Acne in Children

What is acne in a child?

Acne is a disorder of the hair follicles and sebaceous glands. Hair follicles are the areas around the base or root of each hair. Sebaceous glands are the tiny glands that release oil (sebum) into the hair follicles. The sebum moistens the skin and hair. The sebum and hair get to the skin surface through tiny holes called pores. 

Acne is very common. Most children and young adults between ages 11 and 30 will have acne at some point. Acne most often begins in puberty. But it can happen at any age. There are different types of acne that affect newborns, infants, younger children, and adults. 

Acne may occur when the pores gets clogged with dead skin cells and oil. Bacteria that are normally on the skin may also get into the clogged pore. Acne comes in several types. One type is a comedone. This is a plug of sebum in the hair follicle. They are either closed whiteheads, or open blackheads. These are not inflamed or infected.

Inflamed acne causes red, painful bumps or sores. The sores may be infected with bacteria. This type of acne includes:

  • Pustule. Bacteria cause the hair follicle to be inflamed. Pustules are closer to the skin surface.
  • Papule. The wall of the hair follicle gets irritated. Papules are deeper in the skin.
  • Nodule. These are larger, deeper, and more solid.
  • Cyst. This is a nodule with pus.

What causes acne in a child?

The cause of acne is not fully understood. Acne is linked with:

  • Hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy, and the menstrual cycle
  • Rising levels of male sex hormones (androgens) in both boys and girls during puberty that causes more sebum and more dead skin cells
  • Using makeup or cosmetics that block the pores
  • Using certain products to wash the skin
  • Wearing clothes that rub or irritate the skin
  • High levels of moisture in the air (humidity) and sweating
  • Taking certain medicines, such as corticosteroids    

Which children are at risk for acne?

Being a teen (adolescent) is the greatest risk factor for acne. A family history also increases the risk for severe acne.

What are the symptoms of acne in a child?

Acne can occur anywhere on the body. It is most common in areas where there are more sebaceous glands, such as:

  • Face
  • Chest
  • Upper back
  • Shoulders
  • Neck

Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. They can include:

  • Small bumps that are skin-colored or white (whiteheads)
  • Small bumps that are dark in color (blackheads)
  • Red, pus-filled pimples that may hurt
  • Solid, raised bumps (nodules)
  • Darker areas of skin
  • Scarring

The symptoms of acne can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is acne diagnosed in a child?

The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she will look at the areas of the body with acne. The provider may advise that your child see a doctor who specializes in skin care (dermatologist).