Spots, zits and acne

Helping teens deal with puberty

Teenage acne can be physically and emotionally disfiguring. Many young people become hyper-conscious of their own zits and fail to notice that it is a common difficulty – nine out of ten teenagers suffer from them at some time. The over-vigorous production of sebum that produces acne is a reaction to the hormonal changes of puberty, which is why it is almost an occupational hazard of being an adolescent, and why it will pass in time.


Sebum functions as a built-in moisturiser, lubricating the skin and keeping it supple and healthy. The oil is supposed to ooze up out of minute pores and spread over the surface of the body. However, during the teenage years, the production of sebum can be so vigorous that minute flakes of skin can break off inside the channels and block the pores. This leads to the greatest horror of teenage life – acne. If the blockage is under the surface, it produces a white lump, or a whitehead. If the flake of skin is forced to the surface, it will blacken on exposure to air and become a blackhead. If the pressure of sebum trying to escape continues, it will rupture the wall of the channel and become infected – a spot, a pimple, a zit. Sebaceous glands are concentrated on the face, chest and back - hence these being particular sites for spots. 

More boys than girls get acne, and boys tend to have a more severe reaction since it is the production of testosterone, the male sex hormone, that encourages spots. You could reassure a son that the more zits he has, the sexier he is but that would hardly reassure a daughter, even though both sexes do perfectly naturally produce a range of these hormones. 

Because infection and black marks are associated with dirt, many teenagers worry that having acne means they are unclean. Spots and blackheads can be used by some young people as the excuse to tease and bully, as if the young person who has them is in any way different from dozens of their school mates. In fact, the colour of blackheads has nothing to do with dirt. It is caused by a chemical reaction. The same way as skin tans in the sun, the flake of skin blocking the pore turns a dark brown when it comes into contact with the air. Washing too often and with strong soap isn’t helpful at all. Rather than “cleaning up” the acne, it over-stimulates the sebaceous glands to turn up their oil production. More soaping and rubbing leads to more sebum leads to a greater chance of having spots, white and blackheads.

There are no easy ways to prevent or cure acne in a teenager – unless you can send them into hibernation until they reach 20. Acne is not caused by eating fatty foods, chocolate or other junk food. Neither is it encouraged by late nights or masturbation. It will not go away under a regimen of cold baths and dawn runs, either. A wholesome, healthy diet, good exercise and sufficient sleep will certainly make for a fitter, healthier and possibly happier young person – who may still have teenage spots. Young people have enough misery to contend with over acne without being told they cause it or could cure it if only they tried harder. Neither is true. Bad acne can drive a young person into a depression and severely damage their self-esteem. And, of course, how you define “bad” is entirely subjective. What appears to you to be no more then a few undetectable pimples can be enough to drive your teenager into taking up sackcloth and ashes.



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