Skin Care: Acne

What You Need

Skin Care: Acne


To learn about the underlying causes, prevention, and treatment of acne.


This lesson is part of the Skin Deep Project, which examines the science behind skin. Skin Deep is developed by AAAS and funded by Neutrogena. For more lessons, activities, and interactives that take a closer look at the science behind skin, be sure to check out the Skin Deep Project.

In this lesson, students are asked to think about what they already know about how the body changes as people age. More specifically, they are asked to talk about acne and what they consider to be the most effective ways of treating it and preventing its spread. Using online resources, they will discover that there are many misconceptions about the exact causes and best treatments for acne. When they complete the lesson, they will have a good understanding of how to prevent and treat acne, and take care of their skin in general.

Students at this level would benefit from knowing that each person develops at his or her own rate. Biological changes—like acne—can be unsettling, especially if they occur out of sync with those experienced by others in a person's peer group. (Science for All Americans, pp. 75–76.)

Like all organisms, humans have the means of protecting themselves. One example is the skin, which provides a shield against harmful substances and organisms, such as bacteria and parasites. (Science for All Americans, p. 77.) Students at this level may or may not know that good health necessitates avoiding exposure to harmful substances in the environment. People also must make a collective effort to monitor the air, soil, and water and take steps to keep them safe. The body's first line of defense against harmful agents is to keep them from entering or settling in the body. If harmful agents get past the skin's protective barrier, tears and saliva work to carry them out. Stomach and vaginal secretions also mobilize to kill them. Measures people can take to help protect themselves from harmful organisms include keeping the skin clean, eating properly, avoiding contaminated foods and liquids, and limiting exposure to disease. (Science for All Americans, pp. 80–81.)

Human beings' knowledge of diseases has helped them understand how the healthy body works, just as knowing about normal body functioning helps to define and detect diseases. Students' growing knowledge of science can inform choices about nutrition and exercise, but that doesn't ensure healthy practices. Many have ideas about health that are contrary to scientific facts. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 143.) Students should extend their study of the healthy functioning of the human body and ways it may be promoted or disrupted by diet, lifestyle, bacteria, and viruses. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 145.)

While teaching, it is important to keep in mind that students of all ages tend to believe that many factors they consider important to their health and life span are also beyond their personal control. Research also shows that upper elementary-school children may believe that all illnesses are caused by germs and are contagious. As students grow older, their beliefs about causes of illness begin to include the malfunctioning of internal organs and systems, poor health habits, and genetics. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, pp. 345–346.)

Ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in these health education standards:

  • Health Education Standard 1:
    Students will comprehend concepts related to health promotion and disease prevention.

    1. explain the relationship between positive health behaviors and the prevention of injury, illness, disease, and premature death.
    8. describe how lifestyle, pathogens, family history, and other risk factors are related to the cause or prevention of disease and other health problems.
  • Health Education Standard 2:
    Students will demonstrate the ability to access valid health information and health-promoting products and services.

    1. analyze the validity of health information, products, and services.
    2. demonstrate the ability to utilize resources from home, school, and community that provide valid health information.
  • Health Education Standard 3:
    Students will demonstrate the ability to practice health-enhancing behaviors and reduce health risks.

    1. explain the importance of assuming responsibility for personal health behaviors.
    4. demonstrate strategies to improve or maintain personal and family health.
  • Health Education Standard 4:
    Students will demonstrate the ability to use goal-setting and decision-making skills to enhance health.

    1. demonstrate the ability to apply a decision-making process to health issues and problems individually and collaboratively.
    4. apply strategies and skills needed to attain personal health goals.


Start the lesson by having students talk about the kinds of body changes that people experience as they age. Ask questions like the following that focus on the aging process from the teenage years on:

  • As teenagers grow into adulthood, what kinds of body changes do they typically experience? Offer examples.
  • As adults grow into old age, what kinds of body changes do they experience? Offer examples.

(During the discussion, be sure to have the class address the teenage problem of acne. Note that it tends to go away in adulthood.)

Other questions to include in this opening discussion:

  • What are some examples of body changes that we can control? Can’t control?
  • What measures can people take to minimize the physical changes they experience as they age?
  • Imagine a person who eats poorly and rarely bathes. What physical changes might he or she experience compared to someone who eats properly and practices good hygiene?
  • What measures do you think you will take to control the physical changes you will face as you get older? Offer examples.
  • What are some of the benefits of managing your health this way?

    (Accept all reasonable answers. Encourage students to elaborate on their responses.)

Once students become more aware of the kinds of body changes they will face over time, shift their attention to the problem of acne. Find out what they already know about this often embarrassing problem. Ask if any students would like to share personal experiences. Make sure that those who may have acne aren't shamed.

