WebMD > 

Getting Savvy About Acne Care

Getting Savvy About Acne Care

This article is for parents and caregivers of children and teens who are living with acne, or anyone who wants to learn more about acne. The goal of this activity is to help you work with and talk to your child or teen's healthcare team about a skincare routine to help manage acne.

You will learn about: 

  • What acne is and what can cause it

  • How acne may look

  • Skincare tips for acne

  • Talking to your child or teen's healthcare team, and questions you can ask

Test Your Knowledge

What Is Acne?

Acne happens when follicles in the skin get clogged with sebum (oil) and dead skin cells. This can lead to inflammation (swelling) and lesions or cysts. 

Follicles contain hair and sebaceous glands (oil glands) and open on the skin's surface as a pore. The areas that have the most sebaceous glands -- face, forehead, chest, upper back, and shoulders -- are where acne usually happens. 

People of all races and ethnicities can have acne. It can also happen at any age, but usually appears in teens and young adults.

What Can Cause Acne?

Acne can have many causes, but factors that may lead to acne can include: 

  • Too much sebum and build-up of dead skin cells

  • Certain skin bacteria

  • Hormone changes, such as during puberty

  • Genetics (traits inherited from parents)

  • Certain medicines 

Acne is not caused by diet, stress, an allergy, skin irritants, or factors in the environment. But all of these may make acne worse.

How Acne May Look

When follicles get clogged, they can form bumps called comedones. But acne can vary for different people and cause different types of lesions, including: 

  • Whiteheads: comedones under the skin with closed pores that look like a white bump   

  • Blackheads: comedones that reach the skin's surface and have open pores that look black due to air discoloring the sebum

  • Papules: inflamed comedones that form small, tender, red or pink bumps

  • Pustules ("pimples"): papules with white or yellow pus at the tip

  • Nodules: lumps under the skin that are hard, swollen, and painful

  • Cysts: pus-filled lumps under the skin that can be painful

Skincare Tips for Acne

Whether acne is mild or severe, having a good skincare routine is key. Talk to your child or teen's healthcare team about what they recommend for their type of acne and lesions. 

Skincare tips can include: 

  • Wash gently with mild cleanser and lukewarm water in the morning and before bed, as well as after exercise or sweating

  • Don't rub or scrub skin and avoid touching lesions, squeezing, or picking

  • Shave carefully and gently in the direction of hair growth and using shaving cream

  • Don't sleep in makeup, or share makeup or brushes

  • Protect skin from the sun with clothing, hats, umbrellas, and sunscreen

  • Use gentle, oil-free, noncomedogenic (doesn't clog pores) products. Avoid products and ingredients that can irritate skin or cause an allergic reaction, such as rubbing alcohol, fragrances, dyes, and preservatives

Moisturizing Is an Important Part of Acne Skincare

It may be tempting to dry out skin to get rid of oil. But drying out skin too much can weaken its protective barrier and cause damage. So moisturizing, especially after washing, is an important part of acne skincare. 

Moisturizers work to soothe skin and reduce the irritation, inflammation, and damage that can happen with dryness. They may also lower sebum production by creating a film on top of the skin. 

Some moisturizers may also contain emollients that help protect the outer layer of the skin barrier and ingredients such as ceramides (the lipids found in skin) or humectants that help keep water in the skin.

OTC Acne Treatment

Acne can range from mild to severe and may even change over time. 

For mild acne, your child or teen's healthcare team may recommend medicine you can get without a prescription (over-the-counter or OTC). This is often a cream or gel applied topically to the skin that may contain ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide, resorcinol, retinoids, salicylic acid, or sulfur. There are several available, so be sure to ask which products and ingredients to use or avoid. 

Acne can be stubborn, and it may take as long as 8 weeks to see a difference. It can take time for skin to adjust, so it's important to stick to a skincare routine and be patient.

More Than Just a Skin Condition

Acne can be about more than just appearances. For many children and teens, it can affect how they feel, their self-esteem, and their emotional well-being. 

Even mild acne can cause anxiety or depression and feelings of self-consciousness, loneliness, or isolation. And acne can be physically painful too, especially if there are cysts. Acne can affect your child or teen's quality of life just as much as having another health condition, such as asthma or diabetes. 

Talking to your healthcare team and having open and honest communication can help. They can help educate your child or teen about their skin and skincare routine and even recommend ways to help them cope with stress and with how they're feeling.

Questions to Ask Your Child or Teen's Healthcare Team

Questions you can ask about acne and skincare can include: 

  • How can acne look?

  • What skincare routine do you recommend?

  • Which products and ingredients do you recommend we use or avoid?

  • What else can we do to help take care of my child or teen's skin?

  • What should we do if my child or teen starts to feel stressed or depressed?

Test Your Knowledge

Survey Questions


You have successfully completed the program Getting Savvy About Acne Care.

View Additional Materials on this topic that you may find useful:

Acne Overview

Acne -- National Library of Medicine

Acne Diagnosis and Treatment

Acne and Girls

Authors and Disclosures

Clinician Reviewer

Karen Badal, MD, MPH

Senior Medical Education Director, Medscape, LLC.

Karen Badal, MD, MPH, has no relevant financial relationships.


Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh

Associate Director, Content Development, Medscape, LLC.

Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh, has no relevant financial relationships.


Share this:

URAC: Accredited Health Web Site HonCode: Health on the Net Foundation AdChoices