PBS Kids GO! It's My Life
Puberty: It's About Zits

One of the more annoying changes during puberty happens to your skin. Yup, we're talking about acne, pimples, zits, spots…or whatever you like to call them. Those little bumps and marks on your face that can make you miserable and sometimes, not even want to leave the house. Nobody likes them, but almost everybody gets them. Zits are the pits, but acne is just something you have to "face" during puberty.

So what's going on?
Well, the same hormones that are busy slowly turning you from a tween into an adult are having a few icky side effects.

Most people going through puberty get acne because the puberty hormones can make the glands inside their pores (those tiny holes in skin) start making too much oil. Hair follicles (where a hair grows out of your skin) get blocked by dead skin cells, and bacteria grows. The bacteria makes your skin erupt into pimples. These are usually on the face, shoulders, arms, back, and chest. They can look red, white, or black.

Guys tend to have more acne than girls do, because their skin makes more oil.

Acne can cause a lot of stress and embarrassment, especially for kids who get it first, or get a bad case of it. It's important to remember that acne isn't caused by anything bad you did; it's just something that happens because of puberty. It's also important to remember that if you're fighting a daily Battle of the Bumps, you're not alone: millions of young people are dealing with acne at any given time, and pre-teens and teenagers have been going through it for thousands of years.

How long does it last?
There's no telling. Some kids with acne have clear skin after a year, while others keep having break-outs for many years.

Are there things that make acne worse?
Yes, indeed. Here are some:

  • Irritation. Squeezing or digging at your zits, or getting rough when you wash your face, can make acne worse.

  • Greasy skin stuff: Oily sunscreen, oily make-up, and oily hair products or skin lotions can all make acne worse. Talk to your doctor or school nurse about which products you should use on your skin and hair.

  • Intense sunlight: Wear a hat, stay in the shade, or find a good, non-oily sunblock. Lots of sun can make acne worse.

  • Stress: Periods of anxiety or stress can sometimes make acne worse. Learn to manage stress, and your complexion might look better!

  • Periods: Girls sometimes have acne trouble when they get their periods. This is normal. You just need to be aware of it, so you can take care of your skin during that time of the month. For more on periods, check out Period. Question Marks?

Are there things that make acne better?
Absolutely. Here are some things to try:

  • Medicate. Drug stores carry a lot of products to help you fight acne. These range from creams that you rub on affected areas to pads that you use to wipe your face. In many cases, these products can help keep breakouts under control. Make sure to follow the directions on the package so you don't use too much.

  • Cover up. It's very tempting, especially for girls, to just use make-up to cover zits. This can help hide your acne, but you have to be careful, because some kinds of make-up can actually be part of the problem. Lots of make-up has ingredients that are comedogenic, meaning they can clog your pores and make your acne worse. If you want to use make-up, make sure it's non-comedogenic (won't clog pores). Another good word to look for is hypo-allergenic, which means that the make-up won't cause other skin reactions.

  • See a professional. If your acne seems particularly bad, or drugstore products aren't working, you might ask a parent to make you an appointment with a dermatologist (a doctor who specializes in skin). He or she might prescribe pills or cream, or might have you come to the office for special skin treatments.

Don't stress!
Remind yourself that you're not the only person going through this. If you look around your school or neighborhood, you'll probably see lots of other people your age with pimples. If they're coping, you can too. If you can, try to have a sense of humor about it (for instance, referring to a zit in the middle of your forehead as your "third eye"). Or you can take some comfort in the fact that things are a little easier now than when your parents went through puberty. Thanks to modern medicine, we have more anti-acne options than ever. And here's something cool: less stress, by itself, can help make your skin look better too!

Zit Myths

Myth: Junk food, like fried stuff or sweets, causes zits.
Truth: What you eat, or don't eat, probably has nothing to do with getting zits. Studies have shown that your diet doesn't have much effect on acne. So go ahead and have potato chips once in a while (but remember that your health depends on good nutrition!). For more about healthy eating, check out our Food Smarts section.

Myth: Dirt causes zits.
Truth: Acne comes from the inside, not the outside. Your hormones are causing changes that lead to pimples, and it has nothing to do with dirt you get on your face. You should always wash your face, of course…but getting a little dirty won't lead to zits.

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