Treating teen acne takes a multi-pronged approach

Lawrence  dermatologist Dr. Lee Bittenbender, pictured Thursday in an examination room, says acne is common and a high percentage of the population struggles with it.

Lawrence dermatologist Dr. Lee Bittenbender, pictured Thursday in an examination room, says acne is common and a high percentage of the population struggles with it.

Acne resources

AcneNet is the American Academy of Dermatology’s website. It can be found at

Additional acne information can be accessed at

Acne is a four letter word for teenagers.

It’s difficult enough being a teenager, and even with mild acne, he or she can see life as unbearable.

Dr. Lee Bittenbender, a dermatologist at Dermatology Center of Lawrence, says, acne is common and a high percentage of the population struggles with it.

In fact 70 million people have acne, the majority of whom are adolescents.

All types of acne — blackheads, whiteheads, pimples and cysts — develop when pores in our skin become clogged, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

Sebum, the normal oil in our skin is responsible for acne. Our bodies produce more sebum when hormones flow. That’s why adolescents are more prone to acne flare-ups.

“A blackhead appears when sebum and dead skin cells clog the pore,” adds the AAD. “While the pore is clogged, its surface remains open.”

Whiteheads form when dead skin cells merge with a surplus of oil, leading to clogged pores with the opening blocked.

“Treating acne can prevent additional breakouts and scars,” according to the AAD.

Acne myths

Certified Physician’s Assistant Jim Fackrell with Kansas Medical Clinics-Dermatology in Lawrence treats adolescent patients for acne. He says the most common myths are:

• “You get pimples because you don’t wash your face enough.” Washing your face helps remove dirt and oil, but washing too much can lead to dryness and irritation, causing more breakouts.”

• “Popping pimples makes them go away faster.” Popping pimples actually increases inflammation. Increasing swelling and redness increasing the chances for dark spots or even scarring that can last a lifetime.

• “Eating too much chocolate or drinking too many soft drinks cause pimples.” Studies have shown no specific foods prove to cause acne.

• “Tanning improves acne.” Tanning may temporarily mask the signs of acne, but can actually increase the inflammation and dryness and flare acne.”

• “All makeup causes acne.” The use of non-comedogenic makeup (one that won’t clog your pores) should be safe; however, in moderate to severe acne, you should ask your dermatologist what are the best cosmetics to use.”

Preventing outbreaks

“Acne cannot be prevented,” says Fackrell, “and develops in most people one time or another. Acne is a normal part of maturing, but some people are more prone to develop it.”

The AAD recommends washing your face with a mild cleanser and lukewarm water once or twice daily. Washing more often or too forcefully may inflame acne.

Dr. Bittenbender adds, “It’s important to wash your face gently with your hands, not a washcloth or a scrubbing brush.”


For mild acne, Bittenbender feels the Benzoyl Peroxide products work better than salicylic acids or the products you find advertised by celebrities on television.

“Benzoyl peroxide products can be purchased without a prescription and are fairly inexpensive,” says Dr. Bittenbender. “They have antibacterial properties that help remove the acne-forming bacteria.”

He also adds, “If dryness or irritation becomes a problem, you may have to use lower percentage of benzoyl peroxide products.”

Lori Mills, a Baldwin City mother, says, “There are so many products out there that promise beautiful clear skin. After watching my three kids battle for clear skin, I have come to the conclusion that what works for one might not work for the other.”

When to see a dermatologist

“When the usual over-the-counter products fail, or if any scarring develops after the pimple is gone, it is time to visit a specialist,” says Fackrell.

If self-esteem becomes a concern — no matter how minimal — don’t ignore the adolescent’s concerns. “Acne can drastically impact teens’ lives,” Fackrell says.

According to AcneNet, the AAD’s online acne site, “People living with acne can suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Acne can even discourage people from pursuing life's dreams. When acne is under control, a person’s confidence grows. Anxiety and depression diminish.”

Dr. Bittenbender instructs parents, “Instead of telling teens to change their diet, keep their oily hair off their skin, or that they will grow out of it, teens need good effective treatment for acne.”


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