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"Can acne spread from face to arms?"


My teenage son has recently been developing moderate acne on his face. I haven't paid much attention, because he's that age. But then it began to look as if it was spreading onto his shoulders and arms. Can acne even spread in that fashion, or are we looking at a different skin condition?


Acne is a skin condition in which skin pores that produce the oil sebum get clogged up causing over growth of bacteria resulting in pimples (also known as comedones). Acne typically begins developing in the teenage years when new hormones begin producing increasing amounts of sebum. Acne does not spread per se, it develops on its own in different locations.

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Anywhere in the body where sebaceous (oil producing) glands reside acne can develop. This includes the face, neck, arms, and back. No matter how moderate your son's acne is, he should be treated to prevent long term scaring. The first line treatment for moderate acne is topical benzoyl peroxide. This helps open up those pores and kill the bacteria causing the comedones. If this does not work, then topical retinoic acid and topical antibiotics can be tried. Finally, oral antibiotics and the drug isotretinoin (accutane) can be used in severe cases that do not respond to the usual treatment. Most primary care physicians (family doctors or pediatricians) are comfortable treating moderate acne. If your son's acne becomes more severe, or if the first line treatments do not work, then he may warrant referral to a dermatologist. Dermatologists have stronger medications at their disposal for certain circumstances. Good luck.

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