Acne and Teens: How to Treat Pimples (and Cover Them Up)

Find out what causes acne and the best methods for treatment

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Acne and pimples (er "zits,") can be horrifying for pre-teens and teens. I remember dousing my skin in Clearasil pads around age 13 and worrying my pimples would erupt into full-blown acne if I didn't wash my face every night. I worried about my chocolate intake and plotted how I might stop the scourge that was to come and how to cover up the blemishes that stubbornly remained on my face. (Concealer? Foundation? Walking around with my hand over my chin as if in constant deep thought? Help!!!).

Thankfully, you have the Internet to help you. When I was a teenager, all I had was back issues of Teen and Seventeen magazines. We'll help you find out the causes and fixes of acne, prove to you why you're in good company and get you on the right skincare regimen.

But First, Let's Talk About What Causes Pimples

You can thank your hormones for your acne. Pimples start popping up around puberty when the oil glands in the skin become active. What happens is something like this: skin naturally sheds dead skin cells, which get glued together by all this new sebum (aka "oil") that's being produced by the oil (aka "sebaceous") glands. This globby mess blocks the skin's pores and bacteria develops, causing a pimple, and then more pimples.

The good news is you are in good company: almost everyone suffers from pimples at some point in their lives. 

So what about chocolate, fried foods, your period and your parents? Can you blame them for the pimples that keep popping up? That's up for debate. 

Your 4 Best Treatment Options

Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are the two best over-the-counter ingredients used to treat acne. You can try one before the other or attempt my 3-punch system below. Aspirin masks are also beloved and totally hyped for treating pimples (aspirin contains salicylic acid). 

  1. Benzoyl peroxide is great for acne because it kills the bacteria that grows in your pores. It is used in 2.5%, 5% and 10% concentrations. I recommend Clean and Clear Continuous Control Acne Cleanser. It has 10 percent concentration. For a lighter concentration, try Claror Acne Treatment, 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide Gel. 
  2. Salicylic acid is an exfoliating ingredient and natural anti-inflammatory found in many over-the-counter acne products. It won't kill bacteria (that's what the benzoyl peroxide does) but it will dissolve the gunked-up dead skin cells that collect in the pores, causing pimples. It will also calm down the redness caused by breakouts. You can find salicylic acid in cleansers, lotions, gels, creams, toners, and pads. I recommend Clean & Clear Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment
  3. My 3-punch treatment plan combines benzoyl peroxide AND salicylic acid products to really clear up acne. The salicylic acid will clear out your pores while the benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria that has grown within them. Stick with it and see results in a month. 
  4. Try an aspirin mask. Aspirin is brilliant at spot-treating pimples, clearing up acne and itchy patches. The aspirin mask on gets more than 2030 reviews -- more than any individual makeup, skincare or hair product. 85 percent of these reviews are by women who would "try it again." Dr. Oz also loves aspirin masks and unveiled a version of this mask on his show.

Mistakes People with Pimples and Acne Make

Here are some common mistakes to avoid if you have acne:

  • Don't pick at your pimples. As tempting and satisfying as it is to pop a pimple, you risk scarring and possible infection if you do so.
  • Don't give up treatment quickly. Skin can take awhile to heal. Most people make the mistake of giving up when the pimples don't immediately go away. It could take up to a month or even longer before you see results. And once you see results, keep at it a while. If you want to stop, taper off or the pimples can pop right back up.
  • The initial flare-up during treatment is normal. If you notice your skin flares up when you first begin treatment, this is normal, according to dermatologist Diane S. Berson to WebMD. “It's not an infection, it's an inflammation. It can even get worse before it gets better,” Berson says to WebMD.
  • Don't spot treat pimples. It is also strongly recommended not to spot treat the skin but cleanse or run the pad or gel over the entire affected area. 

5 Reasons Your Acne Isn't Going Away

If you suffer from acne and feel like you've been battling breakouts for months or even years, you're likely frustrated. The problem may be that you don't totally understand your acne, you're not treating it correctly or you aren't sticking to a regimen long enough.

Really Bad Acne? Get Thee to the Dermatologist

If your acne is really bad and over-the-counter remedies aren't working and your self-esteem is taking a nosedive, I recommend heading straight to the dermatologist. A doctor will provide the necessary treatment to clear up your acne faster than any zit cream or benzoyl peroxide swab can do.

How to Cover Up Pimples and Acne

Concealer alone won't cover up your pimple. Concealer tends to wear off pretty quickly. But there are other methods that will work.