DR. WALLACE: Why does acne always seem to show up mostly in the teen years? It seems to me that most of the severe acne I see around my town is on the faces of teenagers like me. I have a little acne, and it’s not too bad right now, but I’m afraid it will spread and take over my whole face. I’m 16 and have had it for about six months now. Can acne somehow be avoided or controlled so it doesn’t spread? — Fearing More Acne, via email

FEARING MORE ACNE: This is a very common question that I get asked quite frequently. It seems each new class of high school students ends up writing in with a question on this topic.

I feel duty-bound to provide information on this topic regularly because it is an issue that can be emotional and can also leave scars if not treated properly. So, here are some crucial facts about skin problems that teens should know:

• Acne is the term for pimples and complexion problems that trouble many young people. It is only a skin problem and has nothing to do with a person’s general health. Acne is caused by the oil glands of the skin breaking open during the teen years. These glands start producing oil material called sebum, which is discharged onto the surface of the skin.

• Sometimes, the wall of the oil gland breaks and spills the sebum within the skin. The sebum irritates the skin tissues and causes redness, swelling and pus — a pimple. In mild cases, only a few oil glands break open; in severe cases of acne, many do. Acne runs in families. It’s impossible to prevent acne, since there is no way of changing the genetic makeup of one’s oil glands.

• Dirt does not cause acne, despite what many of you may have been told. The oil on the skin’s surface actually does no harm. Special soaps, astringents and acne cleansers are not the answer to this problem, but they can keep your skin clean with regular use, so they do have their purpose. Just do not expect these products to “cure” acne. It is also wise to wash your face with ordinary soap and water only as much as you need to keep it clean. Too much washing and scrubbing can cause skin irritation. Do not pick, squeeze or otherwise manipulate your pimples, because doing so can cause scars.

• People try all sorts of diets designed to eliminate acne but wind up frustrated because diet won’t help in this regard. Yes, you should eat a healthy diet for your overall well-being, but this alone won’t cause acne to disappear. Foods do not cause acne, but for some people, certain foods can sometimes make acne worse. The most common foods that present these challenges are chocolate, nuts and soft drinks. A few people who drink large quantities of milk (over a quart daily) find this can worsen their acne. Aggravation of acne by foods varies, but remember, there is no diet that “cures” acne.

• Unfortunately, there is no medical miracle to prevent acne, but it can be controlled by proper medical treatment. In recent years, several effective antibiotics have been developed. If a teen feels uncomfortable about his or her complexion, consider a trip to a dermatologist. This affliction is a medical problem that requires medical attention to combat in severe cases.

DR. WALLACE: My boyfriend, and I have been going out for six months, and lately, he has become sexually aggressive. Last week, we almost went all the way. Last night, he called me and said it might be good for us to stop seeing each other for two or three weeks now that summer is here so that we could test our love for each other by being apart for a while to see if the absence makes us fonder of each other. I thought that sounded weird, especially since he has never used the word “fonder” in the whole six months we’ve been together.

I really think I might love this guy, and I don’t want to lose him. What should I do now? — Barely Holding Onto My Virginity, via email

BARELY HOLDING ONTO MY VIRGINITY: Your boyfriend is likely using this technique to try to get what he wants. He also might have been given advice from someone who recited the old phrase, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” His thinking is that once his mandated break period has ended, you’ll be much more pliable to his wishes and desires.

I suggest you hold your ground on both fronts: first, take the two- or three-week break, and don’t show that it bothers you at all. Second, if and when you do get back together, inform him that the answer is still no as far as “going all the way” is concerned. This way, you’ll have your pride, your self-respect and your health firmly intact. If he can accept this and enjoy the relationship with you, you’ve got a keeper for the time being. If he opts to pout or move on, you’re one day closer to meeting a guy that will treat you with the respect you deserve.

Dr. Robert Wallace will answer questions from readers in this column. Email him at rwallace@galesburg.net.

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