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Why Do Children Today Have Acne?

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Children today see puberty several years sooner, which means dermatologists see acne in children as young as 6 and 7. Learn how to prevent the trigger for childhood acne and steps you can take to safely treat acne in children below.

When you think about acne, you probably think of teenagers and young adults. But new research has shown that in recent years, the first signs of acne have appeared as early as age 7.

A study from 1994 found that 78 percent of female study participants between the ages of 9 and 10 had some level of acne. Why are today’s children plagued by acne at earlier ages? What is it that causes acne to develop at such a young age? Read on to learn more about acne in childhood.

Why Kid’s Have Acne

According to studies by dermatologists, it is the adrenal gland and early menstruation that is causing children to have acne. Dermatologist, Eric Schweiger, MD, from Schweiger Dermatology Group has conducted extensive studies on children with acne, and uncovered this data. This new data is a stark contrast to children from decades past- when early acne developed at age 12 or 13.

Typically, most children did not see acne develop until the ages of 14-16. A study published in “Pediatric Dermatology” in 2011 explored the changes in acne development between 1979 and 2007. “Analysis revealed a significant decrease in the mean age of children seeking treatment for acne over this 28-year period,” the study authors stated.

The study authors remarked that this follows as many children, particularly girls, are reaching puberty at earlier ages. The children who have visited a dermatologist for acne between the ages of 6 and 8 rose from zero percent to nearly two percent during the study period.

According to pediatric endocrinologist at Kaiser Permanente, Louise Greenspan, author of the book “The New Puberty: How to Navigate Early Development in Today’s Girls,” there are two main reasons behind today’s early puberty epidemic. Dr. Greenspan has stated that evidence points to higher rates of obesity and extra stress placed on young children that triggers early puberty.

Dr. Greenspan stated, body fat secrets estrogen, which triggers breast development. A higher fat level means there is more estrogen in the body. Triggering early puberty leads to the growth of body hair and the development of acne. Higher stress levels, too, are linked with a younger puberty age.

According to studies, homes with a lot of stress and conflict trigger early puberty, as does living without a biological father present in the home. Studies have found that girls who live away from their biological fathers are twice as likely to get their periods early as girls who live with their biological fathers.

Dr. Greenspan has stated that hormone-mimicking chemicals from personal care products, plastics, and hormones in meat, soy, and dairy may be a contributing factor to early puberty, but science has not found a direct correlation as of yet.

However, this does not mean that these items are not a contributing factor in early puberty rates. Studies have found, however, that drinking sugary beverages triggers early puberty in girls.

A study from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2015 examined over 5,000 girls between the ages of 9 and 14 between 1999 and 2001. The study authors found that girls who drank more than 1.5 servings of a sugary drink had their first period on average of about 2.7 months earlier than girls who drank fewer than two servings of sugary drinks a week. These findings were found to be true regardless of each girl’s weight, height, food intake, or physical activity. This indicates that sugar can be a trigger for puberty independently of weight gain.

Treatment Options for Young Kids

Not all acne treatment options are suitable for children who have not reached their teens. The American Acne and Rosacea Society updated its guidelines for acne treatment recommendations in 2013 to add treatment guidelines for young children. The recommendations for treatment were based on scientific research and data. “Acne severity dictates protocol, but with younger patients, we tend to avoid certain oral antibiotics and instead focus on topical treatments,” the study authors reported.

The following acne treatment methods have been approved for use in children younger than 12: 

Approved Acne Treatments for Children
  • Tretinoin gel 0.05%: Children 10 and up
  • Adapalene and benzoyl peroxide gel 0.1%/2.5%: Ages 9 and up
  • Extended-release minocycline: Ages 12 and up

Oral and topical antibiotics are not FDA approved for acne in children younger than 12. According to the study authors, oral antibiotics for acne are not FDA approved for any age group (except for extended-release minocycline).

The study authors state that tetracycline, doxycycline, and minocycline should never be used in children younger than 8 years of age due to the high potential for side effects.

A New York Times article published in 2013 found that some dermatologists have prescribed hormonal birth control for girls as young as 13 or 14. However, hormonal birth control can have serious side effects at any age, but particularly in girls with early puberty.

According to breast cancer researcher and biochemist David Zava, Ph.D., hormonal birth control used at any time increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. However, the high number of developing cells during puberty increases the risk of developing breast cancer at a later date.

When Dr. Zava was interviewed by Virginia Hopkins University, he told the university, “I was shocked to see a full-page ad for birth control pills that suggested they could also be used to treat acne. I find it hard to believe that drug companies are allowed to market birth control pills directly to young girls when that is a known cancer risk. They will help her acne — but at what price?”

