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Teen acne myths: What you need to know


July 12, 2023

Learn about teenage acne, treatments and why seeking dermatological care is important.

Teenage acne is common, but that doesn’t mean teens have to just live with it. Acne treatments can be highly effective and help boost confidence.

“Some of the most common misconceptions of teen acne are that it is just a typical, normal aspect of teenager-hood and that it’s not necessary to treat,” said Laurie Goerzen, a dermatology nurse practitioner at Vanderbilt Dermatology.

The importance of early treatment

In many cases, parents delay seeking dermatological treatment for their kids who’ve developed acne, Goerzen said. She encourages parents to talk to a care provider earlier.

“If teenagers with severe acne go untreated, it can cause scarring.”

“If teenagers with severe acne go untreated, it can cause scarring and it can cause decreased self-confidence and decreased self-esteem in the child,” she said. “This can lead to isolation, where people do not want to be around their friends or in public because they’re embarrassed of their acne.”

Myths surrounding acne causes

Common misconceptions about acne involve underlying causes:

  • False: Acne is caused by dirt and oil accumulating on the skin and from not washing one’s face enough.
  • Fact: Washing the face too much, scrubbing excessively, or using harsh products can make acne worse, explained Dr. Carla Lee of Vanderbilt Dermatology.

Fact: Hormonal changes often cause teenage acne

Teen acne is often related to hormonal changes.

“Hormones can cause increased oil production and make the oil stickier,” Lee said. “It tends to cause the pores to get blocked with oil and secondary bacteria.”


Prescription acne treatments are available as medications applied to the skin (topical) or taken by mouth (oral).

Skin treatments for preventing breakouts include:

  • Topical retinoids.
  • Salicylic acid.
  • Benzoyl peroxide.
  • Topical antibiotics.

Oral options include:

  • Isotretinoin.
  • Antibiotics.
  • Spironolactone.

Cosmetic treatments for scarring or uneven skin tone include microneedling, chemical peels and various forms of laser resurfacing.

Ongoing prevention

While many treatments work as an ongoing acne preventive, Lee noted a few other recommendations.

“Make sure they are using oil-free and non-comedogenic products.”

“I try to make sure they are using oil-free and non-comedogenic products (which means they contain ingredients unlikely to clog pores),” she said.

Sometimes teens have seen the trend on social media of putting Vaseline on their face. Vaseline can clog pores, especially in people with acne-prone skin.

Also, an oil-free sunscreen is important to help protect skin from damage and breakouts. “Sunburn can increase sebum production and cause more acne,” Lee said.

Telehealth Acne Care

Laurie Goerzen, a dermatology nurse practitioner with Vanderbilt Dermatology, sees patients in the Telehealth Acne Clinic in addition to Vanderbilt Dermatology Franklin.

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