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Acne Health Center

Acne FAQ

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Why does acne appear most often in teenagers?

The primary trigger for acne is fluctuating hormones -- specifically, the male hormone testosterone. (Women do have some levels of testosterone.) When teenagers hit puberty, their hormones start surging -- and often, so does acne.

Why do some adults have acne?

Although the hormonal fluctuations that cause acne are most common during the teen years, they can also affect adults. Women may experience hormonal swings during their menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause that result in acne breakouts.

Acne can also be a side effect of certain medications, such as anticonvulsants and steroid drugs. Some people may also have a genetic predisposition to acne. One study found that 50% of adults with acne had a parent, sibling, or child with acne.

What acne treatments are best for me?

That depends on many factors: your age, whether you’re male or female, how severe your acne is, and how long you’ve had it, among others. There are several options available.

For mild to moderate acne, many dermatologists will start with a combination of a topical cream or gel containing either a retinoid or benzoyl peroxide along with a topical antibiotic. For more inflammatory acne, an oral antibiotic may be added. For more significant cases of acne, women may be placed on birth control pills or on the drug spironolactone, a water pill which also blocks male hormones.

Severe cases of acne may be treated with the drug isotretinoin, which is very effective. However, side effects and blood abnormalities must be monitored monthly and requires registration with the FDA to obtain a prescription. There are also various types of light or photodynamic therapies available.  

When should I see a dermatologist for acne treatment?

If over-the-counter treatments, like products containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, along with gentle cleansing, don’t work for you (give them a chance -- it can take 4-12 weeks to clear up acne), a dermatologist may be able to help. Severe acne requires aggressive treatment to prevent scarring.

Will my acne ever go away?

Most often, acne will go away on its own at the end of puberty, but some people still struggle with acne in adulthood. Almost all acne can be successfully treated, however. It’s a matter of finding the right treatment for you.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on June 27, 2013
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