Take action against teenage acne

Mayo Clinic doctor offers advice on how to prevent, treat pimples

Published On: Feb 18 2014 06:07:40 PM EST   Updated On: Feb 21 2014 06:20:00 AM EST

No matter how much you wash your face or apply anti-acne ointment, breakouts still happen.

"Some people argue that acne is not a medical disease but, rather, a developmental condition because everyone gets acne," explained Dawn Davis, M.D.  Mayo Clinic Dermatologist.

That's the tough truth of youth. The medical term is acne vulgaris, and Davis says there are four main factors that cause it. Over growth of skin, clogged pores, oil production and bacteria, called propionibacterium, or p. acnes. 

"That bacteria grow on our skin all the time, but then once we get one of the other components of acne, which is oil production, the p. acnes has a food source and then it can grow and multiply easier," she said. 

Your immune system fights back causing redness. Plus you can get whiteheads and blackheads, which many think are plugs of dirt stuck in pores.

"People assume it's due to chocolate or to pizza or to dirt, and a lot of parents encourage their teenagers to scrub their face harder or the teenager thinks they should scrub their face harder to get out the dirt. But actually, what happens is an oxidization reaction between the oil and the bacteria and their byproducts," explained Davis. "So, instead of having closed skin on top or a sticky plug, the pore is simply congested with bacteria, oil and bacterial waste. And when this oil gets exposed to the oxygen in the air, it turns brown." 

So how do you prevent and get rid of acne? Davis says start with using your hands to gently wash your face with a mild soap and water. For milder cases, try over the counter products that contain salicylic acid or benzyl peroxide.

If that doesn't work, Davis recommends seeing your primary care doctor who can prescribe stronger medication such as antibiotics and acid products.  If acne persists or is severe, a dermatologist may be needed.

"Dermatologists use isotretinoin for very severe acne," Davis added.

Treatment can work. It does take time; your skin has many layers and it takes about three months to turn over. But with diligence and the right products, most teens can end up with clearer skin.

Davis says it takes time to treat acne. That's because our skin is made up of many layers that shed, and it takes about three months for skin to completely turn over. She also says some people with severe acne may experience pitting or scarring of the skin. Davis says in that case, talk to a dermatologist to find out options for treating those issues.

For more information on treating and preventing acne, you can go to the mayo clinic's website at mayoclinic.org or you can call the Mayo Clinic here in Jacksonville at (904) 953-2272.