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Why do teenage boys get acne?

During puberty, a boy's skin on his face, neck, back and chest will start to overproduce a type of oil called sebum. Sebum is usually a good substance-it keeps the skin waterproof and fends off dangerous bacteria. But too much is definitely a bad thing. In addition to excess oil, the pubescent skin also sloughs off skin cells at a higher rate, and these skin cells-and the extra oils-are exiting the body by traveling via hair follicles and pores to the surface of the skin. As these pores and follicles get clogged up with this extra matter, there is a backup as the skin and oil behind the blockage begins building up with nowhere to escape. A bacteria known as Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes for short) becomes involved and causes the blockage to become inflamed. This pushes it outward, creating the visual sensation known as a "zit."

There are many forms of acne, but the most usual is acne vulgaris. Acne vulgaris is the reason for your garden-variety pimples, blackheads, whiteheads and the cyst-looking large bumps. There is usually no escaping acne vulgaris-it afflicts almost everyone at some point, and boys have it worse than girls during puberty. (After puberty, it is another story: Women have many more problems with adult acne than men.)

If you are a pubescent boy who has acne, this is your best bet: Wash your face gently twice a day, shower right after working up a sweat and don not pick at your face. Do not go crazy trying to clean your face, either, because too much scrubbing and agitating the skin can make things worse.

Products with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid may help prevent or control acne by drying out oily skin, killing bacteria and assisting the follicles clear themselves of dead skin cells.

Do not get too stressed out if nothing seems to be helping-it often takes quite a bit of experimentation before you find the right cure (or combination of cures). Your doctor or dermatologist will happily help you in your search for clear skin.

Acne tends to be worse in boys because androgens, the kind of hormones that are more abundant in males, increase the production of sebum, an oily substance that forms a protective layer on skin, particularly on the face. Sebum and other skin debris can block pores and create comedones (blackheads and whiteheads). Sebum is also food for a bacterium that lives in comedones (Propioibacterium acnes), which leads to the inflamed comedones seen in acne. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.