8 Things Your Doctor Wants You to Know About Acne

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Cindy Kuzma on September 20, 2020
  • Group of doctors
    From the Experts
    Acne has many names—pimples, blemishes, zits. No matter what you call them, the signs of acne are rarely a welcome sight in the mirror. This skin condition occurs when dead skin cells and oil clogs your pores or hair follicles causing inflammation and irritation. Acne typically appears on your face, chest, shoulders and back. It can cause scarring and emotional distress. Here, a few specialists offer treatment tips and clear up some common assumptions about acne:
  • girl with acne, skin, pimple
    1. “Acne is complicated.”
    From whiteheads and blackheads to nodules and cysts, many different types of breakouts can occur. And each person’s skin type, complexion, and environment differ. “Treatment must be thoughtfully customized,” says dermatologist Cynthia Bailey, MD. “The fix for pimples and blackheads is not a one-size-fits-all treatment.” Just because something worked for your friend, sister, or even for you in the past doesn’t mean you’ll see success with the same solution now.
  • Acne treatment
    2. “Doctors can’t cure acne.”
    For many people, acne occurs during a particular time in life. For others, it’s an ongoing challenge. Either way, your dermatologist can treat acne to reduce symptoms but not cure it. Treatments vary and include creams, prescription pills, and lifestyle changes. Most therapies take time and diligence, according to dermatologist Seth Orlow, MD, PhD. “To see the benefits of clearer skin, patients need to stick with their treatment regimens.”
  • woman writing in journal
    3. “Knowing your skin history can help me treat your acne.”
    Before your appointment, make a list—or better yet, take photos—of all the skin products you use or have tried before. Note what has worked for you and what hasn’t. “You also need to know your family history of skin cancer and other skin conditions, and be aware of any moles or new growths that seem concerning,” says dermatologist Ava Shamban, MD.
  • Doctor and Patient
    4. “Be honest if you feel can’t handle a treatment.”
    Since acne treatments require time and effort to work, ask questions and make sure you understand your treatment plan. You need to know how much to use, how often to apply it, and any other details about a particular therapy. And tell your doctor if something seems so impractical you doubt you can stick with it. “Together, patients and doctors can explore other options and alternatives,” Dr. Orlow says.
  • variety-of-fast-food
    5. “Having acne doesn’t mean you have poor hygiene.”
    Oil and dead skin cells cause breakouts—not dirt. “Acne has little, if anything, to do with cleanliness,” says Dr. Orlow. “You can’t scrub it away.” Hormonal changes, family history, medications, certain cosmetics, and stress all play a role. Chocolate and greasy foods probably don’t. Some other dietary choices—such as refined flour, sugar, and dairy—are more likely culprits, Dr. Shamban says.
  • Acne Scars
    6. “Don’t pick at your pimples.”
    Red marks from treated acne will typically fade if you continue therapy. But refrain from popping or squeezing your pimples. “We want to avoid scarring, not foster it,” Dr. Orlow says. Also, avoid scrubbing or scratching your skin. If your acne treatment makes your skin dry or itchy, pair it with a moisturizer, Dr. Shamban recommends.
  • Women looking in mirror putting cream on face
    7. “Adults can break out, too.”
    Acne often begins in the early teen years, when oil glands in your body ramp up production. It typically ends by age 25 or so. But even adults who have never had acne can develop adult acne, Dr. Shamban says. Topical or oral medications, cosmetic procedures, and healthy lifestyle choices—including regular exercise—can prevent or relieve adult acne. Also ask whether you should change makeup or skin care brands, which can trigger adult acne symptoms.
  • Doctor using laptop with female patient in office
    8. “Acne can signal more serious problems—especially for women.”
    Breakouts may not just be a cosmetic issue. In some cases, they serve as a sign of polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal problem that harms reproductive health. Other signs include excessive hair growth, weight gain, and irregular periods, Dr. Orlow says. If you experience these symptoms, see both your dermatologist and a gynecologist, Dr. Shamban says. You may need treatment with hormones or other medications in addition to acne therapy.
8 Things Your Doctor Wants You to Know About Acne

About The Author

  1. Acne: overview. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/acne.printerview.all.html
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 20
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.