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Acne: Should I See My Doctor?

Acne: Should I See My Doctor?

You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Acne: Should I See My Doctor?

Get the facts

Your options

  • See a doctor for your acne.
  • Care for your acne at home.

Key points to remember

  • You may not need to see a doctor if you can control your acne by gently washing your skin with soap or by using lotions or creams that you can buy at the grocery store or drugstore.
  • You may want to see a doctor for your acne if:
    • Home treatment does not work and your acne gets worse.
    • Your pimples are large and hard or filled with fluid. This is called cystic acne.
    • You avoid going out on dates or to parties.
    • You feel embarrassed or depressed because of acne.
  • You may want to see a doctor sooner if one or both of your parents had severe acne and scarring.
FAQs

What is acne?

Acne is a common skin problem that occurs when oil and dead skin cells clog the skin's pores.

Acne is very common among teens. Mild acne, with a few pimples that clear up on their own, may not need any medical treatment.

Moderate and severe acne can cause permanent scars. It can also affect a person's self-esteem. Most people outgrow acne after their teen years. But some people, especially women, may have acne later in life.

What are the symptoms of acne?

Clogged pores lead to pimples, whiteheads, or blackheads. They can appear on the face, neck, shoulders, back, or chest. Pimples that are large and deep are called cystic lesions. These can cause painful infections and scars.

How is acne treated?

How acne is treated depends on how bad it is. Gently cleaning the area with soap or using over-the-counter products, such as benzoyl peroxide lotions, often clears up mild acne.

If these treatments don't clear up your skin within 3 months, see your doctor. He or she can prescribe medicines that can help keep your acne under control.

For severe acne, your doctor may prescribe a pill such as isotretinoin. This medicine may cause birth defects if taken by a pregnant woman. It also has other rare but serious side effects.

Compare your options

Compare

What is usually involved?









What are the benefits?









What are the risks and side effects?









See a doctor for acne See a doctor for acne
  • You have appointments with your doctor.
  • You have the cost of appointments.
  • Your doctor will look at your acne to decide the best way to treat it.
  • You may get one or more medicines. These may be lotions or pills.
  • It can take 6 to 8 weeks for acne treatments to start to work.
  • Your doctor may prescribe medicine that can make your acne go away or get better.
  • Treating acne may prevent scars from cystic acne.
  • Medicines that your doctor prescribes can have side effects. The strongest medicine, isotretinoin, can cause birth defects.
Don't see a doctor for acne Don't see a doctor for acne
  • You care for your acne at home with gentle washing and perhaps by using lotions or creams.
  • You don't have appointments with your doctor.
  • You don't have the cost of appointments.
  • Home care may help your acne go away or get better.
  • It may not cost as much as going to the doctor.
  • You won't have the risk of side effects from strong medicines.
  • Your acne may not get better or go away. You could have scarring.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about seeing a doctor for acne

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

I know that it's normal to still have acne in your 20s, but it really bothers me that I still have so many pimples. I feel like people don't take me seriously because of my skin (though maybe that's all in my head). I'm considering a different job that would involve a lot more work with the public, and I think that my pimples will bother me even more then. I'm going to ask my doctor what I can try.

Shelley, age 24

Even though I have quite a few pimples and blackheads, none of them are very serious. My acne is more annoying than anything else. I feel like I should have outgrown it by now, but it's still there. If I use my benzoyl peroxide faithfully, I can keep it under control, but sometimes I forget. All in all, I guess it doesn't bother me enough to see a doctor about it.

Alfonso, age 27

My mom says that everyone gets zits and that I'm the only one who notices my skin. But I know that's not true. Sometimes the kids at school tease me about my pimples, and I really don't even like to go to school when my face is really broken out. I hate the way I look. So I got my mom to say "okay" about asking the doctor what I can do about it.

Tim, age 14

I am not all that bothered by my acne yet. I do what I can to keep it under control and just try to forget it's there. A lot of kids my age have zits. I think if I don't notice it, maybe other people won't notice it either.

