Teen Skin and Skin Care

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on February 16, 2024
3 min read

Your skin is just one more thing that changes when you go through puberty. Acne often starts in your early teen years because your body’s oil glands become more active, which is normal. A few different skin problems are a part of acne: whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, and cystic acne.

  1. Whiteheads are made when a hair follicle (root) is plugged with oil and skin cells.
  2. If this plugged-up stuff comes up to the surface of the skin and the air touches it, it turns black -- a "blackhead." So blackheads are not caused by dirt.
  3. If a plugged follicle breaks, the area swells and becomes a red bump. If this happens close to the surface of the skin, the bump most often becomes a pimple. If it breaks deep inside the skin, nodules or cysts can form, which can look like larger pimples. This is cystic acne.

Acne is common among teens, but not everyone will have the same troubles. It may be worse in boys because they have more oil in their skin. Also, it can run in the family. If your mother or father had bad acne, the same may happen for you. Some people also just have more sensitive skin.

First, wash your face regularly. If the acne does not go away, there are over-the-counter products (you can buy these without a prescription) available in different forms, such as gels, lotions, creams, pads, and soaps. Common ingredients used in most of these products to fight acne are benzoyl peroxide, resorcinol, salicylic acid, and sulfur. A topical retinoid gel is also available and can help keep pimples from forming. If you have a bad skin reaction to any products you buy on your own, tell your doctor. Also, it can take time for these products to work. If they do not make your acne better after 2 or 3 months, ask your doctor for help.

The doctor can give you stronger medication, including antibiotics or other pills and creams that also have retinoids in them. Retinoids can make you very sensitive to the sun, so apply at night and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a physical blocker like zinc oxide and an SPF 30 or higher to protect yourself. Clascoterone cream (Winlevi), a topical anti-androgen and anti-inflammatory cream, can be used to treat boys and girls 12 years and older. Oral spironolactone (Aldactone) is very helpful for treating acne and decreases the need for oral antibiotics for women.

The medicine isotretinoin (formerly sold as Accutane, now Absorica, AmnesteemClaravisMyorisan, or Zenatane) can cause birth defects and miscarriages if taken when a woman is pregnant.

  • Oil-based makeup, suntan oil, hair gels and sprays
  • Stress
  • Your period
  • Picking at pimples
  • Scrubbing skin too hard

Dirt, fried foods, chocolate, and sexual activity do not cause acne. These are myths!

  • Take care when choosing cosmetics. Makeup like foundation, blush, and moisturizer should be oil-free. Choose products that don’t cause blemishes or blocked pores. Ask a dermatologist or salesperson which skin products would be best for your skin type.
  • Don't pick your face. If you pick, squeeze, or pinch blemishes, you risk acne scars. Don't rub or touch blemishes.
  • Be gentle with cleaning. Hard scrubbing will only make your skin condition worse. Gently wash your skin with a mild cleanser in the morning, at bedtime, and after heavy exercise. Avoid rough scrubs or pads. After you wash your skin, rinse it thoroughly.
  • Use sunscreen (SPF 30 or more) regularly. The sun can damage the skin and promote premature aging. Daily use of broad-spectrum sunscreen is recommended. Although a tan or sunburn can make your skin feel less oily, the benefits are short-lived. Remember that some acne medications, as well as some other medications you take by mouth, can make you more prone to sunburns. For this reason, use sunscreen all of the time. Reapply after swimming, after sweating, or after more than 2 hours in the sun.
  • Be careful when shaving. Avoid accidental nicks of blemishes by shaving lightly, shaving in the direction of the hair follicles, and shaving only when you have to. You can try different razors to find the one that is most comfortable for your skin.