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decision pointShould I see my doctor for acne?

Almost every teen develops acne, and sometimes it lasts into adulthood. It can range from mild to severe and may or may not need a doctor's treatment. Consider the following when making your decision:

  • You may not need to see a doctor if gentle cleansing with soap or if using over-the-counter products, such as benzoyl peroxide lotions, controls your acne.
  • You may want to see a doctor for your acne if:
    • Home treatment does not work and your acne becomes worse.
    • Your pimples become large and hard or filled with fluid (cystic acne).
    • You avoid social situations, such as dates or 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.

What is acne?

Acne is a common skin condition that occurs when oil and dead skin cells clog the skin's pores. Acne plagues teens-more than 85% experience at least a mild form of this condition. Severe cases can be both emotionally and physically scarring. Most people outgrow acne by their early 20s, but some people, especially women, have acne into their 40s or 50s.

What are the symptoms of acne?

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

See an illustration of how pimples form .

How is acne treated?

How acne is treated depends upon its severity. Gentle cleansing with soap or using nonprescription products, such as benzoyl peroxide lotions, often clears up mild acne cases.

If these treatments do not work, your doctor may prescribe topical lotions containing antibiotics or other kinds of medication. If topical medications do not control acne outbreaks, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics along with topical retinoid-a lotion that contains a form of vitamin A-and a topical antibiotic.

For the most severe cases, doctors may prescribe an oral retinoid, such as isotretinoin (Accutane, Sotret, or others). This medication is usually used as a last resort, because it may cause severe birth defects and other rare but serious side effects.

If you need more information, see the topic Acne Vulgaris.

Your choices are:

  • See a doctor for your acne.
  • Continue to care for your acne at home.

The decision about whether to see a doctor for acne takes into account your personal feelings and the medical facts.

Deciding about seeing a doctor for acne
Reasons to see a doctor for acne Reasons not to see a doctor for acne
  • Severe acne may leave permanent scars, and treatment may help reduce scarring.
  • In men, scars on the face and neck may make it difficult to shave.
  • Acne may make some people feel anxious or depressed.
  • Preteens and young teens who have severe acne early in puberty usually can expect their acne to continue to get worse into their teens.

Are there other reasons you might want to see a doctor?

  • Mild acne responds to gentle cleansing and nonprescription medications.
  • Most people find that their acne gradually gets better as they reach their late teens and early 20s.
  • There is little risk in not treating acne if it is not severe and is not causing scars.
  • Treatment for acne can be expensive.
  • Most treatments for acne, including nonprescription treatments, won't show results for at least 6 to 8 weeks.
  • Side effects of treatment range from skin irritation and sunlight sensitivity to birth defects and miscarriage.

Are there other reasons you might not want to see a doctor for acne?

These personal stories may help you make your decision.

Use this worksheet to help you make your decision. After completing it, you should have a better idea of how you feel about seeing a doctor for acne. Discuss the worksheet with your doctor.

Circle the answer that best applies to you.

My acne bothers me. Yes No Unsure
I am concerned about scarring from acne. Yes No Unsure
My acne is affecting how I feel about myself and keeps me from social activities. Yes No Unsure
I am in my early teens and am concerned about having acne through the rest of my teens and early 20s. Yes No NA*
I am concerned about acne flare-ups around my menstrual cycle. Yes No NA*
I am concerned about the cost of acne treatment. Yes No Unsure
My acne clears up when I use over-the-counter products regularly. Yes No Unsure

*NA = Not applicable

Use the following space to list any other important concerns you have about this decision.

 

 

 

 

 

What is your overall impression?

Your answers in the above worksheet are meant to give you a general idea of where you stand on this decision. You may have one overriding reason to see or not to see a doctor for acne.

Check the box below that represents your overall impression about your decision.

Leaning toward seeing a doctor

 

Leaning toward NOT seeing a doctor

         
Author Maria G. Essig, MS, ELS
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Alexander H. Murray, MD, FRCPC - Dermatology
Last Updated February 27, 2009

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 27, 2009
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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