When to See a Dermatologist for Acne

Acne is a common skin condition that usually affects teens and young adults, but it can happen to anyone. Acne usually appears on the face, chest, back, and shoulders. Mild acne can usually be treated at home with over-the-counter medications. However, sometimes over-the-counter treatments aren’t enough to effectively treat acne, and some conditions, like rosacea, are easily mistaken for acne. Regardless of its severity, if acne is negatively impacting your teen’s psychological or emotional health, it’s time to see a dermatologist.

Types of Acne

Acne occurs when hair follicles are blocked with excess oil and dead skin cells. Trapped bacteria inside the follicle can also cause it to become red and inflamed. Let’s take a look at the different types of acne.

Whiteheads, also called closed comedones, occur when the follicle is blocked and closed off at the top. Whiteheads look like tiny white bumps on the skin. A white “head” of pus may be seen.
Blackheads, also called open comedones, occur when the follicle is blocked, but open at the top, with the trapped material visible as a small black speck.
Papules are whiteheads that have become inflamed and infected. They are hard, clogged pores that are pink or red and may be tender to the touch.
Pustules are red and inflamed, like papules, but they have a white “head” of pus.

Severe acne. Extreme cases of acne include nodules, cysts, or acne conglobata. Nodules are large, firm, painful bumps that occur deeper under the skin. Cysts are pus-filled lesions that look like boils. Acne conglobata, often associated with steroid use, involves a network of severely inflamed nodules under the skin.

Treating acne at home

Mild acne can be treated at home. A combination of whiteheads and blackheads with the occasion papule or pustule can be treated with the following regimen: wash the face with warm water and a mild soap or cleanser. Apply an over-the-counter acne treatment containing benzoyl peroxide and/or salicylic acid. Some patients also respond well to washing their face with a sulfur-based soap.

Papules and pustules should not be treated by picking or squeezing. This tends to worsen the problem and can lead to scarring and dark spots.

Knowing when it’s time to see a dermatologist for acne

If any of the following occurs, you should see a dermatologist for acne treatment. Dermatologists are able to prescribe stronger medications to control acne. They can also do extractions, chemical peels, and other minor procedures that help control acne and minimize long-term effects. See a dermatologist for acne if any of the following occurs:

● Acne does not clear up after 10 weeks of over-the-counter treatments.
● Acne gets worse even with over-the-counter treatments.
● Acne clears up, but comes back.
● Nothing seems to help the acne on your chest and back, or you have acne in uncommon places.
● Symptoms of severe acne (such as nodules or cysts) are present.
● Acne is causing emotional or psychological problems, especially in a younger person or teen.
● An older adult has a sudden onset of severe acne (this could be a symptom of a disease).
● You are tired of living with acne and just want to be rid of it.

How dermatologists treat acne

At Arizona Dermatology, we treat all types of acne. Depending on the situation, we can prescribe topical or oral medications, including some of the newest acne medications that have been getting impressive results, even with difficult-to-treat hormone-related acne.

We also offer safe, in-office procedures like chemical peels to help unclog pores and encourage new, healthy skin growth. Treating acne sooner rather than later helps to minimize long-term effects like skin discoloration and scarring. If you already have dark spots or acne scars, we can help reduce the look of those with light-based and laser treatments.

In short, if acne is bothering you or your child, and you are wondering if it’s time to see a dermatologist—it probably is.