Janet, age 15

What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to see a doctor for acne

Reasons not to see a doctor for acne

I need help to treat my acne.

I want to treat my acne on my own.

More important
Equally important
More important

I want to take prescription medicines to treat my acne.

I don't want to take prescription medicines to treat my acne.

More important
Equally important
More important

I don't mind going to a doctor for my acne.

I don't want to go to the doctor.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm not concerned about the side effects of medicines that my doctor might prescribe.

I'm very concerned about the side effects of medicines that my doctor might prescribe.

More important
Equally important
More important

I don't mind spending the money for doctor visits and medicines.

I don't want to spend the money for doctor visits and medicines.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Seeing a doctor

NOT seeing a doctor

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1.

I don't need to see a doctor if washing with soap and using over-the-counter medicines are controlling my acne.

  • True You're right. You may not need to see a doctor if you can control your acne by gently washing your skin with soap and by using over-the-counter products, such as benzoyl peroxide lotions.
  • False Sorry, that's not right. You may not need to see a doctor if you can control your acne by gently washing your skin with soap and by using over-the-counter products, such as benzoyl peroxide lotions.
  • I'm not sure It may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." You may not need to see a doctor if you can control your acne by gently washing your skin with soap and by using over-the-counter products.
2.

My doctor can prescribe medicines to treat bad acne that causes scarring.

  • True You're right. Your doctor can prescribe medicines to treat bad acne that causes scarring. This may include lotions and pills.
  • False No, that's not right. Your doctor can prescribe medicines to treat bad acne that causes scarring. This may include lotions and pills.
  • I'm not sure It may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." Your doctor can prescribe medicines to treat bad acne that causes scarring. This may include lotions and pills.
3.

I should think about seeing a doctor if my acne makes me feel embarrassed or sad.

  • True That's right. You may want to see a doctor if you feel embarrassed or depressed because of your acne.
  • False That's not right. You may want to see a doctor if you feel embarrassed or depressed because of your acne.
  • I'm not sure It may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." You may want to see a doctor if you feel embarrassed or depressed because of your acne.

Decide what's next

1.

Do you understand the options available to you?

2.

Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3.

Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1.

How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure
3.

Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

Your Summary

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.

Your decision  

Next steps

Which way you're leaning

How sure you are

Your comments

Your knowledge of the facts  

Key concepts that you understood

Key concepts that may need review

Getting ready to act  

Patient choices

Credits

Credits
Credits Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Acne: Should I See My Doctor?

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
  1. Get the facts
  2. Compare your options
  3. What matters most to you?
  4. Where are you leaning now?
  5. What else do you need to make your decision?

1. Get the Facts

Your options

  • See a doctor for your acne.
  • Care for your acne at home.

Key points to remember

  • You may not need to see a doctor if you can control your acne by gently washing your skin with soap or by using lotions or creams that you can buy at the grocery store or drugstore.
  • You may want to see a doctor for your acne if:
    • Home treatment does not work and your acne gets worse.
    • Your pimples are large and hard or filled with fluid. This is called cystic acne.
    • You avoid going out on dates or to parties.
    • You feel embarrassed or depressed because of acne.
  • You may want to see a doctor sooner if one or both of your parents had severe acne and scarring.
FAQs

What is acne?

Acne is a common skin problem that occurs when oil and dead skin cells clog the skin's pores.

Acne is very common among teens. Mild acne, with a few pimples that clear up on their own, may not need any medical treatment.

Moderate and severe acne can cause permanent scars. It can also affect a person's self-esteem. Most people outgrow acne after their teen years. But some people, especially women, may have acne later in life.

What are the symptoms of acne?

Clogged pores lead to pimples , whiteheads, or blackheads. They can appear on the face, neck, shoulders, back, or chest. Pimples that are large and deep are called cystic lesions. These can cause painful infections and scars.

How is acne treated?

How acne is treated depends on how bad it is. Gently cleaning the area with soap or using over-the-counter products, such as benzoyl peroxide lotions, often clears up mild acne.

If these treatments don't clear up your skin within 3 months, see your doctor. He or she can prescribe medicines that can help keep your acne under control.

