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What makes teen acne worse?

Krowchuk Daniel

Daniel Krowchuk, MD, FAAP


teen girl pimple

Acne can be aggravated by many things.

Here are a few things that can actually make acne worse:

  • Pinching, popping or picking at pimples may cause them to become larger, take longer to disappear or scar.

  • Washing too often or with harsh soaps may irritate the skin and make it hard to use the medicines that are prescribed by your doctor. To prevent this, wash only once or twice a day with a mild soap.

  • Some make-up, cover-ups or hair greases may block pores and make acne worse. If you use makeup or moisturizers, choose those that are oil-free and labeled as "won't block pores," "nonacnegenic" or "noncomedogenic." If you use hair grease, try not to get it on the skin.

  • Equipment (like helmets or chinstraps) or tight clothing that puts pressure on the skin may make acne worse in the area.

  • Menstrual periods change hormones, and many teens notice a worsening of acne before period.

  • Stress―for some teenagers―may make acne worse.

Did you know?

Despite many myths, foods like chocolate or French fries almost never make acne worse. See Food and Adolescent Acne for more information.

So, what can help treat acne?

Acne does not go away overnight with treatment. It takes time―more time than you would like―to unblock the pores. In fact, it takes 6 to 8 weeks (or sometimes longer) of using medicine before you see a change in your skin. Encourage your teen to be patient and not to give up too soon.

There are many medicines used to treat acne (like benzoyl peroxide, tretinoin, adapalene and certain antibiotics).

There are a few basic rules about using topical medicines (those placed on the skin):

  • Do not apply medication right after washing your face. Wait 20 to 30 minutes to prevent drying and redness of your skin.

  • Do not use too much medicine. A little bit is good, but a lot is NOT better. If too much medicine is used, the skin becomes dry or red.

    • To get the right amount, place a dab of medicine the size of a small pea on your fingertip. Dab the medicine on each side of your forehead, on each cheek, and on your chin. Then spread the medicine with your fingers to make a thin coat over all areas where you get pimples. Some medicines are liquids that come with an applicator

  • Place medicine over all problem areas―not just on pimples.

  • Use an oil-free, non-acnegenic or noncomedogenic moisturizer for dry skin. It if becomes too dry, red, or irritated, call your pediatrician.

More information

Krowchuk Daniel

Daniel Krowchuk, MD, FAAP

Daniel P. Krowchuk, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician with over 30 years’ experience caring for and teaching about skin problems affecting children and adolescents. Dr. Krowchuk is Professor of Pediatrics and Dermatology at Wake Forest School of Medicine where he also serves as co-director of pediatric dermatology.  He is co-editor of Pediatric Dermatology. A Quick Reference Guide and the author of more than 150 publications. Dr. Krowchuk was the 2016 recipient of the Alvin H. Jacobs Award presented by the Section on Dermatology of the AAP.  The award recognizes career contributions to the field of pediatric dermatology.  

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American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2018)
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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