Mild acne, moderate acne, or severe acne — our expert tips will help your teen fight breakouts head on.

By Maria Masters

Thanks to hormones, acne is as much a part of teen life as homework and gossip. And with kids entering puberty at ever-younger ages, even 9- and 10-year-olds are breakout prone, says a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). No matter how many trouble spots have appeared, our expert tips will help your child uncover flawless skin.

Mild Acne: Mainly whiteheads and blackheads, with some red, raised pimples

What to try: Benzoyl Peroxide

"Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most effective over-the- counter ingredients on the market," says Lawrence Eichenfield, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and medicine at Rady Children's Hospital. The medication works by targeting breakout-causing bacteria and is safe for kids under age 12, according to the report. Have your child try an OTC 3.5%, 5% or 10% solution. We like Clearasil Ultra Rapid Action Vanishing Treatment Cream ($9). If she experiences irritation, have her switch to a lower-strength concentration.

Moderate Acne: More extensive whiteheads, blackheads and inflamed pimples

What to try: Benzoyl Peroxide + a topical retinoid or topical antibiotic

Topical antibiotics also work by fighting some acne-causing bacteria, while retinoids are vitamin A derivatives that unclog pores to clear up and prevent blemishes. Tretinoin gel 0.05%, sold as Atralin, is FDA approved for kids age 10 and older. Retin-A and Differin, for 12-years-olds and up, may also be prescribed for younger children. "Kids with darker complexions are more prone to acne 'blemishes'—discoloration that occurs after the pimple fades—and may want to use topical products even if their breakouts are mild," says Dr. Eichenfield. Make sure your child uses only a pea-size amount in order to avoid side effects like irritation and peeling.

Severe Acne: Numerous smaller pimples, larger spots and acne scarring that covers most of the face

What to try: Benzoyl Peroxide + a topical retinoid + an oral antibiotic or oral retinoid

Oral antibiotics, like tetracyclines, kill bacteria and reduce inflammation. But your child will still need benzoyl peroxide, since it helps prevent resistance to the pills. You may also want to consider asking about isotretinoin, an oral retinoid formerly known as Accutane. Approved for kids older than 12, it can cause dry skin and birth defects. Although the drug has been associated with depression, the AAP report didn't find a link.

Originally published in the October 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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