5 Ways Your Skin Changes During Adolescence

Distant teenage girl.
Adolescence can be a scary and challenging time for kids.
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Adolescence isn't easy. You're changing from a tween to a young adult -- sometimes almost overnight.

You may be changing and developing so fast that you feel almost as if you're growing out of your own skin. To make matters worse, your skin is changing in such weird and disgusting ways that you wish you could grow out of it -- or at least trade it in for a newer model. Where did all those bumps come from? And is that your own sweat you're smelling? Eeewww.


If misery truly loves company, take heart. You're not alone. The grownups in your life have been through the same changes. Your friends and schoolmates are struggling through similar developments. Maybe your best friend doesn't seem to be plagued with zits the way you are. Maybe the head cheerleader doesn't seem to break a sweat. But you can bet everybody is facing problems like yours, in one way or another. Skin changes are just one of those facts of adolescent life.

The truth is more than skin deep. Keep reading to learn five more changes you'll have to deal with.

5. You've Struck Oil

Boy washing face.
When dealing with oily skin, all you can do is wash and wash often.
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Like so much in adolescence, you can blame your oily skin on hormones. When kids reach puberty, their brains release a gonadotropin-releasing hormone. That causes the pituitary gland to release luteinizing hormones (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH). If you're a girl, these hormones tell your body to produce estrogen. If you're a guy, you get testosterone. No wonder you sometimes feel as if somebody's conducting a volatile chemistry experiment inside you.

These hormones prompt your sebaceous (oil) glands to make lots of a fatty substance called sebum. Sebum is that oil that makes your face shiny and your hair drippy. You have lots of sebaceous glands on your face, back, shoulders and chest. A bonus: Each strand of hair has its own sebaceous gland.


What to do? Wash a lot. Wash your face two or three times a day with a soap designed for oily skin. It's also fine to blot with alcohol or witch hazel, but don't overdo it, or your skin will get too dry. When you shower or bathe, pay attention to the areas that get oily. Shampoo your hair every day. Avoid products such as oil-based makeup or oily conditioners that will only make things worse.

Be thankful that oil is making its way to the surface of your skin. Keep reading to learn about the problems you'll face if it doesn't.

4. Pimples: All Clogged Up

Woman popping pimple on face.
If you have pimples, do everything you can not to do this.
John Resten/Getty Images

When your revved-up hormones prompt your sebaceous glands to produce lots of sebum, that oil has to go somewhere. Normally, it flows through passages called follicles and out through the pores on the surface of your skin. Each follicle also contains a tiny hair that grows out to the skin.

This movement of oil is a natural process that carries dead skin cells to the skin's surface. There, the oil may drive you up the wall with the need to blot and wash.


But, annoying as oily skin can be, things can get worse. If the oil doesn't make it out to the skin, it may begin to block the follicle. Then the hair, the dead skin cells and the oil can all glop together to plug up the follicle. When a follicle gets plugged, something's got to give. That's where pimples come in.

Prevent pimples by cleaning the oil away from your skin. Wash your face two or three times a day with non-oily soap. Wash with warm water to open the pores and then rinse with cold water to close them, and to keep out bacteria and dirt. For the back, use an antibacterial soap and a clean brush.

If you do get pimples -- blackheads, whiteheads or any other variety -- resist the urge to pick at or squeeze them. Touching pimples usually makes things worse and can leave scars or dark spots.

Sometimes, things get worse anyway. Read on to learn about acne.

3. Acne: The Teenagers' Torment

Acne is common and rarely poses a health risk. But that's small comfort if you're afflicted with zits, and untreated acne can leave scars.

Acne develops when bacteria on the skin (they're normal) grow in plugged follicles. The bacteria cause inflammation, and the follicle breaks down. The material that was plugging it spills onto the skin. Some sort of pimple, zit or lesion results. Sometimes, there are a lot of them at once.


A comedo (KOM-e-do) is what doctors call the basic plugged follicle. If it's closed, beneath the skin, it's a whitehead. If it opens and darkens because of oxidation, a blackhead forms. Papules are small inflamed bumps. Pustules (your basic pimples) are papules topped by a yellowish or whitish bump of pus.

If bacteria invade the lesions, cysts may develop. That's the sort of acne that may leave permanent scars.