Natural Acne Treatments for Children

There are a few steps parents and caregivers can take to minimize the appearance of acne on their children’s faces. The best natural treatments for acne start from the inside out. Some of the most effective natural acne treatments are listed below:

Healthy Diet

Junk food contributes to acne in a variety of ways. It leads to a higher accumulation of fat, which messes with the bacteria in the stomach which controls acne. It also leads to a higher amount of estrogen in the body, which triggers early puberty. A healthy diet reduces the chance for early puberty and provides the body with the tools it needs to fight acne from the inside out.

Regular Exercise

Exercise will keep excess weight off and helps relieve stress. The less stress in the body, the fewer acne pimples will pop up. Moderate exercise three times a week, or involvement in a regular sport can help fight acne.

Vitamin Intake

Vitamins can help fight acne from the inside out. Studies have shown that the following vitamins can be helpful:

Vitamin A: Vitamin A is a well-known treatment for acne. Accutane, a prescription medication for acne, is basically a high dose of vitamin A. Adding more vitamin A to the diet can help fight acne.

Zinc: Studies have shown that zinc is effective against acne because it reduces oil production on the face, leading to pores that clog less easily. Zinc also reduces inflammation and provides bacterial protection.

Vitamin E: Studies show that individuals who have acne are routinely lacking in vitamin A, E, and zinc. Adding some extra vitamin E to the diet is likely to have positive results in the number or size of acne pimples on the face.


A study from 2011 published in “Gut Pathology” found that probiotics can have a positive effect on some cases of acne. Since acne is caused by bacteria, adding more of the right kind of bacteria to the gut can help control acne levels from the very start. The study found a positive relationship between reduced acne levels and yogurt intake.

Fish Oil

A study from 2008 conducted by Canadian researchers found that fish oil and omega-3 fats can have a positive effect on acne. Results were most pronounced when study participants were lacking in omega-3 levels. Other studies have found that the ideal fat ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 is 1 to 4. Many Americans have a fat ratio closer to 26 to 1. If a person has this striking of a fat imbalance, supplementing with fish oil is likely to improve the appearance of acne.

Health Risks Associated with Childhood Acne

Acne in children is concerning for more than the embarrassment factor. When puberty strikes early, children are not ready to handle the emotions, adult reactions, and psychology that go along with early puberty. Additionally, early puberty increases the risks of developing late-life problems, such as breast cancer, depression, substance abuse, and other mental health disorders.

Children who go through early puberty may also not reach their full height, as the body stops growing when puberty is completed. Early puberty is not just a problem for girls- although it does seem to be more common in girls. Boys may go through early puberty (before age 9) as a result of a thyroid problem, injury, a tumor, or an infection. Boys who go through puberty too early may have trouble with aggressive feelings and sexual urges that do not match the child’s age.

Girls who go through puberty too-early also face a variety of risks and health problems. One of the most documented side effects is a higher risk of developing breast cancer. There is a link that shows that the longer a woman goes between puberty and her first pregnancy, the more likely she is to develop breast cancer.

Girls who undergo puberty at an early age have a long time between puberty and their first pregnancy. Girls will also face sexual confusion and emotional disturbances when going through puberty too-soon. Girls are likely to engage in sexual behavior at earlier ages and may seek out risky behavior because they lack the emotional stability to counteract hormonal impulses.

Is Early Puberty Preventable?

The age in which a child hits puberty is caused by a variety of factors. In a healthy child, genetics will play a big part in when the child goes through puberty. Other factors can also influence hormonal changes, including hormonal changes in classmates and peers. As a caregiver, you can take the following steps to reduce early puberty in both boys and girls:

Remove Environmental Risks

Some studies have indicated that environmental factors may influence the hormones of children. When possible, avoid these factors. Try removing as much plastic as possible from the home and use a heavy-duty water filter.

Relieve Stress

Stress is a contributing factor to the development of acne. Try to provide a stress-free environment for kids and plenty of ways to unwind at the end of the day. Consider removing your children from activities that provide sources of stress. Work together with your children on homework and ensure they have a period of rest each day. Getting enough sleep can also work to relieve stress.

Encourage Exercise

Exercise improves mood and relieves stress, which contributes to acne. Additionally, exercise can help control excess weight and bring down estrogen levels in the body. Try to ensure your kids have a period of exercise daily.

Serve Healthy Foods

Junk foods contribute to obesity and do not provide a solid foundation of nutritional foods. Sugar, in particular, is linked with the onset of early puberty and acne. Provide foods that are hormone and chemical-free as much as possible. Your children should eat few processed foods and have a variety of vegetables, healthy fats, fruit, and healthy protein sources for maximum effect.

Prevent Childhood Acne

Preventing childhood acne is closely tied in with the prevention of early puberty. Aside from traumatic and genetic factors, keeping a child’s weight down, stress levels low, and diet healthy will work to prevent the onset of early puberty and acne. Avoiding environmental factors, hormones, and chemicals may also help reduce the risk of childhood puberty and acne. Take steps early in childhood to provide a healthy foundation that will protect your children against the risks of early puberty.





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