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Ages & Stages

Teens and Acne Treatment

I'm starting to get pimples! What can I do to get rid of them?

The bad news—There's no cure for acne. The good news—It usually clears up as you get older. In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to help keep those zits under control.

Types of treatments

Benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide wash, lotion, or gel—the most effective acne treatment you can get without a prescription. It helps kill bacteria in the skin, unplug oil ducts, and heal pimples. There are a lot of different brands and different strengths (2.25% up to 10%). The gel may dry out your skin and make it redder than the wash or lotion, so try the wash or lotion first.

How to use benzoyl peroxide

  • Start slowly—only once a day with a 5% wash or lotion. After a week, try using it twice a day (morning and night) if your skin isn’t too red or isn’t peeling.
  • Don’t just dab it on top of your pimples. Apply a thin layer to the entire area where pimples may occur. Avoid the skin around your eyes.
  • If your acne isn’t any better after 4 to 6 weeks, try a 10% lotion or gel. Use it once a day at first and then try twice a day if it doesn’t irritate your skin.

Stronger treatments

  • Retinoid. If benzoyl peroxide doesn’t get your zits under control, your doctor may prescribe a retinoid to be used on the skin (like Retin A, Differin, and other brand names). This comes in a cream or gel and helps unplug oil ducts. It must be used exactly as directed. Try to stay out of the sun (including tanning salons) when taking this medicine. Retinoids can cause your skin to peel and turn red.
  • Antibiotics, in cream, lotion, solution, or gel form, may be used for “inflammatory” acne (when you have red bumps or pus bumps). Antibiotics in pill form may be used if the treatments used on the skin don’t help.
  • Isotretinoin (brand names are Accutane, Amnesteem, Sotret, and Claravis) is a very strong medicine taken as a pill. It’s only used for severe acne that hasn’t responded adequately to other treatments. Because it’s such a powerful drug, it must never be taken just before or during pregnancy. There is a danger of severe or even fatal deformities to unborn babies. Patients who take this medicine must be carefully supervised by a doctor knowledgeable about its usage, such as a pediatric dermatologist or other expert in treating acne. Isotretinoin should be used cautiously (and only with careful monitoring by a dermatologist and psychiatrist) in patients with a history of depression. Don’t be surprised
    if your doctor requires a negative pregnancy test, some blood tests, and a signed consent form before prescribing isotretinoin.


The following are things to keep in mind no matter what treatment you use:

  • Be patient. Give each treatment enough time to work. It may take 3 to 6 weeks or longer before you see a change and 12 weeks for maximum improvement.
  • Be faithful. Follow your program every day. Don't stop and start each time your skin changes.  Not using it regularly is the most common reason why treatments fail. 
  • Follow directions. Not using it correctly can result in treatment failure or troublesome side effects.
  • Only use your medicine. Doctors prescribe medicine specifically for particular patients. What's good for a friend may not be good for you.
  • Don't overdo it. Too much scrubbing makes skin worse. Too much benzoyl peroxide or topical retinoid creams can make your face red and scaly. Too much oral antibiotic may cause side effects.
  • Don't worry about what other people think. It's no fun having acne, and some people may say hurtful things about it. Try not to let it bother you. Most teens get some acne at some point. Also remember that acne is temporary, and there are a lot of treatment options to keep it under control.
Last Updated
Acne - How to Treat and Control It (Copyright © 2010 American Academy of Pediatrics, Updated 12/2013)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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