10 reasons your teen has acne, according to skin experts.

Plus some of the best teen acne treatments that actually work.

6 minute read

We’re here to tell you what we know, but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider about your specific health concerns.

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While lots of us feel nostalgic for our wonder years, most of us don’t miss those pesky first breakouts. And, yes, hormones do play a big role in teen acne, but it can have many causes, some less obvious than others. The good news: acne treatments for teens can still be simple, no matter their age or gender. Here are some of the surprising reasons why your teenager might be breaking out—and what you can do about it. 

1. Viral trends

What makes for great TikToks doesn’t always make for great skin, but when a video goes viral, young viewers may be all-too-quick to take it at face value. So your teen ends up accidentally making their breakouts worse by slathering their entire face in mayonnaise or whatever. 

Talk to your teen about what’s happening on the apps, and help them learn about their skincare routines—Curology guides and blogs can be great, medically fact-checked places to start.

2. Shampoo and conditioner

It’s true! Haircare products are chock-full of ingredients that bring out the best in our manes—but might be responsible for clogging pores. Even when these products are only used on hair, they might accidentally come into contact with acne-prone skin. 

The most likely culprits in your teen’s shampoo bottle are pore-clogging sulfates, like sodium lauryl sulfate. We recommend switching to a shampoo without this ingredient. 

You can also use websites like CosDNA to check your products for potentially pore-clogging and irritating ingredients—more on this in a second!

3. Pillowcases

Pillowcases can be magnets for product residue, excess oil, and moisture—and rubbing your face up against a sweaty pillow all night may make breakouts worse. Likewise, certain laundry detergents could potentially clog pores, and synthetic fabrics are generally more likely to trap moisture than breathable alternatives like cotton or silk.

Thankfully, this is an easy fix. A fresh pair of sheets not only helps with a great night’s sleep, but it might help improve acne! Try switching out your pillowcase once a week, or more often. Don’t have a days-of-the-week set of pillowcases? Just slip your pillow inside a clean t-shirt instead. 

4. Over-exfoliating

Chemical and physical exfoliants can help clear away dead skin cells, unclog pores, and brighten the skin. But overuse may lead to irritation, which can make breakouts worse. Don’t exfoliate daily—a few times a week, tops. Start slow when using a new exfoliant; once a week might be a good idea if your skin needs time to adjust! 

5. Sun damage

If you’re skincare savvy, then you already know to cultivate sun-safe habits in your teen, like liberally applying your SPF throughout the day. 

While acne isn’t a form of sun damage itself, overexposure to UV rays can prolong the healing process. Irritation and sunburn can make acne worse. It also can worsen hyperpigmentation, including post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (sometimes mistaken for acne scars). 

6. Sweaty clothes

Young athletes, beware: sweating in tight-fitting clothing can lead to body breakouts. Athletic wear like gym uniforms and sports bras are common causes, and extra gear like helmets and chin straps can also be to blame. 

If your teen has the body acne blues, they’ll need body products that are tough on acne and free of potentially pore-clogging ingredients. An acne body wash with salicylic acid is often a good option—you can add it to your Curology box!

7. Harsh soaps

While it’s true that cleansing the skin can help breakouts, harsher soaps (like hand soap) can strip the skin and dry it out, which can lead to irritation, redness, flakiness, and other unsavory skin woes. 

You’ll want to make sure your teen is using a gentle cleanser designed for the face. Even better if you can pair it with the moisturizer that’s right for your skin type. The Curology set comes with a gentle facial cleanser and a choice of moisturizer. 

8. Pore-clogging ingredients

It’s tragic irony: sometimes, the very products we turn to to help our skin contain subpar ingredients with the potential to make acne worse.Try the CosDNA test. Simply source your product’s ingredients and copy/paste them into CosDNA’s Analyze page; avoid using any products with ingredients rated 3 or higher in the acne or irritant column. Too tired for all that? Just stick with Curology—our products are designed by dermatologists to be non-clogging and non-irritating.

9. Complicated skincare routines

When you’re desperate for your acne to go away, it’s tempting to throw everything at it. But the best strategy to speed the healing of even the most stubborn acne is often a simple routine catered to your specific skin. If you feel like you’ve tried everything and your teen’s acne isn’t getting any better, then it might be time for prescription-strength skincare.

10. Quitting too soon

So you’ve tried everything—including prescription skincare—and your teen is still breaking out. Time to call it quits and surrender to an incurable case of the skin blues, right? Wrong! We can help troubleshoot why your teen’s formula doesn’t seem to be working.For one, certain active ingredients may lead to “purging,” or a temporary period where breakouts get worse before they get better. Stick with it! A dermatology provider can work with your teen to make this period easier to manage.

Likewise, if a formula just isn’t working for your teen, let your provider know—they can tweak it to meet their skin’s needs. Their Curology provider is here to listen and work with them to help you meet their skin goals. 

What’s a simple way to treat teen acne?

Everyone’s skin is unique, and with so many different potential triggers for breakouts, building an effective skincare routine for treating teen acne can feel like homework. But it doesn’t have to. 

Curology was designed to take the guesswork out of it with custom prescription skincare sent straight to your door. It was founded by mom and board-certified dermatologist, Nancy Satur, with her sons, Glenn and David.

Members are paired with an in-house dermatology provider, licensed to practice in your state. Just take a quick skin quiz and snap a few pictures. A provider will prescribe a Custom Formula with a mix of 3 active ingredients to treat breakouts (subject to consultation). 

Every member gets a custom formula for their specific skin’s needs. We also offer a gentle cleanser, a lightweight gel moisturizer, a deeply hydrating rich moisturizer, an acne body wash, and spot patches—we’ve got your whole routine covered. 

Want to give it a shot? When your teen’s provider prescribes their Custom Formula, they can try any of our dermatologist-designed products for free. Go ahead and start your teen’s free trial of Curology acne treatment (just pay $4.95 + tax to cover shipping and handling).

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