with your chin.

4. Change sheets and pillowcases frequently.

5. Avoid right clothes–they can aggravate breakouts on your chest and back.

6. Notice when your skin feels greasy (after sports or job flipping burgers, for example), and was as soon as you can.

7. Shampoo hair frequently. It doesn’t have to be every day, but chances are you can’t go as long as you did as a kid. Keep hair off your face.