What Causes Teen Acne?

Every teen’s experience is different, but if there is one thing that most can count on, it’s acne. Over 90% of teenagers experience acne in some form. Many are surprised to learn that boys struggle with acne more than girls, but this is the case because it is largely fueled by the male hormone testosterone. Whether it is whiteheads, blackheads or painful bumps, breakouts generally occur on the face, as well as the upper portion of the body: neck, chest, back and upper arms. Acne tends to be hereditary: if parents experienced breakouts, chances are their children will as well. Acne can be frustrating, embarrassing and lead to issues with a teen’s self esteem, but there are remedies and solutions. To understand how to treat acne, it’s helpful to understand what is happening with your skin.

Most teens experience breakouts at some point during adolescence.

We all have pores in our skin that contain oil glands; they produce oil to keep our skin from getting dry. But sometimes the oil production can be problematic. When we go through puberty, there is an increase in hormones that can cause moodiness, body changes, hair growth…and overactive oil glands. The excess activity in our oil glands causes them to enlarge and produce too much oil (otherwise known as sebum). The oil, along with dead skin cells, can clog pores. When this happens, bacteria can get trapped and multiply, leading to the redness and inflammation that causes a breakout.Whiteheads and blackheads are different from pimples but related. If your pore clogs and closes, you will end up with a whitehead. Contrary to common belief, blackheads are not the result of dirty skin or dirt getting trapped in pores. The dark appearance is a result of oxidation (oil being exposed to oxygen in the air) in the open, clogged pore. Environments that increase bacteria and oil will generally accelerate pimple development. For example, stress causes oil production, which is why many teens will break out right before an important event, such as a big date or an important exam. Sweating during exercise or when exposed to a hot climate can trigger more bacteria. You may find breakouts on the forehead underneath a baseball cap or helmet for this reason. Acne is found on the face and upper body because that is where the most oil glands appear.

Dr. Sheilagh Maguiness, a pediatric dermatologist at the University of Minnesota, explains that the start of acne is typically pretty early – earlier than most people think. It all starts with the onset of adrenarche – a surge of male hormones/androgens. It can happen as early as age 8 in girls, and 9 in boys.
Acne is so multifactorial that it really doesn’t have a defined end point. In most cases, by the late teens, hormonal influences have started to even out and then acne becomes less severe or even may clear for many. However, if there are imbalances in hormones, a strong genetic component (ie: family history) or other factors at play, acne can last well beyond the 20’s.

Although most teens are not happy at the site of pimples, it is a right of passage with which most have to contend, and fortunately there exist many remedies that can reduce the frequency and severity of breakouts.

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