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Many teens get pimples. Most cases can be handled without a prescription. 

But some cases of teen acne do need to be seen by a doctor. How can you tell the difference between mild teen acne and something more serious that would benefit from a doctor's help?

Teen Acne Symptoms: 5 Signs to See the Doctor

  1. The acne is severe. A dermatologist can help get this under control.
  2. Over-the-counter treatments aren’t clearing up the acne. If a couple of months of over-the-counter (nonprescription) treatment, such as those containing benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or lactic acid, haven’t helped, it’s time to see an expert.
  3. The acne appeared after starting a medication. Some medications for anxiety, depression, and other conditions can result in acne or similar symptoms. A doctor can come up with a substitute. 
  4. Scarring. Get treatment before more damage is done. Once the acne is under control, dermatologists have treatments for the acne scars.
  5. Acne is affecting self-esteem. Having clearer skin could ease embarrassment and self-consciousness related to acne.

Teen Acne: Seeing the Doctor

Which doctor should you see? You can start by seeing a pediatrician or the family doctor. Or you could go right to a dermatologist.

The doctor will probably want some information from you, such as:

  • When the acne started
  • Has the acne remained more or less constant or worsened?
  • What treatments you’ve tried and how well they’ve worked
  • Whether the acne is affecting self-image or social behavior

You should also bring a list of any medications or supplements that you're taking. 

Be prepared to ask some questions, too. Good questions include:

  • Can the acne be managed with over-the-counter treatments? What do you recommend?
  • Will any changes in behavior help prevent or clear acne?
  • What’s the best way to cleanse and take care of skin?
  • What can be done to make acne scars less likely?
  • Can you recommend a type of makeup for covering up acne?

If the doctor recommends a prescription cream or acne medicine, you should ask:

  • What is the name of this medicine and why are you recommending it?
  • What are the side effects?
  • How should this medicine be used?
  • How long will it be needed?
  • How soon should we expect results from this treatment?
  • When should we schedule a follow-up appointment?

Just for Parents

If teen acne is affecting your child's self-esteem, talk to them about it. Your teen may need some basic information. The acne myths that you heard in high school -- that it’s caused by chocolate, or bad hygiene, or masturbation -- aren't true. Reassure your teen that there are acne treatments out there that can help.

Keep in mind that anxiety and depression are common in people with acne. If you see signs in your son or daughter -- social isolation, mood changes, fatigue, or a loss of interest in activities or hobbies -- don't ignore them. Schedule an appointment with a doctor or therapist.

acne you can't see

Acne: You Don't Know the Half of It

We all know the side of acne you can see. But what about the acne you can't see?

dermatologists talk

Dermatologists Talk

"Even if your skin looks clear, there could be acne forming underneath your skin. We call this Unseen Acne."

- Dr. Lisa Chipps,
Beverly Hills Dermatologist

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