For severe acne, your doctor may prescribe a pill such as isotretinoin. This medicine may cause birth defects if taken by a pregnant woman. It also has other rare but serious side effects.

2. Compare your options

  See a doctor for acne Don't see a doctor for acne
What is usually involved?
  • You have appointments with your doctor.
  • You have the cost of appointments.
  • Your doctor will look at your acne to decide the best way to treat it.
  • You may get one or more medicines. These may be lotions or pills.
  • It can take 6 to 8 weeks for acne treatments to start to work.
  • You care for your acne at home with gentle washing and perhaps by using lotions or creams.
  • You don't have appointments with your doctor.
  • You don't have the cost of appointments.
What are the benefits?
  • Your doctor may prescribe medicine that can make your acne go away or get better.
  • Treating acne may prevent scars from cystic acne.
  • Home care may help your acne go away or get better.
  • It may not cost as much as going to the doctor.
  • You won't have the risk of side effects from strong medicines.
What are the risks and side effects?
  • Medicines that your doctor prescribes can have side effects. The strongest medicine, isotretinoin, can cause birth defects.
  • Your acne may not get better or go away. You could have scarring.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about seeing a doctor for acne

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

"I know that it's normal to still have acne in your 20s, but it really bothers me that I still have so many pimples. I feel like people don't take me seriously because of my skin (though maybe that's all in my head). I'm considering a different job that would involve a lot more work with the public, and I think that my pimples will bother me even more then. I'm going to ask my doctor what I can try."

— Shelley, age 24

"Even though I have quite a few pimples and blackheads, none of them are very serious. My acne is more annoying than anything else. I feel like I should have outgrown it by now, but it's still there. If I use my benzoyl peroxide faithfully, I can keep it under control, but sometimes I forget. All in all, I guess it doesn't bother me enough to see a doctor about it."

— Alfonso, age 27

"My mom says that everyone gets zits and that I'm the only one who notices my skin. But I know that's not true. Sometimes the kids at school tease me about my pimples, and I really don't even like to go to school when my face is really broken out. I hate the way I look. So I got my mom to say "okay" about asking the doctor what I can do about it."

— Tim, age 14

"I am not all that bothered by my acne yet. I do what I can to keep it under control and just try to forget it's there. A lot of kids my age have zits. I think if I don't notice it, maybe other people won't notice it either."

— Janet, age 15

3. What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to see a doctor for acne

Reasons not to see a doctor for acne

I need help to treat my acne.

I want to treat my acne on my own.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I want to take prescription medicines to treat my acne.

I don't want to take prescription medicines to treat my acne.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I don't mind going to a doctor for my acne.

I don't want to go to the doctor.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I'm not concerned about the side effects of medicines that my doctor might prescribe.

I'm very concerned about the side effects of medicines that my doctor might prescribe.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I don't mind spending the money for doctor visits and medicines.

I don't want to spend the money for doctor visits and medicines.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

   
             
More important
Equally important
More important

4. Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Seeing a doctor

NOT seeing a doctor

             
Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

5. What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1. I don't need to see a doctor if washing with soap and using over-the-counter medicines are controlling my acne.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
You're right. You may not need to see a doctor if you can control your acne by gently washing your skin with soap and by using over-the-counter products, such as benzoyl peroxide lotions.

2. My doctor can prescribe medicines to treat bad acne that causes scarring.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
You're right. Your doctor can prescribe medicines to treat bad acne that causes scarring. This may include lotions and pills.

3. I should think about seeing a doctor if my acne makes me feel embarrassed or sad.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
That's right. You may want to see a doctor if you feel embarrassed or depressed because of your acne.

Decide what's next

1. Do you understand the options available to you?

2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

         
Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

  • I'm ready to take action.
  • I want to discuss the options with others.
  • I want to learn more about my options.

3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

 
Credits
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine

Note: The "printer friendly" document will not contain all the information available in the online document some Information (e.g. cross-references to other topics, definitions or medical illustrations) is only available in the online version.

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