Dear Rene,

My son Keith has bad acne – and it’s really getting him down.

Keith is 15 years old and started getting spotty about 6 months ago. He now has bad acne over much of his face and neck and is really depressed. Kids at school tease him and he’s becoming withdrawn and moody. He thinks he’ll never get a girlfriend. Most worryingly his grades have also dropped.

We’ve tried face washes, scrubs and spot creams – but nothing is really working yet. I’m also worried that Keith is going to end up with acne scars for the rest of his life.

Did you ever have spots or acne Rene – and how did you handle them? And what about all the other GEMs out there? Have your kids had similar problems – and what did you do?


Tracey, Minnesota



Hi Tracey:


Glad you wrote. It’s like one of nature’s cruel jokes, isn’t it? As a teenager, first you grow like a daffodil on a spring day and just as you’re learning how to handle these arms and legs with their added inches, your face gets in on the act. Angry red bumps, the occasional blackhead and if you’re really (un)lucky, cystic acne that can leave pits and pock marks. Ugh. I know the feeling because I’ve been there before and am now going through it with my own kids.  I have seen a dermatologist for more than 25 years now (not the same one but I always made sure I had one in whatever city I was working in) because people with darker skin tend to scar more easily. I also suffered from cystic acne, which would leave huge, painful bumps mostly on my chin and forehead NOT a good look for someone on TV. I have taken Retin A for more than 20 years and at one point had tried antibiotics and Accutane.  So I have a soft spot in my heart for Keith and his plight. I took your question to my own dermatologist, Dr. Robyn Gmyrek who is Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and here’s what she suggested:


START WITH A CLEAN FACE: Dr. Gmyreck said it’s important to cleanse the skin day and night and then moisturize with a light moisturizer. A lot of times people skip the last step because they think they will make their acne worse by using a moisturizer. Not so, according to Dr. Gmyreck if you choose a nice, light one.


IF YOU OPT FOR AN OVER-THE-COUNTER PRODUCT, STICK WITH IT! Dr. Gmyreck said a big problem is that people try something then ditch it when they don’t see results in the first 4 or 5 days. She reminds people that it takes time for the product to become effective so you need to commit to one brand for 6-8 weeks. If there is no improvement, then switch to something else, which you will again stick with for a while. She has told me in the past that she likes Proactive and suggested it for my daughter. Casey used it and got great results so that may be something you want to try.


IF THE TOPICAL STUFF DOES NOT WORK AND YOU SEE SCARS GET TO A DERMATOLOGIST: Dr. Gmyreck said it could be that the acne may need to be treated systemically with antibiotics or Accutane, as I did. A few years ago, there was a breathless report that said that kids taking Accutane were at increased risk for suicide. But as you can see from this article, the link was flimsy and it turns out that severe acne was itself a risk factor for depression and suicide in this age group. I am glad you are taking this seriously because as you can see, it can be much more than just making sure your son has a clean face.


Lastly, Dr. Gmyreck says LEAVE THE BUMPS ALONE. No touching, squeezing poking, prodding, none of the stuff that she chides me for doing to myself.


I know this is hard on you too because we moms hate to see our kids suffer. But I think if you show Keith that you take seriously his concerns about his skin and by extension, his future, together you will be able to find a solution.


Good Luck mommy!




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