You'll probably need the help of a doctor to fight acne. Doctors may recommend over-the-counter or prescription medications. They may give you oral antibiotics or medications to apply to the skin, or both. Be patient. Acne may get worse before it gets better, and improvement may take weeks.

Oil, bumps and acne aren't the only changes in your skin. Read on to learn more.

2. New Hair in New Places

Boy shaving.
Where did all of this hair come from?
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Now you have to deal with more hair -- and hair in new places. Most hair growth at puberty is normal. Guys and girls grow pubic hair and hair under their arms. Guys start to grow beards and may grow hair on their chests and backs.

You'll need to decide about shaving. Boys may want to try a beard or mustache. Girls may choose to shave legs and underarms. When guys with acne start to shave, they need to be careful not to aggravate the problem.


Sometimes, hair growth may seem excessive or misplaced. Girls may grow hair on their upper lip or on other facial areas.

Remember that "normal" hair growth varies and may be genetic. People with Mediterranean heritage, for example, may have more hair. But if you think your hair growth is abnormal, talk with a doctor. Excess hair or hair in unwanted places can be a sign of hormone imbalance or other health issues.

There are various ways to remove unwanted hair:

  • Shaving.
  • Bleaching (for facial hair)
  • Depilatories
  • Waxing
  • Electrolysis
  • Laser treatment

That new hair may contribute to the worst change of all. Keep reading.

1: Odor

Teenage boys on football field.
If raging hormones and weird body hair everywhere weren't enough to deal with, teens also have to wrestle with body odor.
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Yes, that's yourself you just got a whiff of. You're not that sweet-smelling little kid anymore.

As your hormones rage and your body plays tricks on you, your sweat glands are getting in on the act. Glands you've always had suddenly get a lot more active, and they add new chemicals to the sweat that makes it smell more. The specialized apocrine glands in your armpits now release a fatty sort of sweat that's a favorite food of some bacteria. When those bacteria start to feast on the sweat you produce when you're active, hot or stressed, they release a bad odor.


That new hair you have in some of those same places provides more nice, warm and moist places for the bacteria to feast.

The best defense is to get rid of the sweat and bacteria before they have time to interact. That means regular showering or bathing, with a mild soap, maybe one with antibacterial ingredients. Use clean washcloths and towels. Wear clean, comfortable, loose and absorbent clothing.

You may want to use a deodorant or antiperspirant. Antiperspirants suppress the production of sweat by plugging the sweat glands. Many of them include aluminum salts, which some people think may be linked to health problems. Deodorants fight the bacteria rather than suppressing the sweat. They may also include scent. Read the directions --some products, for example, work better while you sleep.

For more information on adolescent skin care, see the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • "Acne." Mayo Clinic. (Accessed May 17, 2010)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/acne/DS00169
  • "Acne." The Journal of the American Medical Association., Vol. 292, No. 6, Aug. 11, 2004. (Accessed May 17, 2010)http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/292/6/764
  • American Medical Association Family Medical Guide. Fourth Edition. "Adolescent Health." John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, N.J., 2004.
  • Goldman, David R., and Horowitz, David A. "American College of Physicians Complete Home Medical Guide." DK Publishing, Inc. New York, 2003.
  • Kelly, Kate. "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Teenager." Alpha Books. New York, 1996.
  • KidsHealth. "Everything You Wanted to Know About Puberty." (Accessed May 17, 2010)http://kidshealth.org/teen/sexual_health/changing_body/puberty.html
  • KidsHealth. "Teens Health: Hygiene Basics." (Accessed May 17, 2010)http://kidshealth.org. http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_body/take_care/hygiene_basics.html
  • McCoy, Kathy, Ph.D., and Charles Wibbelsman, M.D. "The Teenage Body Book." Hatherleigh. New York, 2008.
  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) Information Clearinghouse. "Questions and Answers About Acne." National Institutes of Health. (Accessed May 19, 2010)http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/acne/#acne_d
  • Numaderm. "Teenage Skin Problems and Remedies." (Accessed May 17, 2010)http://www.numaderm.com/teenage-skin-problems-and-remedies
  • BeautyAdvice.org. "Teen Skin Care -- How to Care For Your Skin at Teenage." (Accessed May 17, 2010)http://www.beautyadvice.org/skin-care/teen-skin-care.htm