Here are some questions to help guide this discussion:

  • Let's take a closer look at acne. What can you tell me about it?
  • What do you think causes acne?
  • Describe the kinds of physical changes that are common with acne (appearance, locations, scars, etc.)
  • At what stage(s) of life does this change in the body typically occur? Do old people get pimples?
  • What measures do people take to limit the spread of acne?
  • What environmental factors contribute to it, if any?

    (Accept all reasonable answers. Encourage students to elaborate on their responses.)

Explain to students that they will learn a lot more about the causes and treatments of acne.


Have students go online and use their The Story Behind Acne student esheet to look at the You & Your Skin resource, which will give them basic facts on the purpose, anatomy, and care of their skin. When they finish reading, they should answer these questions on the Skin Care: Acne student sheet:

  • What does your skin do for you? (Your skin protects your organs, muscles, and bones. It protects you from germ exposure, regulates body temperature, enables you to feel sensations, and keeps your body fluids from evaporating.)
  • How are the epidermis and subcutaneous tissue different? (The epidermis is the outer layer of skin. It produces melanin, gets oxygen and nutrients from lower layers of skin, and continually creates new skin cells to replace dead cells on the surface. Subcutaneous tissue is the lowest layer of skin. It is made up of fat and connective tissue that contains larger nerves and blood vessels. It also helps your body stay warm and protects your organs from impact.)
  • What is melanin? In which layer of skin can it be found? (Melanin is a pigment found in the epidermis which determines skin color and the amount a person will tan or burn when exposed to the sun.)
  • What is the best way to treat insect bites? (Avoid scratching the area if itchiness occurs. Use a cream or ointment to limit itchiness and protect the area from infection.)
  • What is the best way to wash your face, with your hands or a towel? Why? (Using your hands is better because they are less abrasive to your skin than most towels.)
  • What are some ways to keep you skin healthy? (You can keep you skin healthy by eating right, drinking plenty of water, exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep, avoiding tobacco, and using sunscreen regularly.)

Then have students visit Bursting myths about acne to read a short article that will "burst" some of the common misconceptions out there about the causes and best ways to treat acne. Have students take notes as they read on key terms, ideas, and concepts presented in the article.

When they are finished, they should answer the corresponding questions on the Skin Care: Acne student sheet:

  • What measures did Grant take to control his acne problem? (He showered upwards of four times a day and refrained from eating foods thought to cause acne—chocolate, french fries, and greasy foods.)
  • According to the article, what really causes acne? (Hormones and heredity cause acne.)
  • Are young males or females more likely to have severe acne? (One study found that by a 3-to-2 ratio, young men are more likely than young women to have severe and long-lasting forms of acne.)
  • What are blackheads? Whiteheads? Papules? Pustules? Nodules? (Mild forms of acne, blackheads are open comedones and whiteheads are closed comedones, both typically found on the face, neck, and upper body. Papules (red, inflamed spots), pustules (red pimples with white centers), and nodules (large, painful lumps) are more serious forms of acne that can result in scaring.)
  • What other myths about acne are revealed in this article? (Experts suggest that waiting for their acne to go away is a bad idea. Sufferers should seek medical advice if concerned about the disorder.)
  • What treatment is recommended for more difficult-to-severe cases of acne? (Prescription antibiotics, both topical and oral, have become the standard treatment for more advanced stages of acne.)
  • What approach is suggested to help prevent the spread of acne? (One expert asserts, "a balanced diet, enough sleep and exercise, and regular washing are good for the complexion and general health but cannot prevent or cure acne.")

Next, to get a more scientifically in-depth assessment of acne and ways to take care of their skin, have students use their student esheet to visit the patient education tutorial from MEDLINEplus X-Plain Patient Education Institute. Also pass out the Acne Questionnaire student sheet, which they can use to answer some guiding questions as they read through each section of the tutorial. When finished, have an open discussion about their findings and impressions of the material. You can use the Acne Questionnaire teacher sheet to help with this discussion.



Assess student understanding based on their answers to the questions above.

Finish the lesson by having students complete the Your Pimple Knowledge lesson assessment, a series of multiple-choice questions that tests students' basic knowledge of the main ideas and concepts presented in this lesson. As an alternative, students can answer the same questions on the printable Your Pimple Knowledge lesson assessment. (Answers to the questions can be found on Your Pimple Knowledge teacher sheet.)


You can extend the ideas in this lesson by leading your students through these Science NetLinks lessons:

Students can learn more about different skin conditions by visiting the Kidss Health website, which features these articles:

Did you find this resource helpful?

Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks