Acne is not a small matter for adolescents

August 19, 2005|by LISA PREJEAN

New folders, new haircut, new outfit, new makeup, new pimple, new ... What? Where did that come from?

Just when a kid thinks she's got it all together for the start of school, acne makes an untimely arrival, blemishing that all-important overall impression.

Most adults can remember the frustration we felt at those little bumps that would weasel their way onto our otherwise smooth complexions.

Some of those bumps felt as tall as Mount Everest and as wide as the Grand Canyon. If you've forgotten that feeling, perhaps you should put your memory on recall, especially if your child is nearing middle-school age.


Acne can be a big deal. It is a disorder resulting from the action of hormones on the skin's sebaceous glands, which produce oil. This leads to plugged pores.

As parents, we should do what we can to help.

How can we know when a trip to the dermatologist is in order?

"If it is bothering the child in any way, shape or form, it's bad enough," says Dr. Hilary Baldwin, associate professor of clinical dermatology and director of dermatologic surgery at The State University of New York Health Science Center at Brooklyn. "Or, if it is scarring, because scarring will stay with the child the rest of her life."

If your child is spending a lot of time in front of the mirror or if over-the-counter acne products are beginning to appear in the bathroom, you might want to ask your child if he or she would like to talk with a doctor about it.

Acne can lead to a loss of confidence or poor school performance, Baldwin says.

If a boy with acne on his chest and back starts cutting gym class because he doesn't want to change into his gym clothes, that could be the beginning of a bigger problem, Baldwin says.

"Many kids spiral down from there," she says. Once he's cut gym class, it becomes easier to cut other classes.

There are several methods to treat acne.

Doctors are concerned about their patients developing a resistance to antibiotics because then the medicines will no longer work on the acne and that resistance could spread to more serious organisms that attack the body.

"There are times when nothing else is going to work. You weigh the risks and the benefits," Baldwin says. "If a kid comes in with a face of horrible acne, you give them an antibiotic. Some can be given a topical antibiotic."

Topical means that the medicine is a cream or gel that is used on the skin. Oral means that the medicine is taken by mouth.

Some dermatologists are prescribing low doses of the antibiotic Periostat, Baldwin says.

"They're using it not as an antibiotic but as an anti-inflammatory. It's beneath the threshold of bacteria resistance, so you don't acquire a resistance to it. You start the patient on the oral antibiotics and the topical cream and you continue the two drugs for three months. Then you stop the antibiotic."

Here are some tips from Dr. Baldwin:

  • Don't squeeze, pick or pop pimples.

  • Don't scrub with abrasive cleansers.

  • Chocolate, french fries and sodas don't cause acne.

  • Applying toothpaste to your face won't help.

  • More water and more sleep won't necessarily give you a smoother complexion.

  • Don't wait too long to seek treatment. Most acne patients typically wait a year before seeking help. With a few months of treatment, your acne could be completely gone.

    For information about topical acne treatments, go to on the Web.

    Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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