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Ages & Stages

Food and Adolescent Acne

More than 80% of teenagers have acne, so if your youngster manages to get through adolescence with no more than a couple of skin blemishes, she’s one of the lucky few. Contrary to what most people believe, acne is not caused by chocolate, fried foods, candies, or anything else in a teenager’s usual diet. It’s not the result of constipation, nor is it a sign of sexual activity or the lack of it. Instead, it’s caused by increased levels of certain hormones that stimulate the fat glands in skin to step up production of sebum, an oily secretion that lubricates and protects the skin. Sebum, together with cast-off skin cells and other debris, blocks skin follicles, which can become infected or inflamed. The increase in sebum production may occur as early as 2 years before any other signs of puberty, and boys and girls as young as age 9 may have skin bumps and coarsened pores, especially in areas where sebaceous glands are numerous, such as around the nose and the middle of the face.

Acne often runs in families. Most cases are mild, and pimples and zits don’t usually leave permanent scars if the lesions are left alone. Over-the-counter lotions containing benzoyl peroxide can be helpful to prevent minor blemishes and mild to moderate acne. Your pediatrician or dermatologist can prescribe treatment for more severe or persistent acne. Occasionally some girls with severe or persistent acne have an underlying hormone imbalance with excess male hormones.

Oily creams and lotions can block skin follicles and promote sebum buildup. Teenagers should avoid oil-based skin and hair cosmetics and use non-perfumed, water-based products.

Vitamin Pills and Acne

For a teenager being treated for acne, vitamin supplements could be not only unnecessary but dangerous as well. Certain acne treatments available by prescription are derived from vitamin A. This fat-soluble vitamin is stored in the body and can build up to toxic levels if too much is consumed.

When a teenager is taking a vitamin A supplement at the same time as an oral acne treatment, you should talk to his pediatrician and make sure he’s not consuming toxic amounts of vitamin A, which could cause headaches, further skin and hair problems, and—in severe cases—liver and nerve damage.

That’s Not Chocolate, That’s Stress!

Although there’s no proven link between diet and acne, it won’t hurt to avoid chocolate and sugary or fatty foods if your teenager believes they trigger blemishes. Indeed, it may be better for her health. Adolescence is an inherently stressful time, and if stress triggers your child’s acne, measures to help her control stress may also help cut down on acne outbreaks. Some girls get more pimples before and during their periods. This is caused by changes in hormone levels.

Acne Triggers

There is little scientific support for food effects on acne, including chocolate. However, some diet changes may be associated with the premenstrual phase in young women or other stressors, which may provoke more pimples. Some people develop acne after consuming foods with high iodine content. The amount of iodine that will trigger acne is many times the normal dietary level. There isn’t enough iodine in seafood and iodized salt to cause skin problems, but acne has been linked to the high iodine levels in kelp, a seaweed extract sometimes included in sports drinks. A few medications can cause acne. Adolescents under treatment with certain steroids, antiepilepsy medications, or lithium should talk to their pediatricians about the effects of such medications on the skin.

Last Updated
Nutrition: What Every Parent Needs to Know (Copyright © American Academy of Pediatrics 2011)
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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