Q. My teenage son has moderate acne, and it's starting to affect his self-esteem. How can I help him treat it?
A. Acne is widespread among adolescents. That's probably small comfort to your son. It bothers him, and you want to help him. (Of course, he may not want his parents to help him -- after all, he's a teenager.)
So the first thing you don't want to do is perpetuate common acne myths. Specifically, you should know that:
• Eating chocolate or greasy foods does not cause acne.
• Washing one's face too often or with harsh soaps or scrubbing pads will not help.
• Regular exercise is essential for overall health and well-being. But it can increase oil production and may worsen acne for some people.
• Spending time in the sun may improve the appearance of acne for a short time. But in the long term, it will make acne worse by increasing inflammation in the skin.
• Acne is not caused by sex and masturbation.
There are some suggestions you can give your teen to help prevent and treat acne.
• Wash the face gently with mild soap. Don't wash too often or use harsh scrubs.
• Don't pinch, pick at or "pop" pimples: This can increase inflammation.
• Don't constantly feel the pimples. Your fingers can spread bacteria that help cause more pimples.
• Eat lots of fruits and vegetables: They contain antioxidants that reduce inflammation.
• Get a good night's sleep. This, too, quiets inflammation.
• Learn ways to manage stress and lower anxiety. (Yes, I know: Not easy in a teen.)
• Shower immediately after exercising. It keeps pores open, which reduces the chance that pimples will start.
• When shaving, use an electric razor if possible. If shaving with a straight razor, use warm water with lots of lather and shave in the direction of hair growth. Shaving this way is less likely to cause skin injury that can turn into pimples.
• Teenage girls should use "non-comedogenic" makeup: It should not make acne worse.
• Cover the skin while using hairstyling products.
Even if your teenager follows all of these recommendations, he still may get acne. If so, take him to his pediatrician to discuss treatment options.
Prepare your teen to be patient. Acne can be difficult to treat, and it can take a long time to see improvement.
We have more information on acne in our Special Health Report, "Skin Care and Repair." You can find out more about it at my website.
• Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. Go to his website to send questions and get additional information: AskDoctorK.com.