Teen Acne: When Should You See a Doctor?

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on November 25, 2022
2 min read

Many teens get pimples. They usually don’t need a prescription.

But if any of these five things sound familiar, a doctor could help a lot.

1. The acne is severe. A dermatologist can help get this under control.

2. Over-the-counter treatments don’t clear it up. Try a non-prescription treatment such as a topical retinoid gel or those containing benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or lactic acid for a couple of months. Adapalene (Differin) is another treatment that may work. If these treatments don't help, it’s time to see an expert.

3. The acne appeared after you started taking a medication. Some drugs for anxiety, depression, and other conditions can cause acne or similar symptoms. Your doctor might be able to change your prescription.

4. You notice acne scars. Your dermatologist will get your skin condition under control and then treat the scars.

5. It affects your self-esteem. Having clearer skin could make you feel more confident and less self-conscious.

You can start with your 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 did the acne start?
  • Has it stayed about the same, or has it gotten better or worse?
  • What treatments have you tried and for how long? How well did they work?
  • Does the acne affect your self-image or social life?

You should also bring a list of any medications or supplements you take.

You’ll want to ask some questions, too. Good ones include:

  • Are over-the-counter treatments enough? What do you recommend?
  • What habits would help me?
  • What’s the best way to cleanse and take care of my skin?
  • What can we do to make acne scars less likely?
  • What kind of makeup will cover up acne?

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

  • What’s the name of this medicine and why do you recommend it?
  • What are the side effects?
  • How should I use it??
  • How long will I need it?
  • How soon should I expect to see results?
  • When should we schedule a follow-up appointment?

If acne affects your teen’s self-esteem, talk to them about it. They 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 acne treatments really do help.

Sometimes anxiety and depression go along with acne. Watch for signs such as not wanting to socialize, being moody or fatigued, or losing interest in favorite activities. If that happens, consider whether it would help them to talk with a doctor or therapist.